This post was really hard to write. I struggled with how personal this would be, how ashamed I am that I failed at something that others find so easy, how much I’ve put my family through, and I struggled with how to paint this so I don’t come across as a complete egomaniac with narcissistic traits. I struggled because I’ve been given a lot but haven’t made much use of those gifts. I realise that.
You see, I’m a teacher by education and trade. As I’ve mentioned before, this was not what I wanted to be. My heart was set on journalism. However, I played the hand the fates dealt for 10 long years. I came to another country and continued doing something that didn’t satisfy the need within me.
I’ve always known I couldn’t continue to work for someone else all my life. I admire people who do. My dad worked for the South African Postal Service for 45 years. Not one day off. Was never home for us kids, etc. He was so dedicated to his job that he had a stroke at his desk and was back at work not too long after!
But times were different then and I can hardly complain about the upper middle class lifestyle and education his dedication to a steady paycheck afforded me and my siblings.
But that’s not me. Even the journalism thing was because I wanted to write about people. That quickly changed because I really want to help people. I am not okay with just writing about their lives, I want to IMPACT their lives for the better.
In the beginning
I was always an outsider, even at school. Call me an observer. I just watched them. I didn’t want to hang out in your click. Even the outsiders click didn’t work for me. Nawww. I was the kid who figured out that no one wanted to spend their entire lunch break standing in the line at the school tuckshop, so I did it, and charged them for the service. I was the kid that sucked at Math, but rocked English. So I wrote essays for the other students and charged them.
I also learn really quickly. In Afrikaans there’s a saying ” Steel met die oë”, a rather uncomplimentary way to say “Look and learn”. I could see something done once, and almost perfectly reproduce it after. However, I got into trouble for taking the original and making it …better. In my opinion. The originator of the idea hardly liked it. This made for difficult group work situations right through school, college and later my work life. No one likes a smartass. Only now do I realise this laid the groundwork for the independent life of an entrepreneur. It’s not a groupwork type thing.
No matter what people say, teaching is a prescribed profession. You go to school to learn how to follow a curriculum. Nothing more, nothing less. When I was at college they encouraged teacher creativity. I was taught to make teacher supplies and to personalize lessons. Nowadays, it’s almost discouraged. Even the resources are prescribed now.
But even at college, the entrepreneurial spirit didn’t leave. My English skills came into play again and I wrote out essays and thesis during my first year for final year students! I realized many students didn’t have the access to cash as I did. Many of them were from up-country. Students who were away from home. Cash was tight. So I started a loan scheme. Want to go to the club Saturday night? I could loan you R10, and you repay 15. Soon I had a mini loan shark empire, complete with enforcers ( aka, guys who fancied me!).
I barely made it through college, but I sure had heavy pockets and a lot of friends!
The Middle East
After a few years of trying to make it in the world of education in SA , I left for the ME. It was a culture shock. In SA my entrepreneurial spirit was appreciated at the government schools I taught at. I was in the Fundraising Committee of every school I worked at. They loved my ability to make it rain money in the coffers of the school.
In the ME, schools were already rich. Oil money kept schools supplied with technology, textbooks, and resources that schools in SA struggled to get without fundraising. I found students were very spoiled. They threw away resources with a devil-may-care attitude.They lost pencil cases and schoolbags filled with schoolbooks on the reg. They didn’t care for money because money was everywhere!
I tried starting entrepreneurship programs but students thought of it as a contest between powerful families. We started raising funds for charity by selling baked goods and one girl’s grandmother would buy out every single cake because she wanted her granddaughter to get a certificate! Gloating rights were counted by the number of certificates a young girl got at school. It meant she was “Excellent!” Very Good is not an option!
Boredom soon set it and I left for a job at a private establishment ( as opposed to a public school). Here the game was “Do what you’re told and not a thing more” “Earn your paycheck and don’t make suggestions because you might make the boss look bad.” There was only so much of that I could take.
After more stints working for a government school improvement program where my immediate boss saw my potential and used it to her advantage while keeping me going with harder, more challenging tasks ( I co-wrote the English National Curriculum Framework for the UAE) eventually I cottoned on. My marriage and health suffered and I got out. Read more about that here.
My Own Business
When I opened Back2Basix Educational Consultants I was over the moon! I had done it. I was doing what I loved (helping families with relocating their children into UAE private schools, working with government departments on private schools accreditation and developing an online school’s development program based on international best practices, student’s progress in international standardized tests, and aligned with the best curricula in the world). I was in seventh heaven.
Then it all came crashing down when my partner locked me out of my offices, fired my staff, kept the client list and the company name and kicked my ass to the curb!
To say I was devastated is an understatement. All my documents were in that office. Any and all evidence of everything I had worked on, everything I had attained, was in that office, and unless I came up with a shocking amount of money in no time flat, I was not going to get it back. Things got exceedingly ugly, and since I was a woman and he was a local, I had no rights.
I lost everything.
So what now?
I had no money, debts to the wazoo ( every credit card was maxed ) and a child that needed schooling. My husband had been working with me at Back2Basix and was now unemployed as well.
We made loans from family and friends to pay off our rent every month. I made ends meet by privately tutoring IELTS at a local university and for school kids. Heck at one stage we were dog sitting just to make ends meet! Our utilities were turned off more times than I could count.
The banks were threatening us with all kinds of horrors including incarceration ( debtors prison is a thing here) but a vinnige bek and a healthy respect for the law kept us out.
Family members knew what was going on, but very few offered any help. In fact, gossip abounded, and still does. The church declined politely even though hubby’s been an active member for over 20 years. I lost a lot of respect for those two institutions in those months. We had to get up on our feet without any help from them. I now avoid both like the plague.
So where are we now?
We’re doing a lot better. We are getting a handle on finances, I’m homeschooling G by choice, I’ve held a few jobs at private schools to help me get my coaching business off the ground and am slowly paying back the debts we still have. We will have to start earning a lot more soon since our port of safety in our storm is leaving the UAE for SA Soon. My sister-in-law, who’s been a support and a rock for the past four years, is leaving because her new grandson has been born with special needs and she needs to be there. My marriage is taking strain because that’s what happens when uncertainty hits.
But that’s not why I wrote this post. I wrote this post because I will not let my situation define my destination. I won’t let circumstances define my path. I will not let the journey become my destination. I want to help women who are trying to get through their own realities, come though on the other side. I want to motivate them like I wished others had been there to motivate and encourage me.
That’s what entrepreneurs do. We tough it. In the face of often overwhelming odds and situations that would stop lesser people in their tracks, we get up again. Time after time, ignoring the naysayers and the little voices in our heads that tell us that maybe we should just give up. We ignore all that and fight on.
Because that’s what we do. It’s taken all this to make me realise what and who I am, and what I’m made of. It’s not for everyone and only the strong survive.
Until next I blog,