The New Year is the time when people reflect on the year that is past and what changes they would like to make in the year to come, which is why people make New Year’s Resolutions. It is not so easy to make proactive changes, where we decide we will stop past habits in order to bring positive change to our lives – which is why most people fail. Put simply, change is difficult: we slip into a pattern of life, and before we know it a year has passed, then a decade, then a lifetime.
We get into our comfort zone and we just keep doing what we have always done until we are on our deathbed.
The funny thing is that sometimes our lifestyle is neither easy, nor productive, and it would be in our interests to change, but we just accept life as it is and keep doing the same thing, like hamsters running on a wheel.
Of course there are those who are driven to get on, who do make the changes, but there are many who feel dis-empowered in terms of the choices they have. The stark reality is that most of those who feel disempowered are the poor because they are caught in the poverty trap.
We talk about how entrepreneurial Ugandans are, but most poor Ugandans are not entrepreneurs, they are caught on the wheel of poverty and forced to hustle for a living. The problem with hustling is that every day the person gets up and looks for money, and the next day he starts the cycle all over again.
He never progresses, and is never able to build anything. By an accident of birth I was born into a middle class family in a country which also had free education, and so I had the opportunity to go to medical school and qualify as a doctor, and have never needed to hustle. However, I have just read a book by Trevor Noah, the famous South African comedian, describing his childhood and youth in the townships of Johannesburg, where he got drawn into hustling. His story gave me insight into the difference between what it means for a person to hustle, and what it means for a person to develop.
When he finished school he could not go on to university as he was brought up by a single mum who did not have the resources to pay for university. He had a small business writing music CDs and selling them to the township’s taxi drivers, which generated cash that he and his friends then used to buy stolen goods and turn these around for a profit. He did this for about two years, but at the end of time he realized that he was no better off.
He still had no money; he had not saved anything, nor developed his life in any way, even though he had been putting in maximum effort. That is when he realized that he had to get off the treadmill and make something of himself, and as they say, the rest is history.
His story reminded me of so many people who live in the slums of Namuwongo, Kibuli or Kabalagala who work hard at hustling, but never get off the treadmill. Every day they wake up and go out and look for money, and the next day they start again and do the same thing. It is not that hustlers don’t make money; they make it and lose it, sometimes through such stupidity as sports betting.
If people put as much effort into serious employment as they do to hustling and planning scams, they would see progress. The contradiction is that there are still many opportunities in Uganda, and not enough people to meet them, but people are blind to these opportunities.
I fire people because they are irresponsible and do not do the job they are given, and am then left looking for responsible people who are difficult to find. Being in employment, being an entrepreneur, looking after a small family business, doesn’t bring rapid progress. Hustling appears to bring quick money, but somehow it never goes anywhere, and the person just keeps going round and round on the never ending wheel.
Working, being responsible, being reliable, learning, being committed, saving and building slowly, are not what people want to hear, but it is a case of the tortoise and the hare. The hare seems to have all the opportunity, but the tortoise won the race.
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