On the 30th of December as I was driving home from my parent’s house, I was suddenly hit by a very stark realisation; I only had Thirty Ghana Cedis left in my pocket. Just a few hours before my car had finally broken down as I had expected it to for a while, only it didn’t simply not start, it stopped dead in the middle of a highway. It was truly embarrassing and pathetic, as I was fully suited up and hadn’t been employed in some months, headed to a networking event where I hoped to possibly connect with others in search for potential jobs. If ever there was a metaphor that captured my 2015, it was on that highway. So that night, I was driving my Mum’s car home, I did this with a sense of dread with the realisation that I had moved out earlier in the year to “escape” the sense of dependency I felt by living at home aged 26. Only to find myself now at 27, driving my Mum’s car home, with Thirty Cedis in my pocket; which was the remainder of a handout from my Dad. I broke down into a sullen, ugly cry.

Although there are a few things I look back on with great fulfillment, such as writing here for Ezibota, in my mind, I failed to attain any real sense of success in 2015 by all conventional standards. I finally got back into the thick of the communications industry, which has been my ambition as a communications professional who took a hiatus. Well, that lasted for all of ten months after which I had to leave due to what I felt was unprofessional and unfair treatment. I moved out of my parents’ house to find myself and my path in life, but by the end of the year, I was living on mostly Indomie instant noodles and any food I could smuggle from my parent’s back to mine. I finally decided I was going to try and give relationships a go and to my dismay, I realised that not only do I suck at relationships but that they really suck at me. Every attempt I made at trying to build a relationship came crashing down with such spectacle I truly began to view myself as toxic.

The tears I begun to shed as I thought of my dire financial situation were only the onset of what I feared would be another protracted panic attack. At this point, I had had quite a few of them and they are as awful as you have heard. I have always had to deal with some anxiety and world weariness, but in the last three months of 2015 the compounded failures of my life where unrelenting in their daily assembly in my mind. They ensured that I recalled with immense detail every reason that had contributed to my lack of personal and professional success. And without the distraction of work and the daily duties everyone has to take their minds off their demons, I was cracking. Strange things started to happen; a crippling feeling would overtake my mind and body so that I could not function on any level. I would stay in bed for days, only getting when absolutely necessary. If I left home, it was mostly to my parent’s house because the power rationing in my community was so bad we could go without electricity for 24 hours or more at a go. Imagine being me and not even having the distraction of your phone or television.

I tried to get myself to write more but even that had become elusive. This was scary because I have always felt like my ability to write is my default position, if I had nothing at all, I could pour out my feelings into poetry or a blog post, but not so. I tried to find professional writing gigs and was asked to present a sample article by a prominent international magazine. I needed an extension because my laptop broke down and by the time I got it back, I was in the middle of so much anxiety that I could not find the words or energy to write and completely ignored follow up emails due to the shame I felt for this. I felt so weak, my mental and emotional stability were in tatters and still I had to push through. I needed a job. I needed money.

I had been to so many unsuccessful interviews; I was starting to wonder if there was something wrong with me. I finally got a call to come in and interview for a job at a bank I had been pursuing for two months. Everything seemed pretty positive and I had been hinted by “reliable sources” that I was going to land the job. So imagine my shock when at the interview my entire world took a nosedive. You see, I graduated from university with a third class degree (GPA equivalent: 2.5–2.99), there are reasons which I do not need to recount here but clearly this is not something I am proud of or able to share easily. It is in fact a source of great personal shame to me. Professionally it has not made any difference to my growth or output so I had not dwelt on it in a while, and before the interview I had disclosed my degree classification to the team at the bank, twice.  

Right at the beginning of what was a panel interview, the HR Manager of the bank said to me, “let me stop you right there before you think you stand any chance of getting this job”. She continued on to ask, “Why do you have a third class degree? We do not accept anything below a second class lower degree” At this point, I had gone into personal details of things that had affected my academic work and asked if this rule applied even if they were hiring at the highest level because I am not an entry level professional, and I would expect that my professional experience would be of more consequence, in the same way that would be the case for higher level executives. She said no, even at that level people are expected to have a minimum of a second class upper degree. Following on from this, she looked at me condescendingly and said, “You will never get a job in a blue chip organisation. It is as though you never went to university at all. Even if you are employed somewhere you have to stay there forever because no one else will accept you. You should go back to school and get another degree.”

I had never been so humiliated in my life; I thanked them for their time, walked to my car and cried. My sullen ugly cry on the 30th of December was akin to this one. These were not only the beginning stages of panic; they were tears of mourning which lamented the seemingly failed life I was living. Even though with time I realised that the problem in that interview was with the bank, and that individual’s archaic worldview, way of doing things and just the downright rudeness I experienced, I was also left with a picture of how the world apparently viewed me. I was stuck in a quagmire because even if the answer to all my failings was to go back to school and get a better degree, how on earth was I meant to finance that?

As I transitioned into 2016, I knew that something had to give and it would have to be the porous image I had of myself. I knew that I would have to take charge of my life and stop waiting for life to happen to me. My first vow to myself was to be aware and caring about my mental health; being an unable to write due to untreated anxiety was in itself a source of shame, I never want to be in that position again. I vowed that, even though I needed a job I would make steps to not tie my financial security to employability. In this vein, I have decided I must take my art as a writer more seriously. There is so much I have in my mind vault waiting to be published for the world to see and hopefully be lifted and enlightened by. The key to my redefinition of personal success is to take my focus off what is in my pocket and hone what is in my mind.

I looking forward to hearing the ways in which you define your own sense of personal success and if there has been the need for you to redefine this as your lives have advanced.

Lambert Akwa
Lambert is a Communications Specialist and writer based in Accra, Ghana. He lived in the United Kingdom for five years studying Journalism and Publishing at Middlesex University.
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7 Comments on "When I am Worth GH¢30"

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Great article Lambert,

You captured our struggles perfectly. And you weren’t afraid to speak about it. I saw a similar experience in my life as failure.

Deana Bolumbu
Tragically beautiful as life often happens at the climax of our emotional and mental breakdowns. “I knew that I would have to take charge of my life and stop waiting for life to happen to me.” The tiny slither of a rainbow, of a knowledge that needed to be gained. Thank you for sharing this story – it’s a story that li My definition of personal success was learned. Mainly from outsiders. Media, Forbes stories,..I formed this opinion through just taking in information and not really evaluating it for myself. School, the degrees, the jobs, the money, the home, the… Read more »
Mariamawit Tadesse
Lambert reading your story brought me to tears. Your writing, experience and view of the world shows the remarkable person you are. People confuse education with schooling. I have come to the realization that grades actually mean nothing about the intelligence of a person. Students are excelling at repeating things skillfully. Grades measure how well you remember what you were thought. That deep thinking and uniqueness is rarely welcomed in academic settings. Your article has inspired me greatly. You have found yourself. These days I feel like a sheep that wonder off in to the world and has finally returned… Read more »

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