Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Laws and Ambition

This year I celebrate my 10th anniversary since finishing high-school. Yes, for those who want to count, it was 1999, when I finally lifted the yoke that is high school off my shoulders. It's also been ten years where I've been able to forget most of the millions of pieces of data I stored in my brain for examination on topics as varied as photostatic conductors, wheat farming in Siberian tundra, morphological features of fish, and calculus.

That last one though (calculus) I continued to study even in the real world (apparently anything you experience while in school, under 18, and on your parent's allowance is not the real world, but a fictional world created to get you employable skills). Well, maybe not the actual formulae, but calculus dealt with curves. One curve I became familiar while studying law was the curve of diminishing ambition.

You see when you join law school, you feel like you are on top of the world. Heck, you must be one of the brightest minds in the land to get admitted, and law is usually chosen by pretty ambitious students. It is not uncommon to find 99% of the 1st year law school class with dreams of grandeur. Speaker of the National Assembly, Special-Rapporteur at the UN, President of the Republic, Chief Justice, Attorney General, Celebrated Trial Lawyer. The list is endless and only limited by the effort taken to actually establish the seniority of the position. As the semester progresses and you ferociously consume case law, volumes of law books, and professors' lectures, your ambitions are even more amplified. You gauge your progress by the number of questions you ask, and how many cases you can remember, sometimes how many House of Lords quotes you can recite verbatim.

However by the time your first year results are in, and for the first time in your life you get a C or worse, you realize that your goals might be a tad bit ambitious. Instead of the best lawyer in the world, you mentally settle for best lawyer in Kenya. A few more grades and your expectations of achievement drop to best lawyer in your firm. The curve which had only been going up now starts leveling off. By mid of second year after a string of horrifyingly bad grades you are looking at being best lawyer in your office... an especially steep drop if you are the only lawyer in your office. The only solace is that grades pick up towards the end but not after a battering of your ambitions (leads me to suspect these seesawing grades are engineered by the law professors to ensure our heads remain small enough to pass through the lecture hall doors)

In the end I skipped the whole lawyer thing and decided to be an 'entrepreneur' (in quotes because I'm not really sure if it that is a profession). I have discovered however that as an entrepreneur, ambition and a healthy dose at that, is an absolute necessity. Ok, by now I've stopped imagining that I will become the richest man in the world (advancing years and my geographical place of birth being my largest obstacles) unless I discover an unlimited energy source (actually, why not?) but I do not stop yearning to grow my businesses to be bigger and better.

In the 'real world' I have had to go back to the drawing board more than once on several businesses, I have seen projects with significant investments of time, money and effort crumble into nothingness, had 'surefire-guaranteed-clients-with-only-one-signatory-remaining-to-sign-the-cheque vanish in an instant and stop responding to calls or emails. I have had a much rougher time than I ever did in law school. But if there is one thing I learnt in law school about ambition, is that it should only go one way - up.

Ambition should not be determined by external factors like grades which can be engineered, but must always race ahead of your achievements. Ambition is the anti-depressant that combats the cynicism, failures, economic recessions, family problems, and fatigue that accompany all entrepreneurs in their path to build a successful business. Ambition is what gives us the spirit to have a victorious minute in the morning, every morning. Ambition keeps us reflective of the past, eager for the now, and focused on the future. To be ambitious is not to reach for the stars, to be ambitious is to ask "why stop there?"

I salute all ambitious entrepreneurs today with special mention to Annabell Wanjiku the founder of AFRI Business Development Consultancy