Honesty is hard, but necessary.

I’ve had opportunities to be on several global media platforms, and I have declined quite a few solid ones. It’s part arrogance because I believe that the opportunities will present themselves again in future. The other part is the fact that I want to ensure that the story I tell when I get on these platforms is not only powerful and insightful, but authentic and vulnerable. It will be the story that I live in my daily life, and not one that has been concocted for media consumption. It won’t be me saying I’m doing this and that, and using statistical data to back my claims. It will be me saying this is who I am, this is what I believe, this is how I live my life, and this is why I think that my message is important to you.

I cringe, when I look at some of the responses I gave to interviews about six, seven years ago. I cringe because some of the responses came from a place of naivety, insecurity, and misguided thoughts about what it meant to be an entrepreneur. I used to say stuff like, “Success to me, means being able to sit on a beach somewhere and call my accountant to ask how much money is in the account.”. Don’t get me wrong, this is what success means to many people, but not to me. I was dishonest. It just sounded like a cool thing to say at the time. I had read many books about some of the most successful entrepreneurs, and I believed that my life needed to somewhat mirror theirs in order to achieve similar outcomes as them. In the process of trying to be like these people, I found myself adopting personality and behavioral traits that were far off from my true self. I was great at being myself in everything other than running a business in Nigeria. Managing a business in Nigeria is tough — it takes you to people that you ordinarily wouldn’t interact with. I understand diplomacy as a leadership trait, and I understand the importance of biting my tongue in several situations. However, it’s a real struggle for me to let things slide. Last year, I sat in front of the Head of procurement at a top company, in a situation where I felt bullied as a vendor. During the meeting, the client stated several excuses as to why they wouldn’t pay for an aspect of work that we had delivered, and I believed that their reason was unfair. Even though we all felt slighted, my colleagues were trying to be diplomatic about the situation, keeping in mind the thought that the customer is always right. I was quiet through most of the discussion, until I finally turned to the project lead and the procurement officer and said, “Listen, we can go back and forth on this situation. But I think we all know the truth, and are wasting time dancing around it. So, here’s what’s going to happen. We will concede to your request. However, please keep in mind that while you are an employee at this company, there is a big world out there, and we will meet again outside these walls. I just hope you are certain you made the right and honest decision today.” After I said this, the team lead chorused, “It’s not like that. It’s just that we have to do our job.”. The entire conversation changed in a second, the facade of the titles were stripped, and everyone remembered their humanity again.

There are 3 lessons I want you to get from this:

  1. The outside world doesn’t cringe when they read my old interviews, they love it. I’m the one who has to deal with the feeling of dissatisfaction with some of the things I shared, even if they’re popular opinions and have won me applause. I can assure you that I will not make those mistakes again. I am committed to honesty.

  2. Never forget that you are human. It’s easy to get caught up in the position/title that you have at your job, and do the wrong things in the name of protecting your company or business. You have to sleep with that at night, and the universe has a way of humbling us, so, you will run into these people again and I hope you are on the right side of the table.

  3. You can be a different type of entrepreneur. It’s hard. It’s very hard. It’s the road less travelled, and I’m traveling it, so I know that it is possible. The question is, are you willing to go through the process that will make you seem slower than many of your peers ? As for me, I may be slow, but I am certain that I will not cringe in the future, I will sleep…very well.

Adaora Mbelu