For many women, the beginning of the New Year is a time for reflection and for some a time to set resolutions on various things you want to do to improve on aspects of your life.
Our lives in today’s modern world are taxing with so many demands. It is hardly possible to take a break as we are always moving from one thing to the next. Sometimes, without even noticing it, the script of our lives is almost similar to everyone else’s. You can feel the burnout but can hardly take a break. You are stuck in a job you hate but feel trapped to venture into something else because you are scared stiff by how you are going to meet the bills. But does it always have to be this way?
One of the ways you can take a break and gain perspective as well as re-energize is by taking a sabbatical- which is basically taking a break from your 9 to 5 gig or business. A sabbatical is not only option when you are feeling burnt out or tired but it also gives you a time to consciously pause, reflect and realign your life goals.
Meet Carole Kimutai she shares how taking a sabbatical has made her happier, more purposeful and allowed her to live a more focused and fulfilled life.
She shares her story …
“My name is Carole, my close friends tell me that I am very passionate in whatever I set out to do – big or small – I always strive to make a difference. Plus, I have often been accused of bluntly speaking my mind. I call things as they are.
Growing up I wanted to be an architect. This was inspired by a high-end school that was built up near my home. Then in upper primary, I noticed my talent in writing after my English teacher at Aga Khan Primary told us to write a composition and I was asked to read mine loud before the class because itwas the best. Since I was an avid reader, I wrote a story about elephants invading Mt Kenya. I knew I always wanted to tell stories. In high school, my dad funded an underground school magazine. I would handwrite stories on printing paper, staple and give to my dad to photocopy for me so I could sell to my fellow students. I only had clarity after high school when I was asked what I wanted to study and I said journalism.
Looking back life went as planned! Sounds strange uh?! I had a very privileged childhood – I never lacked anything.But in my late teens, things took a turn. God took away my biological parents in August and September 1998 respectively, just before I sat for my O-levels. I was only 17 years old. I sat for my KCSE with no clue what would happen to me or my two brothers. The only hope I clung to was the fact that God was up to something BIG. After that, I got admission to the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC).
By then admission was by quota system and I was among the first 25 selected. My letter was delivered to me personally. It was signed by the then Minister of Information Musalia Mudavadi. I have since gone through various institutions of higher learning up to Masters Level.
By profession, I am a trained journalist. I have worked for various local and international print and online platforms/brands. I am proud of so many things like getting the privilege to write for Forbes Africa publications and rebranding the Management Magazine, graduating with a Masters in New Media & Society from the prestigious Leicester University, being tasked by a Ukrainian media company to set up Tuko.co.ke – an online news platform – from scratch. Top of my life is Excellence. I go the whole 9 yards! My life has pretty much turned out ok.
I am also privileged to be a Rotarian and one of my proud moments was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro through Rotary when I was Club President and raising $30,000 for charity.
Being a Rotarian adds a spark in my life since I love helping people. Rotary is voluntary. I do not earn money from it. I earn much more – satisfaction and friends of all sizes and colours. Rotary is about serving humanity through several areas of service. I belong to the Rotary Club of Nairobi East where I have been a member for about eight years now. I was introduced to Rotary by a good friend called Joe Otin who I knew from his days back at Steadman (now Ipsos). Currently I am the Assistant Rotary Public Image Coordinator working with Rotary Clubs in Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Eritrea to package, disseminate and tell Rotary stories through various media platforms.
We have many water and education projects that we run and support. We meet weekly for an hour for lunch and fellowship. So yes, Rotary is part of my DNA. Most of my close friends are Rotarians.
Some people have this perception that Rotary is for rich people. It is true. Rotarians are rich in attitude, numbers, time, desire to serve and ideas. We are more than 1.2 million Rotarians around the world – these are professionals with skills and experiences that we use to solve some of the world’s problems. The money is just an enabler. How many people have lots of money yet they have not made an impact? When people come together, they can do big things.
When it comes to my personal life I have had so many highs. First, giving birth to my son. He is 11.5 years old and a really smart boy who loves reading and can write really well. In fact I recently discovered that he has more followers on Instagram than I do! Second is surrounding myself with high achievers as close friends and confidants. They set very high standards for me making me an outlier in many areas. Third is seeing my brothers succeed in their careers and personal life. Finally, and most close to my heart is having an excellent relationship with my step-mother. She is my superstar! How my life has turned out is a confirmation that indeed God had a BIG plan for me; I left everything to God. I have never been the kind of person to worry about life. I just get on with it. If I could give advice to my younger professional self I would tell her not to be afraid. To just do it!
The lows have been many! Especially losing my parents. I have never recovered from it. Sometimes I wonder what my parents would think of me now that I am all grown up. Another one that I remember was a former boss who told me I was too young to head a department. The other lows are part of life. Mistakes, failures and facing rejections; they have made me a better person. My dad taught me two rules in life. Number 1, Life is not fair. Number 2, that I should always remember rule Number 1.
INVESTING IN MYSELF
It is said that many women go through life without knowing themselves or knowing who they are. I can’t say I have fully gotten there but am still discovering myself and learning. When I was preparing to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in January 2015, I discovered the power of the mind. You create it, and then live it. For several years, I attended a monthly forum called Open Qorner that was facilitated by Tazim Elkington, a mind shift expert. We would meet, write an anonymous question and one would be selected randomly. We would then spend two hours discussing it. We had many deep conversations that opened my eyes and mind to many aspects of myself.
Personal growth is very important to me I am very goal oriented. I know it is time to move on when I can clearly see that I am not adding any value and I am not motivated or excited about whatever I am doing. That is a red flag that I use to start preparing to do something else or change my attitude. I want to do a good job as a Mother. Motherhood needs a lot of patience. I read a lot of books on psychology so I can understand how to relate with my son as a child, adolescent and a man. This has helped me a lot as I now understand why he behaves the way he does.
One of the professional transitions I took is my move from Kenya Institute of Management to start Tuko.co.ke – a new business owned by Eastern Europeans . I had a good permanent job with perks at KIM but I decided to bite the bullet and took a contract job at Tuko no perks. I was looking for a challenge. I decided to jump so I could get an experience of launching a new media brand in the market. I have been in the trenches. I now have the t-shirt to prove it.
In a situation where I have to stay to simply earn a living or fend for my family, I often ask myself “why”. Why am I earning a living? I ask so many whys until I get to the end. I have stayed in a job for the sake of my family and paying bills but I was working on an exit strategy because I know nothing is permanent. Sometimes, I take the Richard Branson pill and say; “Screw it! Just do it!” I once resigned from a magazine publishing company I worked for and took up freelance work at Media24 with an irregular income until I found another job. My son then was only two years old. When I look back, I shudder at that thought. What was I thinking?
Many women would be petrified to take a sabbatical but I am not. My assignment at Tuko Media ended towards the end of 2016. I had been on very high adrenalin for about five years and I was mentally and psychologically exhausted and drained.
In the last five or so years, I enrolled for a very demanding Masters course and graduated in a record two years; many of the people I started extended by a year or two. Immediately I finished my studies, I became the President of my Rotary Club; I had an ambitious fundraising project of climbing Mt.Kilimanjaro and charging climbers $1,000 each! I did this while heading the Publishing & creative department at KIM. Three months before my Rotary term ended, I changed jobs and moved to start Tuko.co.ke. The learning curve was very steep. I had to make it, come hell or high water. The first month on the job I worked from home. We started from zero and I put in very long hours and built a good team and a very strong brand.
This sabbatical was a time for me to rest – literally! A time to deeply reflect and simply do nothing. Like I said earlier, I am a firm believer that God orders my steps and has a plan for me. Looking back, God was sharpening me by exposing me to various situations in the last five years that needed hard work, discipline, determination, courage, patience, risk taking and patience.
My sabbatical lasted 12 weeks (3 months). During this time I learnt many things about myself. I learnt that I can be a house painter when I painted my house on my own. I managed to finish a biography I was editing and spent lots of time with the personality. I spent so much time with my son. I reflected a lot. I asked myself so many questions including “what ifs”.
I learnt that people define you by what you do or the company you work for. It was difficult at first saying I am on sabbatical. People would look at me like I am crazy and insist to know where I moved to or what I am doing. Then I started saying I am retired and that immediately made people laugh. I learnt not to live by the world’s script. I only owe an explanation to my family and close friends who have walked the journey with me.
The most important lesson I learnt is to have a cheerleader by your side who will help you stay positive. I am blessed to have one who has held my hand. I am grateful for friends who have sat me down to give me candid feedback about my life. There is a longtime Nigerian friend of mine called Lampe who has made it his business to check on me constantly. Even when I do not pick calls, Lampe will call until I pick up and all he will want to find out is how I am doing. That too has taught me a lesson about friendships. It is about caring.
Would I recommend a sabbatical to other women? I am very tempted to say yes. However, everyone is travelling their own path. My script is mine. Everyone should have their own. On the bare minimum, I would recommend taking time outs to reflect – regularly.
So what is next for me? I am still in the media space. Remember I am a storyteller – I want to scale this up. My experience at Tuko.co.ke exposed me to the evolving landscape of media, analytical tools and innovative ways of hooking audiences online. I will now be working at the strategic level of connecting the bottom-line of brands/companies with their online strategy. I also have a few book titles lined up that I want to write – specifically for children.
The sabbatical helped me to get clarity about the new direction my life needs to take and I am very excited about the next phase of my life.
I hope my story speaks to someone’s heart to courageously live their lives on their own terms. “