I am not too old, but I know I am sometimes taken for someone younger than my age. But I must say I am not a small girl neither…hahaha. When I tell people that I completed my first degree nearly two decades ago, they hardly believe it. Days ago, when I had issues with my home WiFi, someone had to come and check on it for me. When he saw the picture of my family on my laptop, he asked how old I was. I told him my age and he retorted: “you don’t look it at all. You look like a 25 or 27-year-old”. You should have come to see black woman blushing…hehehe. I am happy for the genes I have, thanks to my mum and dad. I must also admit that my outlook of life and maybe my faith in God have also contributed to it. I believe so much in love and sacrifice. I have learnt the importance of these two values in the course of time through the experiences that I have been through.  

I have had to sacrifice in many areas to be able to get to where God has brought me. My family have had to do same. When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Ghana, I worked as a volunteer student journalist at Radio Univers. As a volunteer, I was only earning an honorarium at the end of the month. I’m sure if it were present times, it couldn’t have been able to buy data bundle for a month. But we worked so diligently. That experience would earn me a job at a budding radio station by the time I was in the third year. I earned good money working in that Radio Station. When I got to the last semester of my final year, I had to quit that job to pay more attention to my studies, but I had been able to acquire an experience that most of my mates hadn’t.

Of wants, expectations, disregard and inactions

As a teacher in the university, I have had many students establishing close relations with me for varied reasons. I have had those whose relations with me lasted only a semester. Such people got close because I was teaching them and they erroneously thought by getting closer to me, it would earn them good grades. Others got close to me so they could get financial or other material assistance from me. After they got whatever they wanted, that would be the end. And yet, others got close because I was supervising their dissertations. There were still others who got close to me because they looked up to me as their mentor. There are some I have had good relations with ever since they got close to me. Such people have become friends, hopefully, forever. I have had to recommend many for further studies, including one who went much further to do a PhD and is now a lecturer in a prominent university in Nigeria, the thought of which brings me so much delight.

I do take note of a lot of things. When I notice some of them may turn out to be detrimental to people, I draw attention to them. There are others I decide to allow to slide for some good reasons. But there is something that I really wish young people, especially the ladies, learn: to go the extra mile or be a little sacrificial in worthy things. I tell this to many of those who get close to me. By the grace of God, I have been in positions where I had national service personnel working with me. Most of them had a poor attitude towards work. They naively thought National Service does not require any commitment and regarded it as a period to earn some “free” money while scouting for a permanent job elsewhere. For that reason, many national service personnel lack the commitment and the zeal that is required in the workplace. They forget that even though they may not be recruited by the companies where they do their National Service, it is a good time to start gaining good experience, even if it is doing mundane things for their bosses.

The extra mile won’t kill

That period of running errands, filing papers, scheduling appointments, managing email, typing memos and sending letters from one office to the other builds resilience, ingenuity, drive and adaptability as well as makes you learn how to serve in humility, attributes which are vital for a person to thrive and survive in the workplace. But many of them avoid that learning opportunity. Many national service personnel report to work late, take French leave (for both genuine and trivial reasons) and have a lackadaisical attitude towards work. Yet, these same people are likely to come back to their bosses for letters of reference either for further studies or work. If one is to be honest about providing recommendation for such people, tell me, what kind of reference should that be?

When I worked with the Ministry of Health for my National Service, I went with a positive attitude to work and learn at the same time. My colleague and I worked so hard.  We took up responsibilities which got us the opportunity to organise summits that were attended by development partners among others. We made sure we reported to work earlier than our boss all the time. We were hardly absent from work. There were many national service personnel working there, but we obviously stood out. Because of the little sacrifices we made, our boss always ensured that we got extra allowances when there was the opportunity. How cool was that! My then colleague is now the Human Resources Manager of a top financial institution in Ghana. No wonder, huh?

When I completed my National Service, during the “fallow” period of waiting for a permanent job, I used to watch a TV programme called M’asɛm. One could not ignore how that programme was professionally put together. I fell in love with it and wished I could work with the team behind it. I noticed a number scrolling down the TV screen to which feedback about the programme could be sent. I picked the number and the following day, I sent a message about my desire to work with the team even if it was on voluntary basis. A day later, I got a call from the CEO of the company. He told me they got a lot of such messages, but none of them had ever stated that they wanted to volunteer with them. He was so impressed. He invited me to his office for a brief discussion, and I was asked to start work almost immediately.

I became a production assistant for the programme. It was a wonderful journey. I worked so diligently. I would go to work as early as any permanent staff would; and I would close late on days we had to do subtitles for the productions. I went in as a volunteer and that gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about video/television production. The experience I had with that company, coupled with my radio experience, added to my profile and got me the opportunity to study for a master’s degree in Communication Studies. While with that production company, I made it a point to contribute my quota to the growth of the organisation; there was no time I reneged on that commitment. I did that honestly without expecting anything in return. I valued that opportunity I had been given, knowing that a lot of people wished for such but could not get. At some point I got the opportunity to feature in a promotional video for one of their programmes. Come and see the calls and the eyes I got whenever I stepped out (hahaha). When I got a permanent job elsewhere, I had to leave, but I would regularly go there to assist in any way possible when I had the time. I established a very good relationship with all the staff members, and, to date, I still have a cordial relationship with each one of them. I can call on them for any assistance and they also do same.

I am saying all these things not to toot my own horn but to tell you that there is a lot to gain when you go the extra mile…just a little extra. Many young people want glory and overnight fame but not the sweat. Someone recently said I should recommend him for some thing and the question I asked him was: “why should I?” I know he never expected a question like that from me. Obviously, he thought by virtue of being close to me, a recommendation should be the least I could give him. It can only be the case only when I have no shadow of doubt that I should. When I am recommending someone, I am recommending their abilities, integrity, attitude, character, among others, much as I am recommending mine.  I don’t have to do it on account of merely having close relations with them.  Yes, I may know you; I may share jokes and laughter with you but when it comes to recommending you for something of importance, I may not recommend you. I would rather recommend that person that I don’t have a personal relationship with but whose quality work output, character and integrity I have observed or witnessed.

Every little sacrifice I have made, and every value I brought on the tables of many people are what have made me who I am today. And I want you to also know that you need to always bring value to the people you work with, associate with and work for.

My compulsory questions

I leave you with these questions to ponder over: As a young university student or graduate who lives in a household that has school-going children, who are home because of the pandemic, has it crossed your mind to gather these children and give them just 45-minute lessons daily? Have you thought about giving your mum (or maybe your dad) rest during this period you are home by cooking for the family? How could you be home and the compound, or the living room is dirty or messy? Do you have someone that has magnanimously taken it upon him or herself to be of help to you? How much do you also give back to the person? Do you know people whom you can assist but have decided not to because they haven’t asked you or have not offered to pay you? Let me borrow what my Pastor would typically say: these are compulsory questions for 40 marks. Will you answer me?

Ever heard of what the 35th president of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy, said in his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”? I also tell you today: ask what you can do for your family, that neighbour, that boss, that brother, your church… and not what they can do for you. Your expectations about people are so much, but have you ever thought about what you can also offer them?

Until next time, chew on these. Xxx

About the writer:

Theodora is a lecturer at UPSA and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Rhodes University, SA

Follow her scholarly works at Google Scholar and Research Gate. She can be reached on theodoradame@yahoo.com or theodora.dame@upsamail.edu.gh