Beyond the normal: Are Kenyans (Africans) in Diaspora sacrificing career value at the altar of money?


By Ron Imanene

Traditionally, Kenyans are a very work-for-pay oriented people. Some would call it entrepreneural but I would shy from that classification as we tend to be more of flockers to what’s bringing in the money regardless of if we have a passion or the slightest of heart for it. It doesn’t take looking far to see examples of that.  Remember the Quail business in Kenya? (A quail failure refresher course here)

Well in the Diaspora and not too far removed from our norms in Kenya, most of us choose to copy and recycle what everyone else is doing but with very little consideration to what led that person to doing what they do and what it took them before they hadhit a breakthrough.

Once in a while, the results may be immediately gratifying which then triggers a new brood of new entrants into that particular field. Unfortunately, little is said of the long-term effects of that decision and especially if it goes south.

Of course it’s only fair to mention that sometimes the individual and especially new immigrants have little say in their choices, it bottles down to the hosts deciding for them for whatever the reason. It could be due to the host’s level of exposure, and or networking and other times as has been noted in many foras, as an intentional restriction-mechanism i.e the don’t be greater than me mentality (a story for another day).

Now, the proverbial diaspora ‘quail’ is healthcare. Granted, the industry is a major employer with guaranteed job security as people will always get sick, get old and invalid at some point. That said, I think it’s rather wanting that a lot of talent, skill  and potential is sacrificed at the alter of the dollar.

While healthcare and specifically the non-professional levels of it were originally viewed as a stepping stone for many a student and new immigrants to fund their way through school or establish themselves in their new settings, many have been known to graduate with honors from four year programs only to file their academic credentials away and prefer the known comfort zone of the start-up occupation. They do that at the risk of missing out on great career opportunities simply because those entry-level positions may at times be lower paying upfront or cumulatively due to the missed double-shift opportunities.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being in CNA, HCA (in healthcare)  etc as a personal preference or as adviced by many considerations including but not limited to age, education, passion, calling etc. There’s nothing wrong either in finding your pathway into such a noble profession as nursing on the winds of “everyone else is doing it”.  But is that your calling? Are you drawing on the full breadth of your God given potential in whatever the field? Are your qualifications better utilized elsewhere for a more long-term outlook? Are you a happy camper beyond the $$$$? Will you still be one when you hit 50+ and your body is saying no to the rigors of the job? Will it be too late to start on the track that you trained on when the wrong-career fatigue sets in? I know retirement packages are dwindling in the job market but, does what you’re doing today safeguard you 30 years from now?

I say this not by any means to blacklist one job over the other, it’s just a wake up call to you that might have landed on the wrong one from outside influence or fear of the unknown to wake up to the possibilities of at all possible. I think we get too caught up chasing the elusive American dream that we lose track of the wholesomeness of life. And how quickly the years fly by.

We are a community endowed with brilliant minds and professionals in any career track you may think of. And not only are they at the entry or stagnant levels but in top level leadership, decision making, innovation etc in top performing institutions. We should talk more of the same not only to the Kenyan youth within the Diaspora communities as well as when we project back home.

By our mindsets, let’s not legitimize the sentiments of some out there that think that all Kenyans in the US are in a handful of occupations (sometimes going to the extent of branding it menial jobs). The Diaspora population is as diverse as it is back home.

Picture this if at all to drive the point home. As you fly that immaculate KQ branded Dreamliner 787 on your next flight, dream away with the knowledge that at least 6 of the Boeing engineers (yes not technicians) that built that plane were Kenyans. As you pick up a book in the massive Kansas city library, remember that the institution’s chief executive is pure-bred Kenyan woman. As you apply into that institution of higher learning and pick your coursework, rise from the regular business degree as you pacolate on the fact that the Dean of the med or law school might just be a fellow Kenyan. Now switch lanes and not to fast my friend if you’re in Alaska coz that state trooper that pulls you over may be the Kenyan brother I just watched on the Justice network (was actually excited for some patriotic reason). And incase you end up in a US courtroom in some cities, watch the judges bench as…yap you guessed it – we are there too.

Now repeat that in every profession and majority states. The common denominator is that these are most likely not as a result of accidental career choices. They were deliberate and passion driven decisions.

My point is, don’t limit yourself. You are cut to be movers, shapers and influencers in our adopted home. Whether it’s in corporate America, in healthcare, in trucking, in professional fishing,  in law enforcement, as an educator, in banking or on Wall Street – find your fulcrum, own your destiny and excel in it.

You got this. Go get ’em tiger!




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