As a strong fearless African woman born in the UK but raised in a remote part of Nigeria by a bold, fearless and totally devoted, loving, caring, humane and extraordinarily conscientious farmer grandmother “my indefatigable Amazon and philosopher” I returned to England in the late 80s very confident, brazen, defensive and sometimes totally loud and pugnacious.
I grew up through the civil war in Nigeria and served as a farm hand for gran, helping to harvest melon seeds, cassava, yam and others plus helping to fry and sell garri in the market to earn our living.
Gran had no room for lazy people. If I said that I had headache or belly ache, she simply gave me salt in water for belly ache, warm therapy Apc, touched my head or belly and said “agu Nwanyi, you will be OK, now get on with your work”
Upon returning to the UK after higher education and a failed marriage blessed with three children, at an age when many girls are still not sure what to do with their lives, it did not take time for me to learn that although my attitude was good enough to repel faint hearted friends and enemies, it was the deal breaker or barrier in my way to any successful career.
I took on anyone who I thought was prejudiced against me for whatever reason my mind told me. Many employers loved but loathed me. I just could not be bothered because I had been led to believe that everyone who is not the same colour as me is racist. I bought into that delusion and was always combat ready not realising that I had become very insecure to a pint of delusion judging anyone who tried to correct me as agent of my imaginary oppressors.
What I did not realise was that I was deeply loved and adored by a few people but they were afraid to get too close. I stupidly thought that I had street credibility and the fear I caused or (commanded in my delusion) was respect.
Well, it took an incident for me to learn that although I was good at my work, senior management feared that a promotion for me will be catastrophic. They were at the same time afraid of losing my talent and dedication. I had brilliant reports but was never shortlisted for promotion. As you can imagine, I would have none of it and waged war. I threatened to bring down the roof and everyone including Union reps were targets because in my mind they had all taken sides with my imaginary oppressor.
This then forced senior management friends to have series of meetings with me. I was told how much I was loved and respected for who I am and how my attitude was my biggest enemy.
That was a turning point. I began to watch how other people reacted or responded to issues and followed the advice a Caucasian boss I considered a father constantly rolled out with so much love. He took me to launch and walks in the park on several occasions. At those times we discussed my strengths and weaknesses and how to use or change them in order to fit in.
One thing he commended me on was my readiness to learn and on that note approved many personal development causes. They worked. Trust me they do!
Today, I am a better person who will always argue my case without losing it, pulling off my gloves, rolling up my sleeves and and asking others to bring it on.
Why am I writing this now? I called my GP surgery for an appointment after hours because I fell asleep early this morning. I was told that they could not make any appointment for me.
I was cool, calm and respectful knowing that the receptionist was only following their policy. In the past, I would have started jumping up and down, asking for the Practice manager. But I did not.
Guess what? It paid off. I got more than an appointment because I was not rude and aggressive.
So manners are key to advancement and success in life.
Many of us in our fifties and the younger ones must take critical looks at ourselves and see where we may be going wrong and why we are not likely reach the pinnacle of careers careers despite being admirably talented and holding tons of degrees. It’s not weakness to do so. It’s strength!
Ask your friends to assess you or take online attitude tests and seek help if you find yourself wanting.
Being rude, aggressive and non compromising even when you are at fault may give you street credibility among mannerless people like you, but will never move you up the ladder.
What is the point in bagging tons of degrees and doing nothing with them? That is a waste of talent , time and money.
You could do better if you accept that there may be need for improvements here and there.
I did and it worked for me. Don’t be a failure because of your attitude.
Jenny is a UK based Solicitor and Advocate. She is the Founder of Nigerian Women In Diaspora Leadership Forum and a member of several other professional and community organisations.
She is a socio-political activist and commentator; a passionate community leader, mentor, trainer and coach.
Follow Jenny @Jennyokafor on Twitter & @JennyChikaOkafor on Facebook