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The last month has been very interesting. We have spent time looking for the production crew to work on the second season of the highly successful Love Games. A lot of people don’t have the experience or the education for working in TV production, not surprisingly, Zambia doesn’t really have a TV industry. It is definitely one that is growing, but not yet as mature as our neighbors, especially not like South Africa, or Kenya even.

Career vs Job

But I looked at some cvs of people who’d had the opportunity to study abroad, and they all have degrees in stable career paths, like economics, law, business etc. When asked why they wanted to work on the production as say a make up artist, they said it was because it was their passion. So my follow up question was, ‘then why didn’t you study it in school?’

Most people had the stock answer, ‘I needed a back up just in case.’ Erm, you have no experience, or education in the field you’re passionate about, so how does that show it’s your plan A?

As an African child raised by a very African father, I understand the not doing what you really want to do. My father wanted all of us to go to university and get a degree in something traditional like economics, law, business etc. I said, ‘nah, I think I want to study film.’ He sighed and told me to prepare myself for a life of unemployment.


It didn’t deter me though. I didn’t necessarily go on to study film for many reasons, but I did ingrain myself in the industry where I could. My former boss at MTV has no qualms telling anyone who’ll listen how much I bugged her to get a job there – I was pretty bad. I’m sure she hired me just out of frustration! Lol. Now, I’m not sure that type of persistence will always get you what you need, but you do have to have some persistence for people to take you seriously.

And then it’s not all glamourous to start with. There is real grunt work to do when you’re on the come up in the TV industry. It’s hard work, it’s late nights, and all for not much pay… or pretty much any industry really. It’s all about determination and focus – you know what you want, and you work towards that.

My whole career has been focussed on working in the media arena in one way or another and honing my skills to make me better each day – I keep telling people, every day is a learning day!

The last couple of years (well will be 2 years on Sunday) in Lusaka I’ve been shocked by the work ethics of most people I’ve met. People be like give me a job and let me show you want I can do. And then they show up to work late, write in text speech, they expect you to accept their shoddy work, and get surprised (and upset) when you fire them. Actually in most cases they fire themselves! Walk off set, or don’t show up at call time for no valid reason. They saunter back on set when they’re ready and expect to find a job waiting for them!

After my stint at MTV I’m used to people working like slaves to get ahead – ok it didn’t help that it was fairly obvious that there was a queue of hundreds of people waiting to take your job if you didn’t perform. But I do truly believe that fortune favors those that put in the effort for their career. And there were countless examples of the interns who rose to SVPs (senior vice presidents) at MTV, exemplifying that anything is possible.

Yet, here, just working past 7pm is a problem for people. And can’t be dedicated to one thing… I don’t know, it’s frustrating.


Again I understand it’s scary to commit to one thing, especially when there is no industry to show that it’s worth the commitment, but how do you know for sure if you don’t try?

There will be many that come, but only few will remain. And these few will be the ones that establish a real tv and entertainment media industry for the country.

Right now I have little tolerance left, and like America, I refuse to negotiate with terrorists. If it means I have to fire someone even if I don’t have a back-up person, so be it, we make an alternate plan, terrorists can’t hold us to ransom!

For me there is no going back because I don’t have the back up plan. Plan A has always been my plan, so I might fail at times, but I always have to get up and dust myself and keep it moving. I don’t quit. I might let go of things when I’ve tried every means to make it work, but I won’t quit. And I like to surround myself with the people who have the same spirit. It’s not always easy, those close to me have seen when I’ve fallen apart, frustrated, not knowing what to do, but we get up, we solider on. No one said it would be easy – and they do say anything worth having is not easy.

Maybe I do push people too hard, or expect too much, but I do truly believe that everyone can achieve greatness – or at least what they want in life. I just don’t have the patience for anyone not trying to achieve what they can, with some hardwork, focus, and determination.

In the words of my friend Believe + Achieve! (though ok you need a little bit more than believe, but you know what I mean!

I won’t lie, I like money. I dream of the day when I have enough money in my bank account to take care of myself, my family, and my most important charities. But I also like to know I earned my money. Only on my lazy, depressing days do I dream of winning the lottery!

I guess there is something about working hard and by using talent and knowledge to make money that makes me feel like a success. Anything other than that, well, maybe it wouldn’t be as rewarding. But of course this path is the hard way to climb the path to success. It’s littered with frustration, disappointment, and stress along the way. And there’s no roadmap that tells you how to reach your destination, no short-cut, no show way you’re going to get there. Yet when we begin the path we look forward to getting to the end-point, without knowing how or when we’ll get there.

Ok that isn’t entirely true. There is a roadmap – it’s called strategy. The problem is sometimes we don’t know how to develop that roadmap (strategy) or worse still, how to follow it.

The challenge I find in my pursuit for success and financial rewards (not necessarily the same things), is that I seek to do things that I enjoy, things that I take joy in learning about and getting better at. So sometimes I forget that I’m trying to make money too! But that’s me, I can’t imagine being in finance because I can make a lot of money that way – I’d die of boredom, quite literally.

The downside is that you can get too bogged down doing the stuff that excites you, that you’re passionate about and not make any money from it. So the challenge is to find the balance. Which brings me back to strategy.

To set out on your path, you have to know where you’re going. What is your end-goal? How will you know you’ve got there if you don’t know what it will look like, what it will feel like? Believe me this is easier said than done. Especially if you’re setting out on this course with other people. You all need to be on the same page about where you’re going, because when those detours, bumps and roadblocks come, you need to know how to stay on course and keep ‘the end in mind’.

Among my many challenges, this has been one that continues to crop up. Finding a direction that everyone agrees on. And then back to what will it look like, what will it feel like?

What I’ve realised is that when you’re in management you need to take a step back from the day to day operations, even when it is chaos on the floor, to go back to focussing on the roadmap – keeping the vision always in sight.

So while I’m back in the UK to ship the rest of my stuff (yikes, i’ve really moved for good!), I’m doing the step back thing to look at the bigger picture. The plan is to get back on track once I can figure out what success means, where the end-goal is, and sell it back to the rest of the team.

But first I’m going to watch some day time TV and eat some real junk food – aah the joys of fast food. 🙂

Reading this blog is good insight that failure can be enroute to success – don’t be scared of it!

I write because it helps me express myself and how I’m feeling. Sometimes it’s easier than other times. I feel the challenge of being a Type A person – which I’ve never particularly thought of myself as being. Yes I’m fiercely ambitious and can (occasionally) be an over-achiever, and yes success (of the financial kind) is top of my list, and some people may call me a workaholic, or work obsessed, but I guess because nothing I do do I ever think is good enough, I’ve never considered myself Type A. Though coming to think of it, isn’t that the very reason why I probably am Type A? Constantly pushing myself to be better?

Anyway, my point was the last couple of weeks have been particularly challenging for me. Working in Zambia is probably not the best place to work if you have a Type A personality. The work ethics aren’t on the same point, there is not much of a go-getter attitude and really hard work isn’t actually valued or rewarded. In fact looking around – and I’d say thanks to the media (well they are the eyes and ears of the people) – there aren’t many examples of how hard work, drive, ambition and dreams can turn into success, wealth and personal growth/satisfaction. Instead we have examples of how doing the least amount of work and a poor attitude can get you by, and in some cases also succeed (though those examples are marred with potential corruption and scandal and other unworthy characteristics).

So it’s easy to understand why a company, despite how long you have worked with them, despite how much business you have thrown their way, to still treat you with disrespect and try to con you in some way or another. The attitude of ‘I don’t care if I lose your future business because I’m going to exploit you today to make a killing’. The saying a bird in hand is worth two in the bushes is totally lost on business in Zambia – from my experience that applies to both small and large businesses.

Also the limiting ourselves nature of people. When did we stop dreaming? Where is the can do mentality? Initially I found it amusing when one of our employees couldn’t say where they wanted to be in five years, then I thought that maybe it was because they didn’t want to tell us if their plan was to move on. But the more I talk to people, the more I observe people, the more I realise that loads of people don’t have a plan past today – and that’s probably to get home to some food and TV.

I have big dreams that I can’t limit just because of my gender, or my age, or the country I’m in, that’s ridiculous. From the age of 10 I started dreaming that I wanted to win an Oscar (best film and best director), I may not have that dream anymore, but I never thought because I was a girl born and living in Zambia that it wasn’t possible. My dreams may have changed, but they’re still big. And therein lies my problem.

My loyalties mean that I don’t want to leave anyone behind as I continue to move forward in my life (read career), but what happens when you feel those very people are holding you back? You feel as I do, a condition prone to Type A personalities (so I read), and that’s stress and depression. And if you dig further (ok do more google searches) you realise that depression is simply latent anger, which could be a result of frustration (that part I’m guessing).

And then it makes me think. Is it that there are no dreamers, or ambitious people in Zambia? Or did the frustration and challenges around them kill them? To be honest I can see why getting home to food and TV can be a hell of a lot easier and comforting than constantly working against the tide.

We’ll see how this chapter plays out.

Yesterday I felt hurt. It’s not something that I often feel, or at least admit to feeling (must be a combination of hormones and lack of sleep). In the last seven, almost eight years, I’ve lived in London, I have felt prejudice and minor racial insults. You know the usual, ‘I didn’t recognize you because you’ve changed your hair’ kind of stuff – despite the fact that I am the only black girl in the team. I guess white people look the same when they change their hair, yet black people look completely different. Or is that just code for ‘all black people look the same’?

I’ve always brushed it off and not taken it too seriously, though I did make a mental note to ignore the person the next time if they insisted they hadn’t met me before. I was then accused of being aloof. Go figure right.

So anyway, yesterday, this woman who I’ve known for pretty much the entire almost 8 years I’ve been here, comes to the office bearing gifts for the whole team for a project we’d pulled off successful but guess who didn’t get a present? Yep, somehow I was forgotten. Not my team mates who only joined 18 months ago, but me. Ok, I suppose on top of being black, I am kind of aloof after all, so I guess you could be forgiven for not noticing me in the corner…

Still it hurt my feelings, it’s not nice not to be noticed. Little, brown girl in the corner.

I try not to let external validation affect me. My purpose in life is not to have other people tell me I’m great, I need to know and believe that myself. If we look for external validation we might never be happy. It also makes us forever unsure about our skills and accomplishments, leaving you feeling insecure and over critical or unappreciative of your successes.

But as I firmly believe, the universe provides your signs to show you your purpose and even validate your feelings, if you will. Recently I was feeling down. No matter how many wins I’d achieved, I didn’t feel it was enough, still felt not completely sure that I was good at what I was doing, or making any difference. Because I was looking for that external validation.

Then something happened. I opened up my facebook page for pretty much anyone to find me. I had a whole bunch of people I didn’t know requesting me as a friend, I thought most of them were requesting me because of my MTV affiliation. Imagine my surprise when a good number of them sent me a message saying how much they admired my sisters and I, how we really changed their life with Trendsetters.

My sister

I was honestly overwhelmed. We hadn’t published Trendsetters in a good three or four years, yet people still remembered it and regarded it highly. It was Zambia’s first publication for young people and unlike some of the stuff out there today, we weren’t trying to tear anyone down but uplift a generation of young people. We profiled positive young role models and provided inspiration to young people to encourage them to aspire for greatness and to protect themselves by not contracting HIV. The magazine was informative, yet educational.

I couldn’t believe after all these years and my many years at MTV, people still valued the work I did when I was 18!

This wasn’t the main decision that made me look deeper to find my personal legend, but it did help me stop and take stock.

I’d spent many years looking for this external validation, when it was in me all along. I knew I could be successful at anything I put my mind too. But I also knew that my family and helping people be better were the things I cared about the most. I could achieve part of this at MTV, but to do both, would require some changes. So, the first part of my journey was to make the conscious, yet painful decision, to leave MTV. Having handed in my resignation, makes the unknown both scary and exciting.

I’m happy to be on this journey though, as deep down, I know it’s time I put me first and find my way, with my family around me.

I’d like to say that I have been super busy on my route to discovering my personal legend, sadly that wouldn’t be true. I have been dreaming about my personal legend more than actually trying to walk the route to it. I guess this is what so many people do, why so few people truly find success, spending more time day dreaming than doing.

My personal life is run very differently from my professional life. But since I am somewhat successful in my professional life I have decided to apply some techniques that have made me successful. The most obvious one being planning. Ok, I’m not so great with planning, but I’m getting there. I figured now, more than ever I need a plan, at least a short term one.

To add to my organisation, or to take that first step in my planning, I signed up for the project management software tool, Huddle, managing your life is like managing a project after all. If you know what the goal is, you can figure out the steps to get there. SImple right?

If only. But I believe a step, any step, is better than none. So I’ve created a spreadsheet, I’ve done a document with comparisons and a checklist. It’s not all that I need, but it’s a start. And that’s the important thing to remember. There will be detours. The sofa will feel better than going out in the cold, the TV show will be more inviting than reading that book that will guide you. The detours aren’t going anywhere, we’ll have to try to resist them, but when we don’t, we can’t beat ourself up about it. At least you made a start. Of course the more detours you take, the longer it’ll take to reach your goal, your personal legend.

Tomorrow is a new day and a step in the direction of this personal legend of mine. I can’t wait.

Stuck at home, terrible cough (ok and I’m broke – since it’s started pouring down with rain, I’m definitely happy to be home). But this is a good thing because it’s been awhile since I just chilled – on my own. And I can catch up on my university reading – management by Boddy.

It’s been an interesting week, two of my friends have had great successes with their entrepreneurial skills; Octavia’s blog, the TwentyTenClub has been shortlisted in the Best Business blog for the 2010 Black Weblog Awards. And my other girl, Susan has had her independent production commissioned (can’t say more than that because it’s top secret), and this happened after she’s got back from a freelance gig in Nigeria with MTV base. (Slight digression: can’t believe MTV base is geo-blocked!). So good look for both of them and I’m very proud of their achievements.

Today, my former driving instructor came over to collect his last cheque. After being let go by his company for some silliness, he’s literally started his own company doing confidential courier services. He didn’t sit around wondering what to do, he just go on with it. So impressive.

I’m sitting here, thinking about reading my book and bearing in mind that I also have the Gates report to do (yikes!), and people are getting the best out of their lives. I just feel demotivated because I’ve been doing what I do well for so long, that I no longer know what I want to do with my life.

I’m obviously very passionate about what I do, a cause I believe strongly in, but is there not more to my life? How do we find the challenge in our lives?

Aaah then I also have my girlfriends giving me dating advice. Why do people put so much pressure on you to figure out what you’re doing? I’m quite content with where I am right now – or I’m too busy thinking about my career and my dissertation. I just don’t need the additional pressure to think about whether or not I’m in a relationship – is it really important?

So here I am, on a saturday afternoon, having that eternal debate with myself; what is the purpose of my life?

And also feeling sorry for myself every time I go onto twitter and see I still only have 25 followers – boohoo. Though I am enjoying it. I’d spent so long slagging off the people in the office for being on twitter – ‘isn’t it just for narcissistic people?’ – but I’m loving it. And following the right people, I’m actually learning a lot.

I think my tweets will get so much more interesting once we go into production. I could tweet about this year’s World AIDS Day programme because I’m actually quite excited, yet anxious about it. Done right, it’s going to be great.

Well I think I might take a nap, or maybe mediate for a bit – need to clear my mind – though if I meditate, I’m more likely to fall asleep!

Oh but before I forget, have to congratulate Media 365 for having Club Risky Business shortlisted for an AfriComNet Award for Strategic Communication in Health for Africa. Gutted that we nominated Shuga in the same category but weren’t shortlisted, I’m still very proud of my siblings. Please check out the newly launched site too:

Someone just asked me what the rest of my siblings did and as I remarked that I always thought that I was the dumbest one in my family she looked completely shocked, after all, I am pretty damn smart!
‘Seriously’, I said. And it’s true, the Phiri family are a bunch of over-achievers!
We have Mwawi, the oldest of us male who with a BA in Business Admin from Boston University (nice) he has worked for the biggest companies in Zambia and keeps winning internal recognition as most valuable employer – he’s up for a regional award from MTN now! (and he’s daughter looks set to grow up to be the Beyonce of her generation!)
Anna was one of the producers for what was one of Zambia’s first films – it’s not so much that the film was pretty kak, but it was driven by these female film-makers willing to take a risk to do something to break the mould. She’s off to Burkino Faso to pursue her dreams in the African film industry. Anna’s offspring is extremely talented and don’t be surprised if in 10 years time you’ll be driving cars designed by him.
Aaron is an award winning musician – hip hop artist based in Sweden and ‘world’ famous in Japan. He’s collaborated with some of Sweden’s best artist and won a Swedish grammy – he’s also a music teacher for excluded kids and a father of three boys (aaah sweet)
Mary – well she really was the brains behind Trendsetters (and the editor in chief – i just followed her lead really!). Trendsetters was Zambia’s first publication for young people, after just 6 months of production, Trendsetters won a global Media Award from the Population Institute – CNN had won the previous year. Trendsetters print then spurned a radio show – which won an award for development media from OneWorld Radio and then Youth Media – the organisation behind Trendsetters, founded by Mary, myself and Anna – then went onto produce other IEC materials for people trying to reach young people. Last year Mary was instrumental in setting up media 365 in zambia and is the CEO of the company. I read somewhere that Mary, who’s also a PEAK Fellow, is dubbed the Southern Africa youth media guru – it is no lie. She’s well on her way to being the Oprah of Zambia – when we get her her own TV show – watch this space! *She has to juggle all this being a mother of three tiny terrors.
Freddy (Fred to those who don’t know him so well, though i smile when i hear people call him Mr Phiri! he’s my kid brother!!), is a talented writer from his blogs – which i’m upset he’s stopped writing – to writing the script for the award-winning Club Risky Business – Zambia’s first drama series around HIV/AIDS. He was also a representative for Zambia at the UN Pan-African Youth Leadership Summit. Definitely watch out for him!
Then there’s Tasha – she’s a Rhodes Scholar – need i say anymore? She will be Dr Phiri in two years (because she wants to be) Oh yeah she also drove the SMS business of one of Zambia’s leading companies for sustainable IT Solutions – turned it into their most profitable division in less than a year! (and she was only like 26!)
See – over-achievers. And yes, we are a big family. I didn’t even include a couple of others!
The thing we have in common though is that we care – we care about our communities and our family. We’re a big family and close, so each person’s success is all our successes. And I am proud of all of them. But there’s definitely a lot to live up to. My parents must wonder what they do to produce this lot! We’ve got our little wall of fame at our family farm for all our various awards and achievements – it wouldn’t be so little if we included our press clippings I suppose!
I like this quote that i heard Dr Cornel West say – You are great before you are successful. He was saying that greatness is in you and success is the accolades you get as a result of being great. And I think that my siblings are great, and one day all their greatness will be rewarded with success. For now, we’re just family.