He must have served his employer diligently for some time. I assume this given his blue uniform, which proudly displays the two red stripes on his shoulder. The seniority pasted on the well-ironed clothes complements the shiny shoes. Then there is the swagger stick that he proudly swings around as he walks the beat.
He salutes as I approach and swings the gate open to let me pass through. Just enough not to bang the guardhouse wall. Words rarely accompany the salute, and so I wonder what the action means to him, is it “hello, how are you today?”; Or “I am doing this just because the boss told me so”; or “oh no these guys have come home again, and I have to open the gate for their lousy car.
When he is not at the guardhouse or doing his rounds, he will be washing the car of a tenant or helping with carting the shopping up the staircase. Suffice it to say he is always busy.
“What is exciting about the job you do?” I ask one afternoon.
“Nothing really, it is boring”, he responds with a face covered with lethargy.
I am aware that he is not in the mood for a chat, but somehow, I do not want the moment to pass. It has taken time to gather the courage to engage him. Opening up this conversation was on my bucket list, and finally, the day had come.
“If you were given a chance and had the resources, what would you rather be doing?”. This time he takes time to look at me. Suddenly he is awake. There is a slight smile forming on his face.
“I would be on my farm back at home”, he says, “it is a five-acre piece that my father left me. It is not much, but I need some money to invest in a zero-grazing unit. Once I get this in place, I will keep the dairy animals I have always dreamt of. Then I will sell the milk and take my children to school”.
Then it struck me – most of us wake up every day to deliver on the vision of our employers to the exclusion of our dreams
Take the CEO of a big conglomerate. He wakes up every morning and reports to his workplace. He spends his time opening and closing the “gates” of his employers. The entrances and exits take many forms – it could be reviewing the strategic plan, analysing the last quarter sales, announcing the dividend to the shareholder, chairing a management meeting or setting targets for the year. He has to deliver on the mandate entrusted to him by the owner.
In short, he ends up enabling the dreams of his employers. His success at work ends up in the success of his employer. He, like our guard, is an enabler.
However, deep down in every heart is a desire for something more. Many of us wish we could do something of our own. We dream of running an enterprise, owning a fleet of transport trucks, operating a hotel, exporting horticultural products, running a consultancy, on and on the ideas go.
These are the thoughts that consume our everyday conversation in bars, on dining tables, in workplaces, on our WhatsApp group, on the phone, basically in all our discussions.
What stops us from moving on from being enablers to creators is fear of the unknown.
World trends indicate a growing focus on managing costs of organisations. While this is true, organisations still have a considerable proportion of their overheads driven by staff costs. Many employers seek the easy way out to solve this problem. They need to enhance their efficiency and productivity in response to owner/shareholder interests.
Inevitably with their effort to satisfy shareholder appetites, there comes the reorganisation, realignment, redundancies, mergers, acquisitions and the like. The effect is that the staff base suffers. Numbers reduce. Fewer people will now be doing more work — machines and automation replace human beings.
The enablers are then forced to wake up to the challenge and move on to be creators. So the CEO, the guard at our gate, indeed every single one of us has to take on the task at hand; to turn their dream into action. Not taking a step implies the lack of means to make a future livelihood.
We have to join those who are taking the bold first step. We have to move into a more creative phase earlier and in turn, allow our children to learn the new normal – innovate or die. The world is moving on fast, and we have to keep pace, or we will be left playing catch up as the fast-movers catch and fly away with their dreams.