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7 Lessons From Yatta: Be A Pioneer in Your Professional Frontier

During the last presidential election offshore migration of jobs, though not a new issue to those in corporate America, was discussed repeatedly. Surviving in professions that are directly affected by the offshore puzzle is a frontier most have not ventured into before. In addition to thinking of how to avoid job loss, because of traditional practices such as company merges or business closures, working people in America must also prepare for intense competition with qualified professionals (who are paid a fraction of what we get here) on foreign soils.

In the last few weeks corporate giants like Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Micron have announced changes. HP, which already has customer service representatives in countries like India announced plans to continue with layoffs. Micron, on the other hand, talked about the opening markets in Asia and the need to have local presence in such places.

These developments remind me of some childhood memories and experiences about a place called Yatta, Kenya. Survival, like that of employees in corporate America, depended on how individuals were prepared for uncertainties and their ability to be flexible with changing circumstances.

Yatta was a frontier whose dry climate, erratic rainfall, mosquitoes, and wild animals had curtailed human activities until the early 1960s. The need for land for cattle was the primary factor that made people want to conquer and settle in this undisturbed area. Initially, people moved their cattle to Yatta and arranged for young boys, occasionally with fathers or grandfathers, to be in charge of day-to-day activities.

I still remember the day my grandfather announced that I, at the age of 7 or 8, was to go to Yatta, a day?s walking distance from Kangundo, with my uncle Jimmy, who was about 15. My mother cried but my grandfather?s word was final. Just a few days before this announcement, a leopard had snuck into the shed, used at night as cover from rain and wild animals for both shepherds and goats, and left with a goat. That goat was next to the bed where another uncle lay asleep. We lived in that shed with snakes, insects and beasts of terror that jumped over the acacia fence we had built.

Lessons from my experience in Yatta included the items we took for survival, how we related with other pioneers, day-to-day adjustments, mental preparedness and basic faith. Looking back, here are some highlights from years experience.

1. Your greatest achievement from a goal may be the lessons you learn. Nothing in my life has been tougher to endure than of hunger, isolation and constant fear of wild animals. I learned that a human being can live with hope fueled by the expectation of a better tomorrow.

2. The greatest rewards from your efforts may never be realized until after you start doing something else. My grandfather?s illness forced my family to leave Yatta. But years later, I visited the area we had cleared, with some other family members, and found an elementary school.

3. Make efforts to have extra of whatever resources you deem a must for your survival. The skills, knowledge and connections you need to survive can be compared to the supplies of simple items like kerosene, matchboxes, soap, or corn meal. These extra supplies made significant differences in our survival. Grow your marketable skills.

4. Prepare for unforeseeable opportunities. Your level of preparedness will determine how you maximize unexpected opportunities as they avail themselves. Even in the worst situations, good things seem to happen unexpectedly.

5. Believe in achieving results that seem illogical given the prevailing circumstances. Those who endured the initial challenges of Yatta are today property owners in a place that irrigation has turned into a prime productive land.

6. Develop mutual trust, even with those striving for the same goal as you. Success in looking for new opportunities, searching for lost cattle or utilizing scarce resources in Yatta depended on leaning on each other. Networks with those in our professions and others may be the only thread to depend on in this new frontier.

7. You will always be better than you were before you began, if you don?t quit. I wouldn?t have my life any other way.

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