This will be the first of what I hope will be many of my personal stories on entrepreneurship. If you don’t hear from me weekly then that means I have been kidnapped by NEPA! But I will strive to share regularly on my series called JUMP: My “Scary” and Sometimes “Amazing” Plunge Into The World Of Entrepreneurship.
When I was in primary school, a man threw me into the deep-end of our neighbor’s swimming pool and left me to drown. What happened next has to be one of the most defining moments of my life!
You see, seconds before I was flung into the pool, my swimming coach had tried unsuccessfully to convince me that I could actually swim, but I did not believe him. I thought that I would drown in the deep end.
the man my coach pushed me into the swimming pool, I had already said the Lord’s Prayer and 2 Hail Marys before my body hit the water surface.
But an interesting thing happened, I did not die (obviously), instead I started swimming…with one unexpected push, my swimming coach had shown me that I could swim.
3 months ago, I took an even bigger plunge into the unknown world of entrepreneurship, when I quit my lucrative engineering job at an international Palm Oil and Natural Gas company to navigate the deep waters of entrepreneurship.
This time I did not have anybody to push me, instead I had to push myself.
But how rude of me, I forgot to introduce myself …
Who Am I?
In primary school if you told anybody that “Okechukwu Ofili” would become an Engineer, they would have looked at you as if you were smoking fake WAEC papers. But it was true, I had somehow become an Engineer and I had somehow gotten very good at it.
So good that I graduated top 5 of my class in Mechanical Engineering and subsequently got offered a full-time position as a design/project engineer for an Oil Services company, where I got sent for an Expat assignment in Nigeria before taking a full-time job at one of those top Palm-Oil Companies in Nigeria, all over a 12-year period.
My achievements would have made any normal Nigerian parent orgasm with pride.
I Was Not Happy
But I was bored out of my mind!
I mean the pay was great, but I was not fulfilled. I did not feel like I was making a great impact of any sorts with my job. I mean, we drilled oil. And on the surface engaged in CSRs, but it was not anything that really seemed to make much difference to me.
So I started focusing my energy on other stuff, after work and on weekends I would go into the community and help rebuild schools plus help raise money to pay for medical bills.
I would also put hours into my start-up company OkadaBooks as we worked to revamp publishing in Nigeria. And lest I forget, I also spoke at schools. I felt a sort of energy that filled me to no level I could describe, when I worked on these “side” projects. Especially when a teacher said thank you for fixing my class, or seeing authors getting paid monthly on our platform. I was excited!
But once Sunday evening rolled around, my energy disappeared and that strange feeling crept back in. I would go to work with a fear that I could only describe as a cold feeling around my body and pain in my heart. I mean, the pay was good, the people (well, some of the people) were great but I just never felt any kind of joy. It was honestly like the way I felt when going back to boarding school after a long vacation.
I wanted to quit!
But what would happen if I quit and went broke, won’t people laugh at me? What about all this money I was making? What if I fail? These thoughts would go through my head every time I thought about quitting.
Coping With Fear
So my next rationale was to try and do everything together, work, speak, entrepreneur, community service and
preach all at the same time.
So I would spend hours working on my “side” projects late into the night up to 5:00 am. I would sometimes get to work half awake. And have to go to the toilet where I would take a 1 hour power nap at lunch, and then resume work. I did this with some success …
So much so that we were able to grow our start-up company OkadaBooks to 110,000 users as at the end of 2016! But it soon became unsustainable. I hardly had anytime for anything. And I found myself sacrificing things. I no longer wrote regularly on my blog. I no longer sketched, and investors did not want to talk to a part-time entrepreneur.
I knew deep down that I needed to quit, if I was to do that thing that I was most passionate about.
I was afraid just like I was several years ago when my swimming coach pushed me into the pool.
You see for 12 years in the corporate world, I had been swimming in the shallow end of my dreams. Wading through the safe waters of a comfortable 9 to 5, armed with a great salary to keep me afloat. I would see other entrepreneurs playing in the deep-end, laughing and having fun, living their dreams. But I was stuck in the shallow-end, safe but bored.
I was just too afraid to take the jump!
But on March 17th, instead of waiting for someone to push me, I woke up, without any inclination or special sign and took the jump into the deep-end of entrepreneurship. I would like to say that on that day, the sun shone brighter or the birds sang louder. But nothing special happened. It was just a decision to stop being afraid and to finally do it.
So What Now?
Now I don’t know where the journey will take me, or upon which shore I would wash up on, but I do know that I want to help demystify entrepreneurship for others. I want to share the good, as well as the bad and the ugly side of entrepreneurship. With focus on the last two (the bad and the ugly) which are greatly lacking in the entrepreneurship conversation!
My hope is that my journey may inspire, but more importantly prepare somebody out there to JUMP into the deep end and follow their passion without drowning.