REJECTION AND PROMOTION – LESSONS FROM MY MOVE FROM THE BBC TO THE UN: Yesterday at UN Headquarters, I received, welcomed, and thanked a wonderful sister, Kadaria Ahmed, because she was used by God to push me from the BBC in London to the United Nations in New York. She is now a big TV journalist in Nigeria, making good impact, I believe, but we were colleagues in Bush House for several years. Seeing Kadaria at the UN was another amazing teachable moment – a moment to consider the mysterious ways of God, and a moment that reinforces the truth that nobody rises up or achieves anything in life all on their own, without the hand of God through the actions of fellow human beings. I also felt that times of rejection – or seeming rejection – CAN serve as a good soil for new seeds of hope and success to be planted in our lives.
The full story – with its twists, turns, and tensions, will take pages, so please allow me to give you just the abridged version in this post.
Working for the United Nations was never something I had in mind. I admire those who get an early revelation and vision of working for this major global body. I was quite comfortable learning, striving, and improving in the BBC in London, but then became a reluctant, accidental, or Divinely-guided international civil servant in the United Nations in January 2003. Two years earlier in 2001, something significant had happened that rattled my world, shook my self-confidence, and made me wonder about my prospects and future with the BBC. I was doing well enough by this time and had become one of the regular (possibly popular) voices on the BBC to Africa. I was given opportunities to host or present a variety of programmes from Postmark Africa, Education Express, Arts and Africa, through the Sports show, Fast Track, to the popular early morning news magazine show, Network Africa. I was also called upon at times to present the beautiful global programme, “Outlook,” when Fred Dove and Heather Payton, the regular presenters, were not around.
I worked hard. I enjoyed working hard. I put in extra, and was ready to step in whenever a colleague was indisposed, sick, or travelling. I got on well with my colleagues – well, almost all. I simply pursued a work ethic drummed into me by my mum and family. I also found merit in getting along with those you work with. I learned and borrowed successful interviewing and broadcasting techniques from my peers and other seniors like Hilton Fyle, Robin White, and Neil Curry. There were other broadcasters in the wider BBC whom I considered distant and silent mentors, so I learned or copied from their effectiveness on air.
From never doing any broadcasting in Ghana, I had worked hard – under God’s grace – to become a Senior Producer at the BBC. Thank GOD. Now, an opening comes up for a possible promotion to Deputy Editor. But when I applied and went for the interview, I was not successful. OK, to be frank, I failed! Others had done better, according to the panel. I felt like a reject. My world looked bleak.
Strangely, the bosses or recruiting panel decided – in a sort of Solomonic decision-making way – to get the top three qualifiers or successful applicants to try the job for two months each, until the post was declared fully vacant six months later. I was among the bottom three – the three “rejects”. I couldn’t be upset at my friends and colleagues who were promoted (temporarily.) In fact, I wasn’t even clear who or what to blame for my failure and disappointment. My bosses – or members of the panel – were not enemies. They didn’t hate me, I believe. Was I the best among my colleagues? Maybe. And maybe not. But the future looked bleak at that time. I was in personal turmoil. In my quiet moments, I asked myself, “So I’m not even good enough to be among the top three senior producers in our team?” I felt downcast, but carried on with work as best as I could. My faith in GOD proved to be the most valuable asset in my life in this period. This was a time of doubts and anxieties, and a time of deep reflection that tested the soul. I learned deeper lessons of FAITH, PATIENCE, and WISDOM, in this period.
It was during this time, with my feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and rejection hanging over me, that the wonderful woman you see in this video and photo below, was used by God to steer me towards the UN. Kadaria and I were working at the BBC, and found ourselves on one of the night shifts in Bush House for one week. The shift usually started from 10 pm through the night, with the first editions of Network Africa the next day at 0330 GMT, then 4.30, 5.30, 6.30 and then 7.30. As we worked that week, Kadaria, knowing I did not get “a good report” from the promotion process, approached me to offer some consolation and encouragement. She shared that there was an opening at the UN in New York, that she would have applied for, but she wanted me to give it a try. She was generous, sympathetic and considerate but I wasn’t really moved. “If bosses who have trained me, encouraged me, and seen my improvement and other qualities do not ‘value’ me in the BBC then how would others beyond the BBC wish to recruit me,” I argued in my head.
I was so jaded and in such a state of discouragement that I didn’t act on Kadaria’s information and encouragement for days. Then, I think, she literally came to my computer during a little break on the night shift and showed me where the job was and urged me again to, “JUST TRY”. Reluctantly, on a Friday mid-morning after our last shift of the week, and with the deadline for the UN job just hours away, I dragged myself sleepy-eyed to the home of my brother Joel Kibazo, whose wonderful lawyer wife, Jaye, hovered over my shoulders at their desktop – almost holding Kadaria’s “gun” to my head 😉 – to complete and submit this online UN application. The cloud of rejection still remained with me, so I prayed more and sought ways to strengthen my faith.
The songwriter Bill Withers says in LEAN ON ME:
Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s
Lean on me,
When you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
Kadaria’s single act of generosity and encouragement, started me on a course that led me to join the UN in January 2003. Yes, there were interviews, checks, and a long wait, but my UN journey started from Kadaria’s kind initial step.
In the intervening period, from “the rejection” to my move to the UN, a bigger miracle happened, and I got THE promotion I had craved earlier and became Deputy Editor. (That would take too long to narrate now, so I’ll leave it for another post, please.) The UN process had already kicked in … and I was eventually recruited to move to New York.
1. BE ON GOOD TERMS WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES – EVEN THE ONE WHO CHOOSES TO BE YOUR ENEMY: All things can still work together for good, as the Scripture exhorts. Kadaria offered me encouragement and readily directed me to a UN opportunity because I was on good terms with her. Imagine if I had been at loggerheads with her. We do not necessarily go to work to make friends but through work and jobs, some people do become friends or even like family. Some people will hate or dislike you out of nothing, but when they go low we must seek to stay high, as Michelle Obama stated. So, “as long as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
2. REJECTION CAN BE GOOD – AT TIMES: It is not always that rejection can be a good thing, but I believe that, in certain situations, orchestrated by the Divine, rejection CAN turn out to good. I would probably never have considered the UN for a job or career if I had not experienced the confidence-shaking “rejection” I felt when I applied first for a promotion.
… Your “enemies” are not God – as they say in Ghana. (My bosses were not enemies because they had trained, guided, and encouraged me – though it felt that way when I wasn’t promoted.) Those who may not like or accept you today can still turn around tomorrow to promote you or hail you. You don’t give up on your dream, or your quest for success and prosperity at the first point of failure. The same BBC bosses who seemingly “rejected” me six months earlier promoted me, soon after, when I tried again.
3. OPEN UP TO THE COAT OF MANY COLOURS: Kadaria is a Muslim. I’m a Christian. She is from Nigeria – probably with Yemen and even Britain thrown in; I’m from Ghana. She’s a woman; I’m a man. I was an older colleague. What am I saying? Deal with prejudice, bias, and secret discrimination – in yourself and wherever you see these – because these are limiting and can keep you away from your blessings. Stop thinking it’s only people of your age, gender, ethnic group, or political persuasion; your country, your race, your colour, or faith who can be used by God to help you. Maintain your basic principles and values but don’t let bias and fear keep you away from all of God’s children.
4. HOW YOU HANDLE A REJECTION, A MISTAKE, OR A MOMENT OF FAILURE, MATTERS: Experiencing rejection is a certainty at one point or the other in our lives. We will certainly make mistakes – whether small or big – I just pray your (or my) mistake does not lead to a fatality or a crippling injury. We will fail – at some point – in our lives.
My BBC editor and mentor, Neil Curry, has taught me an important lesson in broadcasting, communication, and leadership: mistakes are not the worst things that can happen, it is HOW YOU RESPOND to the mistakes that matters.
Your success, happiness, or well-being depends on how you handle or respond – not react – to the challenges that come your way. REACTING implies a sudden, negative, impulsive, and purely emotional behavior that will do more harm than good. RESPONDING, usually implies taking control of our emotions, staying calm and thoughtful, and taking a key step or steps to address a bad situation in the most constructive and helpful way possible.
5. PAY FORWARD: I am always thankful to God for Kadaria. She actually doesn’t think it was/is a big deal. Best way I can show my appreciation is to strive – in whatever little way – to be a “Kadaria” to someone else. The Scriptures say, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” I strive every day to be a vessel of good use.
Thank you, Kadaria. God bless you.
THIS IS MY STORY, THIS IS MY SONG …
… And, there, but for the Grace of God, goes Ben Dotsei Malor. Thank you.