What an 84 Year Old Kenyan Man Teaches Us About Career Success

Over the weekend, I saw a great movie called “The First Grader.”  It’s based on the life story of Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge, an 84 year old man who in 2003 enrolled in a Kenyan primary school to learn to read.  While the film tells the story of the end of British colonial rule in Kenya, and comments on modern day Kenyan society, the career advice comes from Kimani Maruge’s determination to get an education.  He wants to learn to read, because in his own words, if he can’t read he is “like a goat.”

Maruge, as he is called in the film, meets resistance when he tries to enroll in school after the Kenyan government declared free public education for all Kenyans.  Initially he met resistance from the staff of the school.  They told him that he has no pencil and all students need a pencil and notebook.  (The truth of the matter was that the school provided pencils and notebooks for the students.)

When he returned with a pencil and notebook, he was told that he must have a school uniform – which included shorts, knee socks and shoes.  Magure sold one of his goats to buy pants that he cut into shorts.  He purchased a pair of knee socks and shoes.  He returned to the school – an 84 year old man dressed as a child.  Local drunks taunted him, but he continued in his quest to get an education.

Today, Maruge is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest person to ever matriculate in a primary school.  In 2005 he addressed the United Nations Millennium Development Summit on the importance of free primary education.  He passed away on my birthday (August 14) in 2009.  He was a role model for all of us.  If you get a chance, go see the movie.  It is incredibly moving.

Besides the importance of persistence to life and career success, there is another piece of career advice to be learned from Maruge: humility.  Maruge humbled himself to get an education.  He dressed as a child because that’s what it took for him to be accepted into the school – and to get what he really wanted, the ability to read.

There are many twists and turns on the road to life and career success.  Many people think that career success is a steady straight line progression, one rung of the career success ladder after another.  That’s not necessarily true.  Sometimes the best thing that you can do to bring you closer to your vision of life and career success is to move laterally.  Be willing to take a job for the same amount of money and the same grade level in your company to gain valuable experience – experience that will make you a more well-rounded professional.

Some people are too proud to do this.  Humble people, like Maruge, realize that a lateral move may be the best thing they can do for their career.  They are willing to take a lateral assignment, or move to a less desirable city to further their career success goals.  This takes humility and a real commitment to your life and career success.

Tweet 21 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “You’re in charge! Commit to taking personal responsibility for creating the life and career success you want and deserve.”  Being humble enough to take a lateral move – if it is in the best interests of your long term career success – is a great way to show your commitment to your life and career success.

I know this is true because it worked for me.  I had a job in the Training and Organization Development Department of one of the companies for which I worked.  My short term goal was to become the manager of that department.  However, I was offered an opportunity to work in the Personnel Research Department – a lateral move.  I thought about turning it down, but I didn’t.  Two years later, I was asked to lead the Training and Organization Development Department I left to work in Personnel Research.  Not only did I get promoted, I was a better T&OD Department head because of the experience I gained doing the Personnel Research job.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Successful people realize that a lateral move may be the best thing they can do to move up the career success ladder.  Career success is not always a steady climb; sometimes a plateau provides much needed experience.  Lateral moves can come at the expense of your pride.  But don’t let that get in your way.  Be humble.  Think of Maruge, an 84 year old man dressed in shorts and knee socks sitting next to six and seven year old kids in a classroom.  He was humble enough to accept this because his desire to read was greater than whatever shame he might have felt learning like a child.  Don’t let your pride stop you from making a lateral move if it is in your career success interests.

That’s my career advice on the importance of humility to life and career success.  What do you think?  Please leave comment sharing your thoughts with us.  And, please go see “The First Grader.”  When you do, please leave a comment letting us know what you thought of the movie.  And as always, thanks for reading my daily thoughts on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, you can download a free copy of my latest career success book Success Tweets Explained.  It’s a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to http://budurl.com/STExp to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

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  1. Very inspiring… God bless.

    Thank you.

  2. jacob nguli says:

    Thank you Bud. You have really helped me as an “Instructor” I am. Im sure many people who have come across this have message must have felt the same. May God bless you.


  3. great advice. maruge was and remains one of the greatest lessons on not only humility but also of hope and not giving up.

  4. I agree. Maruge is a great human being. I aspire to be as hopeful and humble as him.

  5. First of all, This is so interesting and very inspiring. I salute you Maruge for sharing career success.

  6. Muwanguzi Vicent says:

    So inspiring.

  7. Good movie, but every chance you had you inserted yourself. Even on the mans death day, u brought up ur birthday. Not to mention selling your book at the end. Just sayin.

  8. Thanks for your comment David.
    I do have a few quibbles though.
    First, if you read the post, you’ll see that his death day coincided with my birthday. This is just a coincidence that I thought was worthy of a comment. Sorry if it offended you.
    Second, my blog is aimed at helping people create the life and career success they want and deserve. It is not a film review blog. I used the movie to make points about the importance of humility and how it paid off for me. I often use personal examples in my posts.
    Third, I wasn’t selling my books in this post, I am giving them away.
    All the best,

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