Life is In Seasons

By Ian Clarke

I finished my term as Chairman of Uganda Health Care Federation this week. This is an association representing the private health sector, in which I served as chairman for several years, but my term ended and I stepped down. Life is not one long continuum in which we do the same thing all the time, and we must always be prepared to move on. My personal philosophy is that life is a series of seasons, each usually lasting seven to ten years, and we must be prepared to adapt for the next season, so we should not get too comfortable with what we are doing.

Of course this is not how everyone sees life, since many people get into a career and keep doing the same thing for their whole lives. The vast majority of the doctors who graduated with me spent their career in the same job till they retired. Japanese companies used to pride themselves in giving employees a job for life. But this is now changing in today’s world, and the idea that one can train in a certain discipline and do the same job until retirement is no longer guaranteed. In the so called gig economy there is little job security, which is why we all need to become lifelong learners. We should be learning in whatever we are doing, and broadening our field of knowledge because we never know when we will need this new knowledge.

All of us have our comfort zones but we should challenge ourselves periodically. Many years ago I was living a comfortable life in Northern Ireland as a well-paid doctor. It was a huge change to move from middle class suburbia to a post-war area in Luweero, but though it was hard, it was probably the best thing we ever did. After our project finished in Luweero we went back to England where I could easily have taken another job as a doctor, but it seemed too easy. Coming back to Kampala was definitely not in my comfort zone, but if I had not made the move there would be no International Hospital today. When I stood for LC3 chairman in Makindye Division it was way beyond my comfort zone, but I was able to make a difference. When I stood for Parliament and didn’t go through, I also learned about failure, but I had to pick myself up and find my new season. Sometimes it is failure that actually drives us forward. When I sold IHK my season of being CEO ended, but I entered another season of farming. I did not know a lot about farming at the time, but necessity makes one a quick learner.

There is never a time to stop learning and challenging ourselves. I recently joined the advisory board of a digital health company because I believe that digital health is the future of healthcare in Africa, and I want to be part of it. Last week I attended a conference on bioscience because this field has become so important in healthcare and I wanted to learn about it. Some people would ask since I am getting older why do I bother to learn new things? But I look at Warren Buffet, Henry Kissinger, and Jimmy Carter, three very old people who are still learning and giving back their wisdom to this world, and they make me look like a young man.

We all have seasons: the season of being a student, starting a career, being an executive, being mature, getting older and retiring. We cannot avoid change, so we should learn to build for each season. If we understand that life inevitably brings change then we should not be afraid of it, and not hang on desperately to what we are familiar with.

In fact we should look forward to what the next season holds. Seasons are not random and we do not zig zag through life, but each season prepares us for the next. It is the fear of change that hobbles us, the fear that we will lose prestige or status when we lose our current job or position, but it should not be the position that defines us. In Uganda too many people are defined by the position they hold, and not the person they are, which is why we fear change and fight tooth and nail to hang onto these positions.

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