Reflections on 2015: The Toughest Year Of My Adult Life

I wrote this on Christmas eve, 2015, but never had the courage to put it online. Until now.

George Appiah - Value Creator

It’s Christmas day tomorrow.

I packed my backpack some two weeks, bid goodbye to house and family, and checked myself into a little room in a not-so-little hotel off the Aburi Road in Accra, Ghana. I came here to reflect and take stock of my life through the past 11 months of the year, close the lid on some still lingering projects, and finalize my goals for the coming year — along with a plan of action to accomplish those goals.

Taking Stock Of The Past Year

Throughout the year I’d aways known that things were not going well for me financially, at least not as well and as fast as I’d hoped, for considering how much effort I put in and the great cost to other areas of my life.

But I didn’t realize the full extent of this slowdown until I started crunching the numbers and consciously reflecting upon the year we’re about to leave behind.

For the readers new to this blog, I’m an independent IT consultant presently live in Accra, Ghana. For the past 3 years, the entire nation has been experiencing an acute power shortage that has been dubbed DUM-SOR (literally, OFF-ON). In the best of times, I experience 24 hours of total blackout followed by 12 hours with stable power. I say “best of times” because often the scheduled 12 hours of power ends up being less than 8 hours because the power will come on an hour or two later than scheduled, go off an hour or two earlier than scheduled, and fluctuate several times in-between.

How does one bootstrap a business to success in such an environment?

As you can imagine, this has had a crippling effect on the whole economy, but more so for small businesses like my little IT consulting operation that relies 100% on power and the Internet to deliver value to clients before I can make a single cent.

In addition to not being able to deliver enough value to my clients so I can be paid accordingly, these clients themselves have been hit equally badly. Before DUM-SOR I had 11 local managed services clients. Of these 3 have failed and folded completely, and 5 are in SURVIVAL MODE now — having downsized and cut off all but the most critical stuff, including my services to them, just to keep the ship afloat until Godot arrives.

The continued rapid depreciation of the Cedi, our national currency, has also punched its own holes into my already punctured pockets. I rent servers and pay for various online services in US$, but I have to bill most clients in the local currency. This alone has drained my profits to a razor-thin line, as I’ve been unable to raise fees month after month for clients whose tabs are already hovering on the CANCEL button.

USD per 1 GHS

The Government, on the other hand, showed no remorse in hiking utilities 3x during the past year in spite of the many structural issues facing businesses — the afore-mentioned power problem, rapid depreciation of the currency, over 30% interest rate on borrowing, 17% inflation rate, etc — but that’s how far I’ll go with political rants on this blog.

So, in a nutshell, it’s been a tough year for everyone in Ghana, but more so for small services businesses and independent knowledge workers, including yours truly — and I’m ending the year with nothing to show for all the sleepless nights and hours of daily commute “chasing” electrical power just so I can get some work done.

Charting A New Path To Freedom

2015 has been a tough one financially. And as you likely realize, wherever financial stress goes, there you’ll also find all kinds of issues. So it should come as no surprise to know that I also experienced a great deal of turmoil in practically every other area of my life.

Albert Einstein on InsanityAlbert Einstein is widely quoted to have said that insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. If I’m going to thrive in the new year and make major strides toward my long term goals, something’s got to change: me, my environment or both.

2016 is an election year in Ghana, and two things are likely to happen on the political front: a) the government is going to find a stop-gap, short-term and very costly solution to the power issue, and b) the government is going to print a whole lot of money to fund their campaigns.

Both of these actions are likely to have the effect of exacerbating whatever problems we have, now post-election, no matter who emerges the victor.

Of the government, what it does, and the consequences of its actions, I’ve no control over — at least that’s not a battle I want to fight in this lifetime. That leaves me as the only factor I can control to make the desired outcomes in my life happen.

And that’s why I’m here, at the last stretch of the year, alone in a tiny hotel room, to chart a new path and design processes to deliver amazing value to the world in exchange for a commensurate reward — my preferred path towards financial freedom.