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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Life Lately: Omicron

I am not surprised that there’s a new coronavirus variant sending everyone into a panic. The virus is doing what viruses do, mutate, and there will be many more variants before the pandemic is over. (As written before, I still believe COVID will then become endemic). Given how recently Omicron was detected, we don’t know yet if it is more infectious, virulent, or vaccine-resistant.

However, we already know many of the Omicron mutations are in its spike protein, which is what the vaccines target. If the spike protein has been changed significantly by these mutations, current vaccines may be less effective. Again, we don’t know anything for sure yet and it will be a few weeks until we do, so governments can’t do much for now other than try to contain its spread.

I’m tired of reading, thinking, and writing about COVID – but I wanted to say two quick things about Omicron. First is we should all be grateful to South Africa for their advanced sequencing capabilities. A key weapon in the global defence against COVID is our ability to quickly identify aggressive mutations and then act as needed to modify vaccines or therapeutics. South Africa was first to publicly report Omicron, not only because of significant investments in sequencing, but also because of a culture of scientific honesty. Unfortunately (although I can understand the case for it), quick action also includes limiting travel from South Africa to contain the spread. The world needs to strike a balance in responding to new variants, otherwise politicians may become incentivized to gag their scientists when new variants are found.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Life Lately: The Matthew Effect

Contemplating my future atop the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in November 2018

On this day three years ago, I was cash-strapped. I was approaching the end of my year in business school with an empty bank account. While I could look forward to a nice signing bonus, that was still many months away. In the interim, we needed to fly back to Nigeria, wait out a few months of funemployment, and spend money on our visas which I could then claim back after starting my new job. I had money – the problem was that it existed in an employment contract, not as cash we could spend.

So, I needed to raise cash. I agonized about it for days as I’ve always found it difficult to borrow money. I negotiated again with my recruiter for my signing bonus to be paid immediately. It didn’t work. My last option was to go to my friends. Three conversations and fifteen minutes later, I had all the cash we needed to cover the next few months until my first paycheck came in.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Life Lately: The Psychology of Money

Chilling with my first personal finance coach

If I close my eyes and think hard enough, I can still conjure up vivid images of my mom’s budget sheets from my childhood. While I prefer to think of her as a miracle worker, I know those sheets played a huge role in stretching the family finances as far as possible. After I started my first job, my dad sent me notes from a teaching he did on personal finance in the early 90s. These all formed the basics of my approach to managing money: budget and spend less than you earn, invest your savings wisely, block lifestyle inflation, know what journey you’re on and don’t be swayed by people on a different journey...

I’ve just finished what I think is the second-best personal finance book I’ve ever read – and I’ve read quite a few. The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel is a great book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it over the past few days.


A core thesis of the book is that doing well with money is more about how you behave than it is about what you know. There are ordinary people who have built million-dollar fortunes (e.g. Grace Groner) and there are highly educated finance professionals (e.g. Richard Fuscone) who end up bankrupt. The book contains 20 short points about how we think about money and how we can behave differently. It was originally a blog post, which is free to read here, and there’s a good video summary here. I’m also going to share some of my favourite takeaways below.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Life Lately: One Year an Amazonian

November 1, 2020
“I was trying to apply to a position at Amazon today. While updating my CV with post-MBA information, the paucity of new experience gained at xxx struck me. I need to do better, and be more selective of what I do, every week going forward, starting tomorrow. I need to own my experience at xxx going forward”. - Journal entry, November 2019

I went ahead with that application to Amazon in November 2019, but I never even heard back. It was like my CV disappeared into a blackhole. I really wanted to work at Amazon, so I was disappointed, but I was not too surprised. I knew there were a few ‘boxes’ I didn’t check yet – Leadership Principles (LPs) for which I didn’t have enough experience. Starting that month, I began going after projects that would help me fill those gaps.

Eight months later, in June 2020, I was ready to apply again. So that my updated CV would not disappear into the void, I reached out to my network. Kate, my classmate from INSEAD, sent my CV to the Hiring Managers for the positions I had shortlisted and let me know who wanted to meet me. That helped me past the gatekeepers and ensured I got a response. Other classmates chimed in with tips on interview prep and descriptions of their day-to-days. When the famously intense interview process rolled around, I was ready.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Life Lately: Winter Blues, Finding & Working with a Mentor

Today is a great day for football. At 15.15 BST, there’s El Clásico, the first of the post-Messi era. Then at 16.30 BST there’s Liverpool vs. Manchester United. Both will be great games for neutral fans, but I am rooting for Real Madrid and Manchester United (for Ronaldo). Fingers crossed at least one of the two carry the day.

*****

Lovely blue skies at the Victoria Park

The past week was tough on my energy levels. It was grey and wet from Monday through Thursday, and I missed the sun very badly. I am a child of Ibadan, where the sun never misses its daily rendezvous with the earth. Four autumns down the line, I still find it difficult to go days without seeing the sun. By Thursday I had taken to praying for some blue in the sky, and when I saw that it would be sunny on Friday – I knew I had to take the day off and get outside. I hope that sustains me through the next few weeks.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Life Lately: On Black Taxes


I was recently speaking to someone who is indebted to the tune of 7x their monthly income. Now, not all debt is bad debt. This wouldn’t be noteworthy if they had taken out all those loans to invest in their future: say to buy a house, move to Canada, or pay for a well-chosen master’s program. But in this case, they were concerned – and I was concerned, because they had borrowed the money over many months to meet family obligations.

My last Twitter thread about black tax, financial support young black people are expected to provide their families and extended families, elicited a deluge of comments. People argued about its definition, whether young people should “pay” it, and how it perpetuates poverty. I’m not getting into matters of definition or propriety. I’m instead focusing on how to manage financial support to one’s family so that it does not result in debt or create lasting resentment.

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Life Lately: Virtual bible study and three tips for working more deeply

With part of the crew. Some of my favourite people in the world

One of the things I miss the most about living in Lagos is the spontaneous discussions my group of friends, affectionately known as The Crew, often have. I met the first members of The Crew when I started at OAU and joined the Student Christian Movement in 2006. I took an instant liking to Joseph, Kemi, and Wale. I met Ope through Wale in 2007, and then Detola, Bunmi, and Busola in 2008. A lot has happened in those 15 years, and we’ve stayed together for most of it, so everyone has a lot of context on everyone else. We’re often able to build on that constructively in our conversations and I missed that so intensely this past week.

So, when the idea came to me to suggest a virtual Bible Study plan, I leapt at it. Thankfully, they were up for it and we’re now on Day 6 of this lovely 7-day plan: Wisdom for Right Living. We all read the same devotional and bible passages, and then comment on WhatsApp or using the discussion space in the Bible app. It’s not the same as getting together in someone’s living room to discuss passionately, but it’s close enough, and I’m thankful we can use technology to bridge the gaps in geography.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Life Lately: The CBN goes after AbokiFx; One way to be more creative

Last week, Nigeria’s Central Bank (CBN) went after AbokiFx for publishing parallel market exchange rates. That is ridiculous – to put it mildly. It’s like going after Live Scores for reporting that Bayern Munich is trashing Barcelona 8-2 or banning Google Maps for showing there’s traffic on the Third Mainland Bridge.

Let’s start with a simplistic recap. The Naira has been in free fall for years. Nigeria’s main foreign exchange (FX) earner is crude oil, which gives us about 90% of FX earnings. The instability in the price of crude causes fluctuations in the amount of FX we have. Given we need to import raw and finished goods, both for consumption and as manufacturing inputs, Nigerians need FX. When you have lots of Naira chasing scarce FX, FX costs more Naira.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

On Turning Thirty...


It was a bright and beautiful Sunday ten years ago when I turned 20. It was the last day of Missions, a week-long event organized by OAU’s umbrella association for Christian fellowships, and it was my last Sunday as Secretary of the association. Shortly before noon, the pastor told thousands of gathered worshippers that it was my birthday and asked them to please sing for me. And they sang. I covered my face with my hands and turned as red as my dark skin would allow.

Missions is held early in the second semester. After handing over the office that Sunday, I had three months of university left. Except for a strong desire to not be broke, I was not really clear what I wanted from my life. At an event to mark my birthday that evening, someone asked what I thought I’d be doing in ten years. I thought about it for a while and told them I had no clue.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Life Lately: Tuition scholarships for five OAU final-year students; Show me Your Work


After much hemming and hawing and obsessing over minutiae, I am delighted to share www.etkolscholars.org with the world. While the site has been ready for months, I’ve had one reason (read excuse) or the other for postponing its launch. Between gentle reminders from Wale Osideinde and taking my own medicine (see Working on A Dream), we’re finally live!

It is most certainly a drop in the ocean, but there’s a real problem that needs addressing. Despite the subsidized and therefore relatively low tuition fees at Nigerian federal universities, many students struggle to pay tuition every year and some drop out or don't go at all because they can't afford it. There is abundant proof that education changes lives, and I believe all students who want a university education should be able to get one. But this is us starting “where we are and with what we have”.