The Most Extreme Soft Skill to Have is Not What You Expected

This story happened last year. I had just started a new job – my true dream job – as an editorial manager for a UK-based international consulting and business intelligence company. In January 2017, I was flying to Nigeria for a year-long mission; not the best place on Earth to live in – you may argue – but I have always been interested in Africa, and the only other option I was given was moving to the middle of nowhere in Saudi Arabia and co-living with a colleague who did hate me (and still does, but I still don’t know why).

Explaining what it’s like in Nigeria to those who have never been there before and don’t know Naija very well can be quite tricky; my job there mostly entailed conducting business meetings with high-level and not-so-high-level decision makers working in the private and public sector; in a country such as Nigeria, this is guaranteed to turn every single day in an emotional roller-coaster.

My day-to-day routine was packed with excitement and interest for everything that was new, but also with constant disappointments and delays, unbearable levels of stress, hours spent in traffic jams, unhealthy food; I spent so much time travelling up and down in Lagos that I ended up knowing this Nigerian city better than my hometown back in Italy.

During my time in Nigeria, I worked with a nice colleague with whom I shared joy and sorrow; D. is a Romanian girl who had already been living in the country for a while and we got along very well. Part of our job involved dealing with the public sector, that in Nigeria is located in enormous and decadent Soviet-style buildings where the employees spend their time playing cards, watching the telly, eating and chatting about the latest wedding in town – but don’t get me wrong: there are, of course, competent and hard-working people in the public sector in Nigeria, even though the picture I painted above is still sad reality.

One day, in May, we were flying back from a business trip to the Nigerian Capital Abuja; we were going back and forth all the time hoping to strike a huge deal with one of the Nigerian ministries; they had assured us they were going to sign the contract that day, but we had been sent back home empty-handed again from an employee with some obscure job title… something like under-secretary to the Public Relations attached to the deputy-something of the development of Whatever.

Our flight was supposed to last one hour, but we were delayed by two hours (as usual), and where we finally landed in Lagos at about 9 pm, as my colleague was walking down the air-stairs, she stumbled in her heels and got her foot broken.

Our walk out of the airport was kind of tragicomical – still not sure if more tragical or more comical: as I was carrying both her and our two pieces of hand luggage and she was jumping on one leg accompanied by the rhythmic bounce of her generously-sized breasts, her mobile started ringing.

The under-secretary to the Public Relations attached to the deputy-something of the development of Whatever asked if she could get back to Abuja the day after to finally strike the deal. D. wanted to remain in Nigeria so bad because her boyfriend is from there, and she feared so much being relocated somewhere else that she didn’t claim any sick leave, not even a single day off.

The following day at 6 am, D. was boarding a plane to Abuja in a wheelchair.

davide rasconi nigeriaBut the deal didn’t go through.

Neither that day nor ever after.

Despite the huge disappointment we had, D. and I kept working at full capacity in the following weeks and months, arranging business meetings all over Lagos. Given that lifts or elevators are as scarce as hen’s teeth in Nigeria, I carried D. on my shoulders like a koala up and down of any types of stairs, just to present ourselves (almost) impeccably at each and every meeting.

So, every time I hear something about soft skills such as adaptability, teamwork, resilience and problem solving I have a good laugh, as this picture comes back to my mind.

Davide Rasconi

© The Shortlisted – 2018

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