A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
Today’s subject is a 22-year old combining two tedious roles as a medical student and an executive assistant. She talks about the requirements of each role, her supportive boss and how she tweaks her schedule to accommodate everything.
I wake up at 6:30 a.m. every day, but that doesn’t happen today. After sleeping through four alarms, my roommate has to step in where the machines have failed. She taps the bed gently while calling out my name. I reluctantly open my eyes and take in our small room. There’s a ceiling fan rotating idly over my head, the metal on the double bunk beds have gotten a fresh coat of paint, and the rug has seen better times. “I’m up,” I say to her.
The first thing I do is to try to hustle bathroom space. As a student in a public university, the greatest struggle is having a germ-free bath. And that’s why wide-eyed, early in the day, I run to beat the soon-to-be-great-bathroom-rush of the girl’s hostel.
Thankfully, I come back to my room cleaner than I left. Then my day truly starts.
As a medical student, my day takes different turns. Sometimes, I have classes in the morning. At other times, it’s reviewing patients and presenting the findings to a consultant. Or, attending clinics and watching senior doctors in action to gain hands-on experience. Depending on the posting I’m in, it can be a combination of all three. This morning, I have online classes. At 8 a.m. I open my laptop and sign in for lectures.
It takes all my willpower to stay awake during the lectures, and I’m super grateful when my last class ends by 3 p.m. I close my laptop and contemplate what to eat for lunch. Midway through my thinking, I decide that sleep is better than food. I put on a funny show on Netflix, draw my curtains, settle under my duvet and wait for sleep to come.
I feel like I have two identities. The first is a medical student which encompasses all I do — school, writing, research and making my parents proud. Then my other [paid] job as an executive assistant [E.A] where I plan, schedule and organise. They’re both demanding, and I don’t know how I combine them seeing as I have only 24 hours in a day.
Being a student is the “easy” part because there’s a fixed schedule. But the second job? I’m always twisting and tweaking my calendar: work after classes, work during classes, work on weekends, work before classes. I like to say I go from work [school] to work-work [E.A].
Because I slept in yesterday, I’m starting my E.A job before school today. My boss, an entrepreneur, is trying to get into a new field, so I’m researching it. I know I can’t finish before lectures start, and I plan to take notes, listen in class while continuing my research. Once I’m done, I’ll schedule a few meetings and create content for social media. Then I’ll be free to focus on my lectures for the day.
On some level, I keep wondering how long I can sustain my second identity. The only reason I’ve been able to combine work and school is that the school hasn’t resumed clinical classes — ward rounds. Once that starts, I won’t get back until 12 a.m. or 1 a.m., and I’ll be too exhausted to do work-work. As much as I enjoy work and the financial independence it brings, medicine is still my first love. I’m still unsure if I want to write briefs and concept notes as a full-time career.
I like work-work for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my boss is a great human being. Even though she’s almost three times my age, she respects me. She listens to my opinions, asks for my input and she’s never bossy. It also feels good to be trusted with high-level stuff despite my age. Maybe because I’m Nigerian, being treated with respect by an older person is a big deal to me. After my experience with other types of employers, my boss is an angel.
The learning curve is another reason I like this job. I’m constantly reading interesting things. In one year, I’ve learned enough to talk about types of VC funding, angel investing and how to support entrepreneurs. It’s mind-blowing how much I now understand that entrepreneurship is the lifeline of a lot of countries. But, I’m still a 9-5 babe, thank you very much.
The real icing on the cake is that the relationship with my boss has progressed to mentorship. I’m constantly learning from her and sounding ideas off her. And she has been very gracious with her time and support.
Today, on a work call to check in on progress, she kept asking about my welfare and school. We ended up talking about me and the importance of school above everything else. It felt good to be treated like a human being by an older adult.
The best part about having a job as a student is financial independence. My E.A job pays me well enough to not ask my parents for money. I don’t remember the last time I collected money from them. Even though they know my salary, they still insist on sending me money.
I appreciate my parent’s love and support, but I don’t want to be a burden on them. They’ve never said I’m a burden, so it’s weird that I feel that way. On some level, I think it’s because I know the sacrifices they made to see me through an expensive secondary school. Now, I just want them to spend on themselves and plan for their retirement. Ever since Nigeria hit that 2016 recession, I’m no longer sure they have a retirement fund. Things have gotten so hard that I wonder how my parents have managed to keep me afloat. Earning an income means they can focus on themselves for once in their lives. But they still feel I’m their responsibility. I guess being a parent is to be forever responsible for your kids no matter how old they turn.
I’ll just have to get used to it. Just the same way I’ve gotten used to my dad sending me money randomly, like today, no matter how much I refuse. I plan to call to thank him.
I have been winging school so far. I find time to read when I can because I don’t schedule studying. Mostly, I study close to an exam or test. If I have an assessment on Friday, I’ll start reading on Wednesday. Other times, I’ll join study groups for revisions or just listen in class.
I know that as I approach my final year, things are going to get difficult. But I’m going to try my best to hold out for as long as I can. If push comes to shove, medicine is the most important thing to me, and my boss supports this. Thankfully, the skills from this job are transferable to any field, including medicine. I know that no matter how things turn out, this is an experience I’ll always cherish.