Living values at United Shore

Living values at United Shore

There are some core values I don’t compromise on, including respect, hard work, and continuous learning. I learnt most of these from my parents and a good percentage I discovered from the ever generous, yet merciless reality of life. When you decide to be intentional about your personal and/or professional growth, it is quite daunting to resolution to embody a set of principles. The difficulty goes a notch higher when you share your resolve with others! It is not easy to be transparent about your commitments and allow others to hold you accountable for your self-imposed ideals. There are no take-backs. There is no room for ego.

There are not many places and communities where you can find people that are forward and vocal about the values they live by. United Shore (also United Wholesale Mortgage) in Pontiac, MI is one of the few. I believe the 3 months I interned here gave me a growth spurt not only in programming and software development but in being more intentional about the kind of stuff I want to define myself by and what I want to be known for. My experience reinforced my favorite personal core value of being a better version of myself every day – KAIZEN!

I had lots of fun with this crew of smart summer interns!

I was fortunate to experience and be a part of a community of team members who are relentless in their pursuit of positivity, personal and professional growth as well as accelerated productivity in a fast-paced, yet friendly environment. I joined the IT team of over 600 smart people, as an applications developer summer intern and worked within two teams;  a summer project team of equally curious interns like my self and the Underwriting Business Partnership Team that developed software for the United Shore’s underwriters. Till now, I find it amazing how so many people (3500+ individuals) could live by and maintain such a culture and work ethic that is summarized in these six pillars:

  • People – the secrete to United Shore’s success
  • Service – everyone’s responsibility
  • Relationship-driven – not transaction-driven
  • Thumb-pointers – not finger-pointers
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Fun & Friendship – work can (and should be) fun

These defined the way team members interacted with each other and approached every aspect of their work. My favorite is Continuous Improvement — I enjoyed seeing myself grow as I hungrily consumed all I could learn every day of my work at United Shore. This is not just a message sold by the leaders to everyone else. This culture is team member driven. It is incredible! While working on my summer project and later on challenging myself with a user story on the Underwriting BPT, I had thousands of questions and issues. I did not think most were intelligent questions. I shamelessly asked as I was encouraged to, and I am glad I did. I was surrounded by mentors and my team leads who did not hesitate to take a moment from their busy schedule to provide guidance, or point me in the right direction. I am truly grateful to have work with such incredible talents in both my teams.

I look forward to the next experience that I can add to my bible of values! What core values define you and your work?

February Grit

Everyone faces mountains. Mountains sometimes represent insurmountable problems. Valleys, interestingly, are popularly used to communicate life’s low moments. Not the same meaning, but still thematically close to that of mountains. Regardless of the terrain on which you journey, there are bound to be some challenges. I would like to think February is usually the month where most people typically slack off on new year resolutions and hit walls of reality; facing both new and old mountains and valleys. Fortunately, having lost interest in plotting year-long strategies of fighting my greatest enemy–myself, I almost have no regrets from February. Well…maybe except not being able to check off all of my daily to-dos. But that is okay…I guess. I made some interesting re-discoveries last month about responding to uneven terrain that I would like to share.

grow a bigger vision

If your current challenge is disabling your senses then you are not thinking big enough. When faced with a force that challenges your current vision or dream, aim higher. This is obviously counterintuitive, but hear me out for a minute. This quote sums it for me:

“Ask God for a vision so big that without Him it is impossible.”
(bibleinoneyear.org | day 35)

Expand your mental capacity and grow a vision so big that you cannot possibly realise it on your own. This forces you to then trust in a higher power to make things work in your favour. I choose to trust in God and His omnipotence, and I ask Him for help every day. In other words, think bigger and use external resources in your arsenal to help you move forward.

work hard, be intentional

Do everything in your power and capacity to get results. Sometime last year, I told an interviewer about a difficult project I worked on and how I managed to make it successful. He commented that if it was not difficult then it would not have been worth doing. Reflecting on this memory over the past month, made me realised that even though I returned jobless from that interaction, I had gained something more valuable than employment–a renewed mindset. I need to embrace hard work and to be intentional about getting sh!t done, and done well. Hard work pays and what most don’t realise, and I usually take for granted, is that working smart is actually hard work. Do not downplay the importance of investing a lot of your energy into producing excellent results. If you put your head to it, the results will be smart.

fall forward, bounce back fast.

I have always loved Penn’s 2011 Commencement Address by Denzel Washington. Especially what he said about falling forward. It is not easy gauging where you fall when you fail. The pit of depression is a target that is really hard to miss. Falling forward is easy when you have a positive attitude of acknowledging the fall and noting the lessons. It is even a greater feat recalibrating your emotions and preparing for the next flight…or fall. I read somewhere that confidence is an effect, not a cause. When I see my failures as stepping stones for future successes, I gain confidence in my abilities and in the truth that I am getting closer to perfection.

Experiences, as uncomfortable as they may be, help refine your character and test your resolve. You learn to understand yourself a bit more. And history tells us that knowing and mastering yourself is one of the most powerful yet difficult things you can achieve.

So, when you pray for grit, pray also for understanding for this is the key to triumphing in the next terrain.

January Gratitude

It has been the harshest, longest month of my existence for so many reasons. I hated the weather—#1 “January felt like 6 weeks!” she said and I agree. I paid for mistakes I made in the preceding year with tears and hard labour—in some cases literally. Haha…learning to embrace your emotions is harder than I thought. But learning is growth. And growth is good. I’m glad it came to an end, though not necessarily the best way I envisaged. Regardless, I named it my month of gratitude. The weather has not really changed yet. I do not like to harbour strong emotions.

I turned silver on the 28th of January and, well, there were loads to reflect on. I had the time and solitude so why not stare at the metaphorical mirror of my life. I’m grateful to my Creator for being the invisible hand that guided me this far. I have tried a variety of experiments with my health, interests, education and relationships but in the long run, they all seem to fall into place. With my decisions and surrounding circumstances, I do not know any better way they could have gone. It must be God’s blessing.

#NotetoSelf: You can only see the good path in retrospect. Learn to trust Him wholeheartedly.

I am grateful to the ones who call themselves friends and family and are true to their word. I miss a call every now and then, but I try to be loyal…at least I think it sometimes. If the thought does not count, then, what does? It is hardest to smile to myself and easiest to smile to others. I am not doing so well on the self-love train. True story. I am working on turning that statistic around, so I am growing in the right direction. Yet for those who make me self-less, I thank you for choosing to stay alive and still be real with me. You know yourselves, including you, dear reader. I am grateful.

My imagination was not dead. It never was. I kind of lost a bit of—no, a lot of—oomph when I started to sag under the realities of life as a full-time worker. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that life, this essence of breathing and moving and all that constitutes this thing, is not fair. Do the math. I’m sure die-hard optimists and idealists would rather lose a limb than dispute it. What it taught me was that I do not need to play by the rules. I only need to set them. I choose to be a lot more intentional in my steps and I choose to live a life of gratitude to those who make my steps worthwhile. I choose to allow my imagination to run wild again and to have fun with it. I choose not to censor myself anymore.

Make a choice to create something—a dream, an idea, a place, a thing, that is worthwhile. I am one thousand percent sure the universe will conspire to make it happen. A fact.

Take a step of gratitude now.

Thanks.

Lazuli

It was darkest at the time. He was not asleep. He never sleeps—a fact that I am still yet to accept and appreciate. I love to read. Especially when it was time to care for and protect the jar. Oh, the jar of pure joy and happiness! I read my favourite stories of ancient conquests and enigmatic tales aloud during my watch hour. I would not always read. I danced and sang in my hushed husky voice. I was always shy when I remembered that He was still watching. Regardless, there was something magical about every night’s watch. They were never the same.

Bittle was always there too. But asleep virtually all the time. I was not shy of Bittle. Today, she perched on the top of the monolithic glass pillar beside the jar. Lazuli peacefully rested there, as it basked in the direct moonlight, reflecting calming rays of blue around the room and on Bittle’s white fur. Today, Bittle sleepily stole glances at me with one eye, intermittently, and then went back to her comfortable routine, as I tried to dance my worries of the day away. I guess she noticed how much I was still recovering from today’s bout with the baker.

Being a homeless orphan in the village of Zova has its ruthless perks. It was pure elation, however, 36 moons ago, when I met the Wise Keeper of the Glass temple. I would not forget. With warm, kind eyes he gave me an offer to steward the Glass Temple which only reveals itself to the pure in heart and spirit. I did not understand all his many instructions. For some reason, he kept stressing that more important than any precious thing in the temple was to discover who the Creator was and to discover his immanence. I did not understand his words nor was I ready to trade my excitement for deep thought or understanding. And now, standing and contemplating the value of the magnificent jar, His knowledge or existence was the last thing my senses would consider.

Could the jar be the permanent end of the daily woes? Yes, there are other rooms and elements not fully explored but Lazuli is what I know. Lazuli would trade for a fortune. Bittle was wide awake and glaring at me, confused, with her wide eyes which glittered in the soft light, as I made my way up the glass pillar. It was strangely sturdy. She glided down from her spot on the translucent monolith, floating gracefully like the white flying cat that she was. Bittle, having landed soundlessly on my shoulder, started pawing my eyelids close and desperately reminding me that He wouldn’t be pleased. I was determined, and she gave up, softly disappearing into thin air like she always did when she knew she would not win.

I was now a foot’s reach from Lazuli. The slippery climb up the pillar was close to an end. I flung my hand to reach for the base. A split second after the fourth try, I was in awe of the momentary burst of myriad tints and shades of bright green and blue, as the jar of joy and happiness fell to my face. There it was again, elation at its peak. I let go and spread my arms to receive the precious jar. It connected with my forehead. I saw blue, bright red and painful blackness.

I jolted awake, immediately realizing the gravity of my transgression. My eyes were already tear-filled and a bit bloody. I broke down into uncontrollable tears and deep sorrow, cradling the five pieces of the jar in my lap and arms. I had done the unthinkable. He would not forgive. Between my sobs, I could faintly hear Bittle and a familiar voice. I could not place a finger on it yet, but it was there. He lifted me up and promised to fix Lazuli if I would only promise to know Him. Lazuli would never be perfect, and I accepted this fate. Many promises were made that day. The other rooms and precious things seem to appear more clearly now. They seem equally exciting. He said not to get overly attached. I understood.

Lazuli carries the scars of the repair. I carry the scar and the pain. Though I still steward the Glass temple, I do not walk alone—Bittle is always good company but His presence makes the difference. Wise Keeper, I understand His immanence.

Why Design.

When I walk into a room for the first few times, my eyes are quick to locate the patterns, or lack of any, on the floor. I make judgments about the ceiling and its simplicity or complexity. I notice the cracks and crevices on the walls, the colors used and textures too. I notice the kind of materials, objects, and spaces in the room and the purposes they serve for that matter. Are they thoughtfully selected or thrown into the space to fill up the void?

Were the sharp edges of the table carelessly positioned without considering the potential harm it could cause to exposed human skin? Probably, no one thought about the possibility of the metallic legs of the chairs tearing up the carpets or the darkened spots and streaks on the wall caused by heads being supported on the walls while leaning back in chairs.

The thought of fixing irregularities in living spaces and my small attempts at this, using an understanding of the needs of inhabitants, delights me in ways I find difficult to express. For a very long period in my life, this is how I translated this: I want to be an architect. That wasn’t the end of it, however. I also had and still have a vested interest in re-creating objects and developing product ideas that are purposeful as well as pleasing to the eye. In spite of this and being at the mercy of circumstances, my curious mind led me to explore business economics, music, writing and computer science not only in school but as hobbies, which I soon discovered were not new interests but relatives of my true calling — design.

Design, to me, is the process and result of improving the lives of people through intuitive products, services, systems, and spaces. Design is bigger than the architecture of buildings and spaces. Design involves effective communication, a great user experience of a product or service, a well-crafted space among other thoughtful creations that spawn from the needs of the end user(s).

I believe that achieving this ability to create requires perfect practice and, depending on interest, experience in different aspects of design. I am an avid industrial design enthusiast and an appreciator of UI design, UX design, and IxD. From a computer science and business administration background and with a start as the Design Making Coordinator at the Ashesi Design Lab, I am eager to grow the skills and expertise I need to establish and pursue this passion of mine and especially become a skilled creator in this field.

Settle?

Settle?

Your expenses outweigh your income—not all your fault. A huge percentage of your day is spent commuting which is uncomfortable mainly because 90% of the time in the mornings, you’re hoping you reach the bus stops on time to catch your means of transport. And at night, you’re praying that desperate hustlers don’t realize you’re a carrier of a vegetable laptop. When you get down to business, your laptop is so slow and worn out that you can literally hear the strained sound of your hard disk and fan spinning in distress to keep it alive.

Your phone? Oh yes, the only thing that makes sense in your life in terms of efficiency. You received it as a gift barely 2 months ago. You’re getting a better grip of your affairs with your improved self-management, communication and even entertainment—the result of over-reliance on technology… good technology. This feeling is yet still a fleeting one. Your One Plus One takes a dive into a pool of water (might have made Kendrick proud if it was liquor at least) and never lives again. Did I leave out that the slightly used replacement you got was only recently stolen while you were among a supposedly holy congregation, and that you spent way more than what could have been your tithe on reviving your dead laptop? Well, we’re all caught up on the highlights now so let’s ignore the nitty gritty.

I wouldn’t be quick to conclude that you’re back to the starting point. Rather, I’ll spare you a complimentary tap on the back and say you’re a true survivor! Maybe you are, or were this person at the beginning of this year, and may be wondering how in this world you had these numerous series of unfortunate events—especially when last year’s stories were comparably worse. The ideas you might be struggling with probably are that

  1. good stuff is not good for you, get some cheap ones
  2. life isn’t fair, let go of the lost opportunities and be satisfied with the little you don’t have, and
  3. quit making a big deal out of the crappy so-called “efficiency tools” whose absence take a toll on your productivity.

There it is again, the golden 6-letter question: settle? Maybe you should. Maybe you should forget about the days of fasting you’ve strategically planned for, when your stomach and weight would make sacrifices for the next One Plus flagship phone (“whose tagline, by the way, is “never settle”) that you hope to purchase. You probably should forget about saving up your coins for furthering your education and possibly move to a larger apartment with 24/7 running water and a standby generator. Yeah, and remember to keep that laughter rolling whenever your PC takes a cue from the daily power cuts to dispose of your unsaved work. Maybe you would find solace in a simple life without much to look forward to.

Yup. And on top of that, I dare say you settle on this as a concluding statement for this piece as I settle for this unsettling feeling I have to deal with. You’ll never know… things might just start to suck less than they normally would.

Red

She wanted it. She was going to get it. It was only righteous. To deny someone of what they earnestly wanted, maybe even needed was sinful. It had to be. She was too pretty in white and those tights which hug those parts so close didn’t help. She eagerly sipped the mini glass of Kokoroko at intervals as if she had to maintain the redness of her lips already ripened by Sleek’s red. She wasn’t alone on that round little table where the window linked to the insides of the bar. Whoever made her laugh to her phone was doing a better job at making her night.
I’m not sure whether her laugh was growing louder or the numbness in my ears was wearing off. Who nudged me at the side?
“Chale you no go jam?” male laughter followed. “Make I buy more passion shots?!”
I lost sight of Red. Who was this guy? Oh, just Razz Kweku. Wait, that didn’t sound right. Razz Kweku is hardly generous. Trailing the elbow, it belonged to Ade. He was giving this white exchange student, heavy doses of his all-purpose ‘sharing-a-bed-with-you-tonight-or-nah’ vibes. From our chairs cozily placed close to each other on the bare road under the black sky, the plain conversations around me started to make sense again. Did I just space out or Red was real?
I checked. Oh yeah, she really wasn’t alone at the table. She had the stranger on the phone and two others—girls who couldn’t dim her shine. She glanced around. We shared the stare for the second. Those reds curled at one end in a smirk as she scanned the lively bustle. Leaving the glass of red on the table with the two straws sticky with Sleek, she meandered her curves through to the only path that leads out to the remaining half of the road not covered with furniture. The front of the Republic Bar and Grill. I was glad my seat partly blocked the path. Her lollipop-sweet smell hit my left cheek first and I wasn’t going to bend forward to allow the rest of her to slip behind me just yet. Not without gracing the back of my head with her softness. The perfect accident.
“Congratulations, Red, you played yourself!” I thought, even as she slowly squeezed between behind my low chair and that of whoever was behind me. I smiled. The perfume alluringly mysterious. I would be braver, turning around swiftly, ‘apologetically’, could mean my right cheek will be blessed as well. She skipped the rest of the way, I didn’t get to finish my thoughts. Walking along the road, heading towards Oxford Street in a saunter, and laughter into the once again handy phone, she was three steps away.
It was time to compete with the guy at the other end of the line. I couldn’t feel my hands but they helped me stand hard on my feet. “Owch! Ajei! Stop that, D—!“ I barely heard Ade finish that exclamation but I finished it with, “Chale I go call you, Ade! Stop talking about Ds” and a pat on his back, eyes still fixated on Red in sexy white, while I rose to my feet. The hot pursuit was on.
Almost out of earshot, I later recalled what seemed like Ade screaming at my stepping on his foot. White giggled with everything she had, it was a pretty sight from behind as if it merged perfectly with her strut. But then she still leaned on her left ear to that stranger’s voice. Closing the gap too quickly could take away points. The trick was to wait for the brief quiet down in the conversation and interject with the witty intro which would spark off the dialogue, totally pushing Mr PhoneCall into oblivion. This night was mine. This night was for the formidable Danso!