Answering the “What have you been up to” question!


Ten months ago, I was filled with excitement. Together with thousands of others across the various tertiary campuses in the country, I had written my last paper and was saying goodbye to four years of undergraduate studies. Well barring any failed paper, it was a hearty goodbye. My excitement was about completing four years of tortuous studies and boring lectures. It was about (probably) never having to stress over mid-semester tests and final exams. Most importantly, it was about ADULTING.

At the time, the future was an unknown and yet something not worthy of our fear. True, jobs were nonexistent and responsibilities were looming in on us. But with the kind of metaphoric weight that had been lifted off our collective backs, we could not afford to sour the excitement with such harrowing thoughts. Soon enough, we had to face it.

You come out of the university with whatever class your academic effort grants you, filled with hope despite the evidence to the obvious. In your mind, you will be able to figure things out. You have been to an entrepreneurship seminar or two so you can add two and two together to make a living. Before you even consider that, you remember all the “big men” your father know. It is a “whom-you-know” world right? The CV, Resume and Interview skills workshops you have been to would finally be put to good use. A month after graduation, you are still not shaken in your belief that it would all be alright.

Wait, you have your mandatory National Service to execute so why be worried? Your old boy’s connections would still be put to good use. You need to either be at Tullow, GNPC, Kosmos or some other fancy company. The dawn of your awakening is inching closer. When the list for placement drops, you find your name next to a district you have never heard of. You are headed to hinterland Ghana. You might be able to change your posting but chances are that it would not be to the multinational firm you were dreaming of. Like dominoes tipping over after the first flick, the life you imagine for yourself is slowly crushing in on you. After accepting your posting to a district assembly where you idle around on days you show up and are free to skip work for most days of the week, you bump into a friend in town.

She calls out your name after your attempt at muscling your way into a trotro with thousands of others trying to grab the one seat left failed. She was riding home from work in her company’s car. “Hey how have you been Kwabena. Its be a long time.” “Yes ooo, charley. Longest time. Charley you make fresh paa ooo. Your color come waa. What have you been eating”. You both break out in a guffaw. “Oh what have you been up to”. Her question ends all the niceties. Scratching your head for answers like your fingers have the power to go beneath your scalp and find one somewhere underneath your cranium, you stammer with an answer. There is no shame in saying you are working at a district assembly. She knows how National Service Scheme works. Your posting was arbitrary. But you know very well that “what have you been up to” is a loaded question.

It is a question about both the present and future. To you, it is not a question of what am I doing now that ends in the nearest future. It is about what am I doing now that would ship me into years and years to come. Answering that question has the power of telling the listener how serious you are with your life, or so we have made it seem.

Asking a recent graduate “What have you been up to”, can be very depressing and worrying. Thick in the midst of confusion and uncertainty, the question forces you to settle for something fancy yet unfulfilling so you can have an answer the next time you are queried. An answer on The Process you are going through to arrive at an actual answer is somehow not an acceptable one. So when you say, Oh I am working on learning coding, you sound like the often ridiculed wannabe rapper handing out his mixtapes or the lady who has “Make Up Artiste” boldly written atop her Instagram profile. In reality, what have you been up to, should be an open ended question.

The answer to this seemingly ominous question should celebrate whatever it is you are really up to. If you are dabbling in Spoken word while earning a meagre salary at a dead end job, you should be able to talk about it. If the questioner contorts his or her face while you answer, chuck up your deuces and leave their judgmental presence. Not forcing yourself to run into a job or space that makes your answer more desirable to prospective questioners eliminates the stress. It allows you to Trust the Process you have committed yourself to while working at it.

The thrill in answering that questions comes not from the socially defined parameters of what a good answer to that question is: well-paying job with the prospects of securing you a house, a car, wife and two kids.  The thrill comes from knowing that the answer you have given would not lead you to regrets on your dying bed or make you second guess why you have to wake up and go through the diurnal needs of a work week!

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