Vicky Karuga: Overcoming career guilt and thriving


Vicky Karuga: Overcoming career guilt and thriving

Vicky Karuga is the Managing Director of Profiles International TMS Ltd. FILE PHOTO | POOL

“I started a business that does people things,” explains Vicky Karuga, the managing director of Profiles International, when I ask what exactly she does for a living.

Because her resume reads like something off a complex machinery manual; psychometric consultant, Genos emotional intelligence master trainer, and digital learning adviser.

She was an architect, trained, and practised for a while before jumping ship and starting Profiles, which gives people and organisations the means for transformation through assessments and training.

She is part of a rock band called the Murfy’s fLaw (from Murphy’s Law) and she’s a mother, a wife, and a Rotarian.

“Essentially,” she says as she sits at a corner table in a cafe having coffee one very early morning, “I’m just a teacher.”

So, you were saying how you started this business is that you did a psychometric test one day…

Yes, I was curious about how it works. It was so accurate and that was the beginning of my understanding of who I am and why so many little bits and pieces of things kept happening.

Some people take a long or a short journey to understand themselves and often we don’t even pay attention because there’s so much happening around us.

After this test, I got interested in the mechanics; how does this test work? How do they craft the questions? Who validates this stuff?

So, fast-forward, I did a couple of training sessions, travelled to go and find out how ‘big’ guys use it, and that’s how I landed in the world of psychometrics.

What did you find out about yourself?

That I’m creative, and I am an entrepreneur. There’s something we call Holland Code. It talks about six motivational interests in human beings,  varying from creativity to investigative, mechanical to enterprising.

Thirteen years ago, the test informed me why I was a bit restless. Then, three years later, I started providing psychometrics services and met a friend in the same circles who introduced me to emotional intelligence and impressed on me how important it is in the workplace.

There’s always a real need for people to stop for a moment and reflect on the sort of impact they are having; their actions, decisions, and even their value systems and beliefs. It’s interesting.

Has it given you any revelation about human nature?

Yeah. First, everyone wants to be better. Sometimes we judge others too harshly and think that people do things with not-so-good intentions.

But the truth is, most people don’t know better. They do things a certain way because their father or boss did them that way.

Secondly, I realised how little time we spend with ourselves. How often do you spend time with yourself?

What is spending time with yourself?

It is observing yourself from the outside. Like someone else observing you and seeing some of the things that you do.

Where did you grow up?

In Thika, but when my parents split up I never went back because that’s when I was going to university; JKUAT. I had my first baby in the third year of my studies and then immediately got married, so I never went back home. It’s not refusing to go back, just life happening.

Because the next thing I knew I had four babies, I was busy working, and now I’m here. So you could say I left Thika unceremoniously. [Chuckles]

Do you think your parents’ splitting affected you in some ways?

Yeah. It affected all of us in different ways, and we see it even now. Maybe we didn’t realise it then, but I see it now in my siblings and the choices they made.

Personally, for a long time, there was a narrative around my husband….Is this going to be printed? [Laughs]

Yeah, unless you want it edited out…

Anyway, for a long time, I had this narrative around my husband, and I think it came from the fact that I was expecting he was going to leave at some point.

[Laughs] I would look at him and think, ‘this guy will leave because that’s what guys do, right?’ As a result of that insecurity, we had stupid fights about stupid things.

When I reflect on that moment I’m like, ‘now Vicky surely, what was that?’ One day, I woke up and I said ‘you know what, I have to decide whether I’m going to get married, stay married, or not.’

It’s a very simple decision. And it was predicated sort of by Stephen King [an American author]. I was reading a small bio and he said one day he woke up and looked at the woman beside him and said, ‘I’m not leaving this woman. Why should I leave her? For what?’

So I thought about it, and I was like, I’m staying married. From that point, my view of our relationship changed. I might not know what will happen tomorrow or next year, but I like being married.

I need something to come back home to because I feel sometimes I’m all over the place. Family means a lot to me. 

Are you close to your dad?

Hmm, kinda. Daddies were not close to us those days.

How’s your motherhood experience been?

As I mentioned earlier, I have four children; three boys and one girl. The oldest is 23, just about to finish university, and the youngest is 13.

I spoke about this on International Women’s Day, by the way. I was saying that my 20s were spent taking care of children, changing diapers, wiping bums, and everything.

Back then I had very interesting mentors in my aunties, my mother. Their way of looking at life was, you stay home, cook, clean, and be a nice wife. But I wanted to be a career woman, so there was a huge conflict.

When I was raising my children and pursuing a career, it was characterised by a little guilt. I wanted to go out and do all these things but lacked proper mentors.

It was only much later that I found mentors who were mothers progressing in the [career] direction that I felt I wanted to go.

It’s so important that we let young girls know that it’s okay to be a mother and do other things they want to do. It’s okay for them to go out and be wild once in a while.

My friend used to tell me, ‘your daughter needs to see her mom thriving’. It’s important. With four children you can imagine how noisy it was.

Suddenly, now they are leaving. My last born wants to go to boarding school, and my girl is already in another boarding school. The house is suddenly empty.


Vicky Karuga is the Managing Director of Profiles International TMS Ltd. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently in your 20s?

Am I allowed to say that I think I had my midlife crisis when I was 34 and when the children became independent?

That’s when I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. But because my 20s were hectic. What I did is, I joined a rock band called Murfy’s fLaw consisting of architects and a lead singer who owns her marketing agency now.

I must have been 26. I played the drums. We met on Saturdays and had shows, sometimes every week. That was my release. I think we released two albums at that time.

We played until Covid-19 happened. This year we are doing one show a quarter.

Are you mentoring any girls right now?

Yes, just two because the company that I run still needs a lot of me. I am really swamped. I’m always invited to speak to girls so that’s also another way that I mentor.

What do you think the younger girls are battling with right now?

It’s the same as every young person; self-awareness. Only now it manifests in different ways. It’s about me; what do I want? What do I want to become? What are my values?

What values do I want to live by? Good questions only that what they need to understand is that it all takes time.

What do you want now?

What do you wanna hear? [Chuckle] Oh! I want so much. Oh! my goodness. [Rests head in hand contemplatively] I want to live my life however it goes.

I want to be intentional about it and maybe it may not seem like I’m intentional because I’m kinda just navigating and feeling it. But that’s all I want.

I have a really strong inclination toward music so I want to follow that wherever it takes me. I see myself retiring owning a tavern where, in a corner, I will have my band and we will play daily.

I will have my business, of course. For my architecture, I want to do nice little projects. I want to meet Biko today and talk about these things and meet someone else tomorrow and talk about other things.

I want to do the most with my gifts. What do you want, Biko?


Vicky Karuga is the Managing Director of Profiles International TMS Ltd. FILE PHOTO | POOL

I want to write small books and make temperamental documentaries. I want to spend more time in the village, it’s calling me. I want to learn how to fish because it will teach me patience. I want a kitchen garden with cherry tomatoes and vegetables. I want to drink nice whisky at sunset. I want to help build health centres and classrooms in the village, to give back more. I never want to draw curtains in my house ever again when I go to bed so that I can have a lot of outside inside.

[Laughs] That’s interesting. [Pause] I want to see my mom, I want to have time with her because I know she doesn’t have so much time left.

[Pause] These things will happen for you, for me, but many other things are still going to happen in the middle.

True. Where do you think your music comes from?

I don’t know. I used to think it comes from my mom but we always tell her, ‘Mom you’re a terrible dancer.’ But, even today, my mom is the one who tells me the latest music and the latest artists.

I remember when I was in high school she told me, ‘have you seen this girl with these two nose rings?’ I was like ‘who is that?’ She sang another song called Shy girl. [Chuckles]. That’s mum.

But the track that scandalises us that she likes is that song, [sings] baby, I get so excited/ ooh how I like it/ I try but I can’t fight it/ Oh your dancing real close/ You’re making it hard for me…you know the song?

Yeah, I think it’s by Next [American R&B trio]

Yes. The day she will find out what that song is about! [Laughs]. She likes dancing to that song. Mum always kept up with music.

From a very early age, I was always in the choir, I was always picked to sing. My children are musical, so they always say it comes from me.

What does your husband do?

He’s an architect. We’re a boring family.

So you’re all artists. How’s that; two artists living in the same house?

[Chuckle] The children seem to follow naturally in that artistic sense. My second-born son creates his own things.

The first one – who wants to be an architect – likes peace. He’s that guy, his main philosophy is “be like water. Mom, be like water, why are you fighting so hard? Just let things flow.”

And my last two still don’t have interesting things to tell me but… (Waiter interrupts) Yeah, where we were, two artists in the same house.

I’m the logical one. My husband is the stricter one. I’m impulsive while my husband is a thinker, he thinks hard before he makes a decision.

We’ve had a very interesting relationship, I respect the fact that he understands and supports the things that I do and I do the same.

When I joined the band the first time, my mother used to call me and say, ‘heh, I hear you’re out, playing in a band.’ The company I run also has a board of directors and they used to have an issue with that. ‘Vicky, you cannot play in a band. You’re the MD, you cannot play in the band.’

So it took a lot of telling them, ‘listen, I’m not doing drugs or contraband, I’m not shipping things in and out of the country. It’s just music.

That’s all it is.’ It’s like being a writer. I don’t think anyone would ask me, ‘Vicky how can you be a writer? Same thing.

My husband loves reading. One day I told him, ‘Look, you love reading. Imagine if I told you you can’t read?’

He thought about it and was like, ‘Ok, that makes sense. Go do your thing but I’m not coming for your shows.’ [Laughter] But after some time, he started coming to the shows.

You are an architect, a musician, a teacher of EQ and psychometric consultant, and whatnot. Who else do you think is in you who might come out?

Gosh. That’s scary, eh? [Laughter] I don’t know to be honest, and that’s the beauty, isn’t it? To be like water, like my son says.

What do you fear?

You know, I used to think that when my children were very young, it was the worst age. But the worst age is now when they are 23-year-olds and you don’t see them and you don’t know what they’re doing.

You’re constantly on your knees praying. And they call you at 4.30 am and they say, ‘mum I can’t find an Uber.’ [Laughter]

Two years ago, my son got into a scuffle at night and some people beat him up. His call woke me up. [Pause]

The other day I was watching a video about trauma and this guy was saying how trauma lives in your body. It doesn’t live in your mind, it lives in your body.

There was an example of how a woman was raped while a fan whirred in the background, so whenever she will hear the sound of a fan she won’t know this but her body will tense up because the trauma is registered in the body and her body starts making decisions for her on how the next engagement is going to be and she has no idea.

Now when my son is out I can never sleep, my body can’t sleep because it remembers being woken up at a certain time in the night when he was jumped by those people.

When he is out, my body waits, tense.

As an architect, if you were a house, what kind of house would you be?

I’m a very small house. I’m an open house, with an open kitchen. I have big windows, possibly no curtains. I’m a traditional house, nothing fancy.

I’m a house in a forest. I love the forest, I love the sound a twig makes when you step on it, how it crackles under your feet. That’s the sound I enjoy.

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