I write this blog as I watch “The Apprentice” – riveted and inspired from the talk I have heard just hours before in a lecture theatre on campus. It’s Black History Month and my university is hosting a #BlackExcellence week which includes inviting guest speakers to talk about their experiences in their different fields and how they have achieved success.
At 5 something today, I sat behind a computer on my university library spinning on my chair. My seminar had just finished and I was preparing for work at 6. I work on campus so I had time to kill.
I checked my phone (which I almost left behind in my seminar room) and saw a few notifications pop up. Messages on WhatsApp, Email and Facebook awaited me and I routinely went through each and every one of them: one in particular catching my attention.
A talk at 6 featuring 2 distinct speakers – both of which I recognised from social media.
The first being Hayley Mulenda – a motivational speaker, amazing author and entrepreneur.
The second being Chris Achiampong – a member of the sales team at IBM, trustee board member of EY Foundation and a governor of a primary school.
I was torn.
The talk started at 6 and I couldn’t afford to miss work… literally. My depleting student loan wouldn’t allow it. But then again, irresponsibility is my middle name. So in a strike of rebellion, I emailed my manager that I wouldn’t be able to make it for my shift and ventured to the lecture theatre where the talk was being held.
I sat midway between the front and the middle and waited for the talk to begin. Afrobeats and Dancehall was playing, food was being served but I wouldn’t let myself enjoy it – my manager could call at any moment and demand my whereabouts and short notice of absence. It didn’t look good being absent on the second day of the job.
Minutes went by and my concern wouldn’t subside and then something weird happened. My phone, as if by magic, switched itself off to no avail. Granted the battery was low but I was assured I had at least an hour of life left. But here the phone was, battery flat as a pancake, with no portable charger in sight and just like that, the issue of my manager calling was solved, my worries dissipated and the talk begun.
Hayley began first and I was instantly hooked by her cadence. She spoke humbly of her beginnings in East London and I immediately related – having been born and raised in Waltham Forest (East London) all of my life, a lot of her story echoed my own.
Every word she said packed a punch and I felt myself relating in every sense, so much so that I nodded repeatedly in furious agreement. I was so immersed, I took out a pad and pen and began writing.
The first note I took was an analogy regarding Buddha – a parallel that just as Buddha, despite being a prince, was not immune to sickness or death, neither were any of us in that theatre. A bittersweet reminder that none of us are invincible despite our differences in terms of wealth or class or appearance.
Then came talk about the company one keeps – the most relatable part of the whole speech to me. Names popped in my head as Hayley spoke about how the people around you shape your life in respect of your blessings. It brought me back to some dark times earlier this year and the many people I’d blocked out as a result. It became personal.
“If people mind they don’t matter, if people matter they don’t mind.”
The people who are checking for you, check for you as a PERSON: your wellbeing, your health, your ability. They know what you’re doing and don’t criticise your shortfalls and inadequacies but rather help you improve them. Those who mind the negative don’t matter, so evaluate the people you keep around you.
“Self-evaluation is the key to elevation”
One of my favourite parts about Hayley’s speech was her analogy about chess and how it relates to personal acumen.
- Move in silence
- Be observant
- Stay humble and teachable
- Remain 10 steps ahead
- Study your next move
The analogies were starting to grow on me. I don’t play chess but I used to play draughts religiously so I know the decision-making skills it requires: knowing your opponent’s next move and how to act on it was a major key. Debating probability and possibilities and knowing how to behave when things didn’t go your way was imperative and I think that’s what set Hayley apart from other speakers for me.
Unlike other speakers, Hayley spoke a lot on trials and tribulations – darkness and difficulty. Considering I myself was at the lowest point in my life earlier this year, her mixed personal experience of bereavement and accolade struck a chord within me. I felt like I was looking in the mirror. My first year at university was truly a rollercoaster of extreme highs and lows that I wasn’t sure I’d get through. But I wasn’t alone. The flatmate tiffs and jealous friends and negative acquaintances were something I could relate to, but I could also relate to the successes. I was invited to debate at Cambridge Union this year, I got work experience in my chosen field, I found the support network of three organisations that would help support me in my quest for a corporate placement.
I was blessed and highly favoured to say the least but I barely had the energy to enjoy them. There were so many broken relationships in my life, I couldn’t fathom how I was still alive at some points. I was exhausted, spent and feeling very alone. So the part where the Hayley spoke about the battering process it takes to make a cake put a lot into perspective for me. I needed to be broken like eggs, the lumps in my life needed sieving like flour, I needed some butter to soften my batter. Life was going to hurt but the pain wasn’t forever. Success was waiting. But it wasn’t a “result” but rather an ongoing process. I had to speak on it. And so I am.
I need to put what I say into practice with a dream board and mantras and affirmation and bucket list: talk really is cheap. I have to MARK IT ON THE WALL as they say in Ghana. (I plan to do so after this blog, will insert a picture below once it is done).
The importance of self-love never missed me in this speech: the idea of pointing one finger out and having three returned back at me was humbling to say the least. I had to be fulfilled in myself before I give. After all, how can you give from an empty vessel?
You can’t. You must love yourself in order to give love. And being made in the image of God means by loving Him, one loves themselves, and seeing God in others means you love them too and consequently love the world.
The second talk by Chris was equally inspiring. He had a PowerPoint slide on his journey from a youngster to becoming who he is today including the trials he faced (literally) playing for Arsenal to working for IBM and supporting young people.
Him being from Ghana naturally meant I connected with what he said when speaking about his grandma’s experience. Not too long ago, my mum was telling be about my great great grandma’s experience in leaving the village in search for a better child for her grandson whose mum had died not too long before. The sacrifices she made, the things she sold, the money she kept and saved to keep my granddad in school and eventually move to the city were harrowing to say the least. Being a first generation Brit born and raised in London, it’s easy to think I am far removed from that life. But it lives in me, quite literally. If it wasn’t for my grandparents, I wouldn’t be me.
Moreover, the affinity Chris demonstrated for his mum strongly mirrored the relationship I have with my dad. It’s tight and kindred. Without fail I speak to my dad almost everyday about something: whether in a text or a call just to see how I am doing, we check up on each other a lot. When I’m away from home, he is probably the person I miss the most. So when Chris mentioned how much of a driving force his mum and grandma are in his life, I found myself looking inward to my own family and how great of a motivation they are in my life.
Where the talk hinged for me was when Chris explained how a leg injury ended his football career. I imagined it to be a defining moment in his life. I thought of my favourite hobby – writing – and how it had moulded my entire life: how if my hands suddenly broke or I could no longer type or write, I would be crushed to say the least. Bones could heal but sporting injuries end careers. I empathised. So to hear how he managed to overcome and get to where he is today strengthened my belief in perseverance. I’d seen his ads on apprenticeships as a part of the #GetInGoFar campaign but it was becoming clear, it was not all a marketing ploy: he truly had gone through hardship, but still got in and went far and by that mean employment.
As a university student, you often hear that you’re in the right place, that this is the route to take, but having attended a lot of networking events and met a variety of people I have learnt this is not the case. Despite being a uni student myself, I am keenly aware of the alternative and “non-traditional” routes that can be taken to secure employment. I often advise my younger brother of these – considering he is 16 (soon 17) and not yet decided on his future, I have tried to lay out as many options as possible for him to maximise his employability in the future. So when Chris spoke about the EY Foundation, I immediately took a mental note and reminded myself to inform my brother of this opportunity. After all, the more job options, the merrier.
I think the thing that topped off the whole thing for me was the assortment of things Chris was doing: working for a foundation supporting young people as well as being governor of a primary school on top of working for a technology company and a part time student was mesmerising to say the least. It was like all of my aspirations tucked into a little nutshell and on display. It showed me that you can be corporate and studying and still support those from your community – something I’ve been trying to do and balance for the longest time.
Overall, I felt it was fate that I attended this talk because of the relatability factor. It’s easy for me to feel lost so to hear such proclamations centred me. The fact that I had seen both of these people’s faces on social media not too long ago was no coincidence to me. The fact that they both came from my area (East London) was even more humbling – particularly because I went to a school in Stratford (Sarah Bonnell) which was well-known and not too far from the schools they both attended. The fact they knew each other already was humbling to say the least!
East London is doing big things to be honest and I’m so proud to be from there! Great people, great environment. Because of people like Hayley and Chris and many more, I know I am capable of greatness.
And I shall definitely be buying Hayley’s book: The ABC’s to Student Success and writing a review as soon as I am done.
In the meantime, I will be fielding calls from my manager about my unexplained absence from work.. (totally worth it!)