Keep moving…

Uju the Great! July my month of Prayer_248991(1)

Its the second half of the year, seriously!. Isn’t it amazing how time flies? I remember January as if it was yesterday. I remember vividly writing about starting the new year (read here).

And then all of a sudden, July has almost come to an end.

I like to remind myself constantly that whatever is in the past, remains in the past. The things I could have done, the things I didn’t do well enough, the things that I didn’t do so much of, even the things that I did well. It’s all in the past, a great future lies ahead but most importantly what counts is how well I live my life in the present, the things I am able to do well, the goals I am able to achieve, the lives I can positively impact on, my relationship with God, the lives I am able to touch.

What matters more is that against all odds, I don’t stop, I don’t falter, even if I fall, I rise up and continue on this beautiful journey of living my best life uniquely, of giving my best self to serve humanity, of being a great mother, a great wife, a great entrepreneur, sister, daughter, friend…

What matters is that everyday is a blank check, a fresh opportunity to get closer to the land of my dreams.

What matters is that I take advantage of every second, that I savor every moment, that I make progress in all my endeavors, that my dreams will come true.

So I have about 5 months left in this great year, and these 5 months, I ride high, I will act fast, I will unleash all that is within me, I will surmount my obstacles with ease, I will be excellent.

I am not going to fold my hands, and acknowledge defeat, I will fight with everything that is within me.

I will keep moving…

Who will join me?

All the best my friends.

 

Do What Makes you Great!

 

Several years ago, as I worked in my office, a mortgage bank in Lagos, Nigeria, the lyrics for a song hit me. Before I knew it, I was singing a song I had composed in less than twenty minutes, a song that sounded really good ( to my ears at least).

I didn’t waste anytime, by the next weekend I was at the studio, working to produce the first single for my music album.  It was so exciting as I was fully convinced that my secret dream of being the next african music sensation was becoming real, faster than I had imagined (read here).
Well, on the first day at the studio, a very successful gospel artiste breezed in and stayed briefly to watch me gasp for breath trying to sing from my belly as the studio director urged me on.
She looked surprised and asked “What exactly do you want to do here?”
I explained that I wanted to produce an album.
Then she said, “But you are a poet, focus on your strength, don’t try to do anything because everyone else is doing it”.
I wanted to duck before those words slammed my heart, I wasn’t fast enough, I deflated faster than a punctured balloon.
All these bad belle people!
I was beginning to feel weary of all the oppositions to the dreams of fame and fortune I had harbored  for so long. Lol.
Then she left the studio and along with her went my zeal to be a famous musician.
However, something else replaced that zeal.
The realization that I didn’t need to struggle if I truly functioned in my area of strength; the realization that it is easier to be me with all the uniqueness I possess than to be anybody else.
I stayed with Spoken Word poetry  and honed my skill as often as I could.
Anytime I perform, it comes to me as naturally as breathing, I feel like I have been given wings to soar.
Her comment liberated me from the shackles of trying to be super in an average way, and made me realize that in my area of strength, I could be spectacular.
After my encounter at the studio, I had reasoned that this lady in question who is an internationally renowned, successful gospel artiste had to know what she was talking about, and that she did exactly what she advised me to do; she focused on what she was great at. 
I am glad I listened to her.
So the lesson is this; whatever you do, how ever you do what you do, always remember to focus on what you are great at!
Focus on what makes you great!
 

MY TRIBUTE TO MAYA ANGELOU

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There are two women I hoped to meet in my life to say “Thank you” to. Thank you for your deep and profound impact, thank for your words and thoughts. Words and thoughts that helped to shape who I have become and aspire to be.

Maya Angelou was one of them.

I met her at a very crucial stage in my life. When I nursed a passion for poetry, but I didn’t know how I could use it.

I wasn’t sure I could find any relevance with it. I didn’t know anyone who was a poet for a living.

The question lingered in my head for 5 long years, and one day sitting in my corner office in a mortgage bank in Lagos, Nigeria where I worked as a marketer, I googled the words ” famous female poets”.

Her name sprang up. I had heard of her, but for the first time that afternoon I met her formally, it was almost as if our meeting was in person.

I read through her poems, read up her history, her achievements, got acquainted with her journey. It was as though she spoke to me as I read through her quotes;

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love, don’t make money your goal, instead pursue what you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”

“Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.”

“The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious, the desire to reach hearts is wise”

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you”

“I’d love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by its lapels…”

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it”

“My mission is not merely to survive but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, some style”

She was such a repertoire of wisdom, a fine connoisseur of life,

and like wine, she grew better and sweeter with age.

She was so profound, she was so sound,

She made global impact,

She was phenomenal,

She left her footprints on the sands of my heart.

because now I have a clue of what to do with this gift I have been given.

Maya Angelou, thanks to you.

Thank you for being a Phenomenal woman, your life is a constant reminder to us.

A reminder on how to live, on how to hold our heads up high regardless of adverse circumstances,

how to love, to laugh, how to give, how to believe, how to sing, how to dance in the rain, how to smile through pain,

how to thrive, how to survive,

how to be phenomenal,

Adieu Maya Angelou.

DO!

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Ask yourself, what can I Do today, to make a difference, to cause a change?

Tell yourself, I can Do this, I can Do that.

Then get up, go ahead and get it Done.

Do what you have to Do, Don’t let any person or circumstance stop you.

Be a Doer, not just a thinker, a talker or a schemer.

The world is looking for someone who will get things Done.

Someone who will say, “yes! I’ll Do this, even if it has never been Done before.

The day you start to Do, that day your life has begun.

So get up today and start to Do the deeds you want to be known for.

Do all that needs to be Done, so that you can move in the direction of your dreams and fulfill the reason for which you were born.

Walk the talk, Do the deeds that need to be Done and you would have Won!

“Impossible is …

“Impossible is Nothing,” it said. “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” Muhammed Ali

The key to sucess …is to open your heart to LOVE!

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John Legend

The following speech was delivered on May 19, 2014 as part of the University of Pennsylvania’s commencement ceremonies.

Thank you. Thank you so much. Good morning. And congratulations!

Now I’ll try to be brief this morning. As a musician, this is about 10 hours before I normally go to work, so I’m gonna need a nap soon. And you’ve got degrees to receive.

And I also have a feeling some of you are already tired of me. The thing about pop radio in America, somehow they’ve scientifically determined that the public is only capable of liking the same 10 songs at any given time, so they simply play those songs over and over and over until you’re finally completely exasperated. Then they move on…

I’ve had a 10-year career as a solo artist and none of my songs has ever been one of those 10 songs. Until this moment. And now “all of you, are so over me, you’re tired of hearing that I went to Penn. Why’d they bring him back again?” (sung to the tune of “All of Me” chorus)

That was my humblebrag way of saying I have the biggest song in the country. Very artful, wouldn’t you say?

But, honestly, I am truly humbled and honored and grateful to be here at the commencement of one of the finest universities on the planet. I first visited this campus as a high school senior named John Stephens in 1995 — 19 years ago — and I would have never thought at that moment that I would be standing here as John Legend, speaking to you today.

The reason I’m here, the reason I’ve had such a wonderful journey so far, is that I’ve found love. Yes, love. We were all made to love. And I’ve found that we live our best lives, we are at our most successful, not simply because we’re smarter than everyone else, or because we hustle harder. Not because we become millionaires more quickly. The key to success, the key to happiness, is opening your mind and your heart to love. Spending your time doing things you love and with people you love.

My life could have gone differently though. At first, I had a pretty good childhood. I grew up in a small blue-collar city called Springfield, Ohio. I was surrounded by family, including 2 loving parents who cared so much about our education that they home-schooled us for several years during grade school. And they took the time to teach us more than academics. They taught us about character, about what it meant to live a good life.

My father often talked to us about his definition of success. He told us that it wasn’t measured in money and material things, but it was measured in love and joy and the lives you’re able to touch — the lives you’re able to help. And my parents walked the walk. They gave of themselves to our church. They took in foster kids and helped the homeless, even though we didn’t have much money ourselves.

Growing up in the Stephens house also meant you were immersed in art and music and encouraged to be creative. We had a piano and a drum kit in the house. I begged to take piano lessons when I was 4. I started singing in the church choir and in school plays by the time I was 7. So I fell in love with music at a very young age.

My family was like a model family in our church and local community. My parents were leaders, raising intelligent, talented kids in a loving environment. We even had a little singing group called the “Stephens 5.”

But things started to fall apart when I was 10. My maternal grandmother passed away that year when she was only 58 years old, and her death devastated my family. She was our church organist, and on Sundays after church, I would go to her house just to hang out with her. She would make chicken and collard greens and corn bread. And she would teach me how to play gospel piano. She was one of my favorite people on the planet.

She and my mother were also very close, and her death sent my mother into a deep depression that eventually tore our family apart. My world was shattered. My parents got divorced. My mother disappeared into over a decade of drugs and despair. And I was confused and disoriented.

After the initial shock of my family breaking apart, my outward response wasn’t very emotional. I coped by being stoic and seemingly unaffected. I thought if I didn’t expose myself to any more pain and vulnerability, I could never get hurt. If I didn’t fall in love, no one could ever betray me like that again.

I busied myself with school work and lots of activities, and tried not to think too much about my family situation, tried to avoid pain whenever possible. A big reason I only applied to colleges on the east coast was to make sure I had no reminders of home in my daily life.

The only thing I allowed myself to really love without reservation was music. I put all of my passion into it. I spent so much of my spare time working on it, that I barely got any sleep. At night, I was doing community choir, show choir and musicals in high school; a cappella and a church choir in college. I wrote my own songs. Played in talent shows. I put a lot of energy into becoming a better artist, a better writer and a better performer. And in some ways, it made me a better student and a better leader. Because when you actually care about something, you want to lead. Apathy’s not so cool any more.

When I graduated from Penn, I had many of the traditional opportunities in front of you now, and I took a job at the Boston Consulting Group. But I couldn’t shake my passion for music. I had followed the path that the Penn graduate was supposed to take, but I didn’t fall in love. I immediately started thinking about how I could leave BCG and become a full-time musician. I spent hours during the day preparing powerpoint presentations and financial models. And I spent almost as many hours at night writing songs and performing at small gigs around New York and Philadelphia.

I always believed that my big break would come sooner rather than later. In fact, from 1998, while I was still at Penn, to early 2004, I spent each of those years always thinking that I would get that big record deal within the next few months. I always thought my moment was just around the corner. But I was rejected by all the major labels; some of them rejected me multiple times. I played for all the giants of the business — Clive Davis, L.A. Reid, Jimmy Iovine, you name it. And all of them turned me down.

But I did find a young producer from Chicago named Kanye West who believed in me. Kanye happened to be the cousin of my good friend DeVon Harris, a classmate and roommate of mine here at Penn. DeVon introduced me to Kanye in 2001, and we’ve been working together ever since. Our collaboration has been a huge part of my career, and it had a lot to do with me finally getting a major recording contract in 2004.

Now, Kanye and I have very different personalities, as you might have guessed. But what unites us is our true love for music and art. We love to create, and at no point in our creative process do we stress about what will sell or what’s already popular. We think about making something beautiful, something special, something we can be proud of. We truly do this because we love it. We put all of ourselves into it.

And it turns out that love requires that level of commitment from you. Half-doing it is not doing it right. You have to go all in. And yes, your personal relationships require that too.

I know what it’s like to be all ego in your 20s. I know what it’s like to be selfish and just focus on your immediate wants and desires. I know what it’s like to protect your heart from pain and disappointment. I know what it means to be all about the rat race and winning.

But years from now, when you look back on your time here on earth, your life and your happiness will be way more defined by the quality of your relationships, not the quantity. You’ll get much more joy out of depth, not breadth. It’s about finding and keeping the best relationships possible with the people around you. It’s about immersing yourself in your friendships and your family. It’s about being there for the people you care about, and knowing that they’ll be there for you.

I know. It’s not easy to go all in on love. I’m 35 and I’m married and I’m still learning how to do this completely. But I’ve found someone who makes me want to try, someone who makes me want to take that risk. And it’s made all the difference.

Now, I’ve already talked about the power of love in your work and your personal lives. But I also want to talk about how love changes the world. There are 7 billion other people out there. 7 billion strangers. I want you to consider what it means to love them too. What does it mean to love people we don’t know, to see the value in every single person’s life?

Think about that. It’s a pretty radical notion. It means your daughter or son, your neighbor’s daughter or son and the daughters and sons of people who live thousands of miles away, all deserve the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It means we let go of fear and see each other’s humanity. It means we don’t see Trayvon Martin as a walking stereotype, a weaponized human. We see him as a boy who deserves the chance to grow into a man, even if he makes boyish mistakes along the way. It means American lives don’t count more than Iraqi lives. It means we see a young Palestinian kid not as a future security threat or demographic challenge, but as a future father, mother and lover. It means that the nearly 300 kidnapped girls in Nigeria aren’t just their problem. They’re “our” girls too. It’s actually quite a challenge to love humankind in this way.

Professor Cornel West gives us a word for what this kind of love looks like in public. That word is justice.

If you’re committed to loving in public, it requires you opening your eyes to injustice, to see the world through the eyes of another. This is not a passive activity. You have to read. You have to travel to other neighborhoods, other parts of the world. You may have to get your hands dirty. You have to allow people to love you, and you have to love them back

My team and I met a young girl named Rose from a small, impoverished village in Ghana. When you’re working with development organizations and visiting the communities they work in, you’re not really supposed to single out one child to fall in love with. You’re supposed to stick to the program and focus on the interventions that lift the community as a whole. But we couldn’t help it. We fell in love with Rose. Something about the spark in her eyes and her indomitable spirit made us want to go the extra mile to help her. So we decided to use our own funds to sponsor her tuition to secondary school.

We’ve stayed in touch with her over the past 7 years, and we’re so proud of what she’s done individually. But we’re also happy that she inspired us to formalize and expand our scholarship program to many girls in communities like hers throughout Africa, communities where the parents often invest in the boys’ secondary education, but don’t do the same for the girls.

In my travels around the world, I’ve looked in the eyes of many young girls and boys from Africa to Southeast Asia to Harlem, kids who had big dreams and needed someone to believe in them and invest in their future, in their education.

What would our schools look like if we were committed to love in public? If we cared about every kid in our school system, we would make sure they didn’t go to school hungry. We would make sure they had proper health care and counseling. We would make sure they had excellent teachers in every classroom. We would make sure we weren’t unfairly suspending them and criminalizing them for minor behavioral problems. We’d make sure all of them had the resources they need.

Every religion has this idea of philanthropy, love for mankind, at its core. But you shouldn’t do this just to make sure you get into the “pearly gates.” Look at the work of Marty Seligman here at Penn, who has literally written the book on happiness. Look at the work of Adam Grant, whom I hear is the most highly rated professor here: He has the data to show that giving works. There’s an increasing body of research and knowledge that tells us that living a life of love and compassion is the true path to success and contentment.

So what’s going to stop you? What’s going to stand in your way? What’s going to keep you from achieving your success? What will prevent you from going all in on love?

We’re taught when we’re young that the opposite of love is hate. But it’s not. Hate is a byproduct. Hate is a result. Being a hater isn’t cool. Nobody wants that. But hate comes from one thing: fear. And fear is the opposite of love. It’s not a coincidence that when we talk about bigotry, we often talk in terms of fear: homophobia, xenophobia. Fear is what blinds us. Fear is corrosive. Fear makes us hold back. It whispers to us, tells us that we’ll fail. It tells us that our differences are too much to overcome. Fear locks us in place. It starts fights. It causes wars.

And fear keeps us from loving. Even though we’re made to love, we’re often afraid to love. We’re afraid of being hurt deeply. Afraid of feeling the pain I went through when my parents divorced. But you’re never going to really love something or someone unless you put those fears aside. Don’t hold back. Being in love means being ready to give freely and openly, and being ready to risk something. Risking pain and disappointment, conquering your fears, and becoming anew.

Alice Walker once said, “The more I wonder, the more I love.” Love calls you to open your eyes, to seek, to search, to wonder.

Love is all-consuming — it infiltrates your body, it’s what allows you to experience bliss, joy and true friendship. You’ll be more disappointed when something goes wrong. You might fall harder. But the only way you’ll reach any height in life and in love is by taking the chance that you might fall.

You have to give your all.

Yes, I’ve been not-so-subtly working in my song lyrics. And some might think it’s all a bit too much. Here I am, this R&B singer with an album called Love in the Future, who’s recently married and wrote the biggest love song of the year, and what did I choose to talk about? Love. It’s so corny, isn’t it. It’s much cooler to be detached and apathetic, right? We all like a little snark and cynicism and irony, especially from our favorite artists and comedians and writers. I get it.

But that cool detachment only gets you so far. Passion gets you a lot further. It makes you a better entrepreneur, a better leader, a better philanthropist, a better friend, a better lover.

I want you to live the best life you can. You can be world-changers. When you leave here today, you’re going to be looking for a lot of things: security, money, friendships, sex, all kinds of things. But the most important thing you’ll find is love.

So love your self, love your work, love the people around you. Dare to love those who are different from you, no matter where they’re from, what they look like, and who they love. Pursue this life of love with focus and passion and ambition and courage. Give it your all. And that will be your path to true success.

Congratulations to the Class of 2014 and thank you so much!

The President I want!

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By Chimamanda Adichie
Some of my relatives lived for decades in the North, in Kano and Bornu. They spoke fluent Hausa. (One relative taught me, at the age of eight, to count in Hausa.) They made planned visits to Anambra only a few times a year, at Christmas and to attend weddings and funerals. But sometimes, in the wake of violence, they made unplanned visits. I remember the word ‘Maitatsine’ – to my young ears, it had a striking lyricism – and I remember the influx of relatives who had packed a few bags and fled the killings. What struck me about those hasty returns to the East was that my relatives always went back to the North. Until two years ago when my uncle packed up his life of thirty years in Maiduguri and moved to Awka. He was not going back. This time, he felt, was different.
My uncle’s return illustrates a feeling shared by many Nigerians about Boko Haram: a lack of hope, a lack of confidence in our leadership. We are experiencing what is, apart from the Biafran war, the most violent period in our nation’s existence. Like many Nigerians, I am distressed about the students murdered in their school, about the people whose bodies were spattered in Nyanya, about the girls abducted in Chibok. I am furious that politicians are politicizing what should be a collective Nigerian mourning, a shared Nigerian sadness.
And I find our president’s actions and non-actions unbelievably surreal.
I do not want a president who, weeks after girls are abducted from a school and days after brave Nigerians have taken to the streets to protest the abductions, merely announces a fact-finding committee to find the girls.
I want President Jonathan to be consumed, utterly consumed, by the state of insecurity in Nigeria. I want him to make security a priority, and make it seem like a priority. I want a president consumed by the urgency of now, who rejects the false idea of keeping up appearances while the country is mired in terror and uncertainty. I want President Jonathan to know – and let Nigerians know that he knows – that we are not made safer by soldiers checking the boots of cars, that to shut down Abuja in order to hold a World Economic Forum is proof of just how deeply insecure the country is. We have a big problem, and I want the president to act as if we do. I want the president to slice through the muddle of bureaucracy, the morass of ‘how things are done,’ because Boko Haram is unusual and the response to it cannot be business as usual.
I want President Jonathan to communicate with the Nigerian people, to realize that leadership has a strong psychological component: in the face of silence or incoherence, people lose faith. I want him to humanize the lost and the missing, to insist that their individual stories be told, to show that every Nigerian life is precious in the eyes of the Nigerian state.
I want the president to seek new ideas, to act, make decisions, publish the security budget spending, offer incentives, sack people. I want the president to be angrily heartbroken about the murder of so many, to lie sleepless in bed thinking of yet what else can be done, to support and equip the armed forces and the police, but also to insist on humaneness in the midst of terror. I want the president to be equally enraged by soldiers who commit murder, by policemen who beat bomb survivors and mourners. I want the president to stop issuing limp, belated announcements through public officials, to insist on a televised apology from whoever is responsible for lying to Nigerians about the girls having been rescued.
I want President Jonathan to ignore his opponents, to remember that it is the nature of politics, to refuse to respond with defensiveness or guardedness, and to remember that Nigerians are understandably cynical about their government.
I want President Jonathan to seek glory and a place in history, instead of longevity in office. I want him to put aside the forthcoming 2015 elections, and focus today on being the kind of leader Nigeria has never had.
I do not care where the president of Nigeria comes from. Even those Nigerians who focus on ‘where the president is from’ will be won over if they are confronted with good leadership that makes all Nigerians feel included. I have always wanted, as my president, a man or a woman who is intelligent and honest and bold, who is surrounded by truth-telling, competent advisers, whose policies are people-centered, and who wants to lead, who wants to be president, but does not need to – or have to- be president at all costs.
President Jonathan may not fit that bill, but he can approximate it: by being the leader Nigerians desperately need now.
- Chimamanda Adichie is the award winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus, The Thing Around Your Neck and Americanah