Nubian Narratives: Omolayo the Explorer
Our latest Nubian Narratives guest is someone I met while writing for Applause Africa magazine. We share the same name and a similar view on travel, building a career, and navigating life. Her name is Omolayo Nkem and she’s a blogger, master’s student, and many other things - I’ll allow her to define herself through the interview below.
In this article, Omolayo shares her comprehensive and moving reality of maneuvering multiple interests/professional paths. I found myself at several points within her narrative - maybe you will too.
Welcome to Nubian Narratives! Tell our lovely readers a bit about yourself.
Hi! I'm a Nigerian-American, currently living in London! I'm doing a masters in Migration, Mobility and Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies! I also blog about success, travel and the Afropolitan lifestyle at FindingNkem.com. I love encouraging people to chase their dreams - no matter what those are, but I'm also passionate about showing them the tools to do so!
You’ve been an explorer (in many senses of the word) for a while now. How did you find your identity in communication and exploration?
It sounds a bit cliche, but they both found me! I came into them slowly and naturally. I grew up #2 of 4 kids, and in my house, I was always the peacemaker and often the one in charge of convincing my parents. When I got to high school, my love for art as a medium of communication led me to a 2-years Graphic Communications course that also taught me about other parts of communications like event planning and public relations. I also won a few oratory contests. And before you knew it, I was in love with communications as a whole: visual, written, and audio. I loved the way communications could tell stories through so many mediums, persuade people, uplift voices, present information in a relatable and digestible way, and bring down barriers or misunderstandings.
This ability to bring down barriers is something I needed daily. My family and I moved to the US from Nigeria when I was 7. I was actually a pretty shy kid - no one believes me now! But as I worked hard to understand my new environment, I also didn't want to lose sight of the amazing one that I came from. This insistence on staying true to my West African identity, led me to travel to Ghana and Senegal in undergrad even though many people advised me to go see Europe instead.
Since age 7, I've had an unrelenting desire to learn about new cultures and ways of being and communicating. World History, art class, languages and Literature were always my favorite classes. Communicating across cultures was a natural meeting place for my love of connecting people and ideas, exploring my own identity, and exploring the world.
Tell us a bit about your personal experience with the pressure to “pick” a career path, and where that’s led you.
You know it's so funny, because I think a lot of Africans complain about how their parents forced then into medicine or engineering or whatever. But my parents were never like that. As long as we excelled in it, they didn't really care what we wanted to do. So I think that pressure was SUPER internal. I got it into my head that in order to be world class at something, I had to focus exclusively on it. So to an extent I was the one trying to box myself in. I've always loved communications and global affairs so I decided that I would become the communications director for the International Olympic Committee. I soon found out that the Olympics is more detrimental to host countries than we care to admit. And knew I had to pick a new career. When I finished my research on Senegalese migration narratives, I was tired mentally and emotionally. So I took some time to teach English in Paris, came back to the US briefly then went to Nigeria. I was hoping that while in these places I would suddenly decide what I wanted to do...but I'm still very much in love with every possibility: law, PhD, starting a business, continuing in communications, of course my blog - the choices are endless!
Luckily, in the process of trying to pick, I have friends and family who are constantly pushing me and checking in on me! So I've been able to start my blog, freelance in strategic communications, all while building a career in migration and diaspora affairs. So actually, my indecisiveness has allowed me to have my foot in multiple worlds all along, it was just a matter of me embracing that position, instead of trying to force myself into picking and sticking to one. From time to time, I often wonder if I would excel faster in any one of these areas if I just focused on it alone! But I always feel drained in one way or another if I go long stretches of only doing one type of thing. I also think the idea of being multi-passionate or embracing multiple careers is becoming a common conversation in our generation with so many people having side hustles along with their "main gig." So seeing that diversity in career paths has been refreshing and encouraging.
What has been one of your most pivotal experiences that has lead you to transform your way of looking at personal and professional achievement?
I would like to say it was the day I watched the Ted Talk by Emilie Wapnick on being a multipotentialite, and I realized - "oh my gosh! That's me!". Or the day I chose to try freelancing for several months while I waited to hear about my masters program. But the truth is that it's a constant daily choice. Everyday, I have to recommit to this path - or paths; sometimes reminding myself why it's important, why it's okay, why its valid.
Some days are easier than others. There are times you see someone who started around the same time as you, excelling at what they’re doing. Those moments are the hardest because they always makes me doubt the route I've taken - what if I had just gotten a full time job in this field after undergrad? Am I not working hard enough? Am I any good at what I do? Other days, when I manage to finish all my readings on migration AND post something really thoughtful on Instagram - those days feel like such a win.
So yeah, there are no big pivotal experiences on this journey. I think that's what I falsely searched for in France and even Nigeria. Often times, the “aha” moments just don't come, or they are short-lived. It's just lots and lots of individual choices and moments that continue to lead you down the right path.
Well said! Throughout this journey of life so far, what do you feel the most secure and confident about?
To be honest. Nothing. Everything feels up in the air. And I'm just learning to embrace the uncertainty and be okay with it. I used to be the kind of person that made 3-5 year plans, but I'm learning more and more that things don't always work out as we want them to.
I'm secure and confident in the love of my family and friends. And between my middle name, Nkemakonam, which means "May mine not pass me by," and my faith in God, I know that whatever is meant for me will surely come to pass. So that's all I really need in life.
Is there a mantra or guiding thought you live by? If so, could you share it with us?
Oh my gosh! So I only just came up with one recently. It's around my name - as usual. And it goes like this: "I am joy! Joy is mine. It will not pass me by. Rather, I will pass it on." (My first name means: child is joy) I want to work hard to spread joy in anyway I can. Even if that just means showing up for friends, family and my audience in the smallest and best ways I can. Of course I have big goals of 1. Ensuring that migration is truly a human right and 2. Creating a world where the circumstances you are born into don't dictate your potential in life. But in the meantime, I'm just going to spread joy when and were I can.
Good for you and for those associated with you! One final question for you: what’s something you’re working on these days that you’re excited about?
My friend Nana and I recently started a podcast called Afropolitan Central. We recently relaunched for season 2 and we've done a really great job of refocusing ourselves. Our goal is to uplift and center Afropolitan narratives. So it goes right back into this idea of communicating across cultures and it's been so much fun to work on this! In our newest episode we define what Afropolitan means, so definitely check it out if you're curious about that.
I'm of course really excited about school and my research. I recently turned in my first paper, which I'm super proud of, and I'm starting to think about my dissertation! I need to pick up some slack on my blog Findingnkem.com, but it's all about knowing that when you juggle multiple things, one might drop a bit, as long as you know when and how you will pick it back up.
Thanks for sharing your narrative and your journey on becoming who you are. These kind of perspectives are always valuable and inspiring; stay curious! Stay exploratory! All the best to you on your many endeavours, including your delightful podcast!
To keep up with Omolayo’s adventures and insight, visit her blog, FindingNkem.com.
If you made it to this point I have a few questions to leave you with, my good reader-friend: How do you pivot when what you want doesn’t come to fruition? Where does your sense of confidence come from in terms of your professional life? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Interested in being featured in Nubian Narratives? Contact me here.