The Kenyan Nomad

The Kenyan Nomad

Friday, September 9, 2022

On Loneliness


At the most basic level, humans want and need connection. And yet, when I’m lonely, I’m ashamed of expressing that need—a shame that doesn’t arise when I’ve felt thirsty, yet loneliness and thirst are both signals that my body is sending me that tell me I need something. 

Connection is an issue I’ve been pondering for a while now—specifically connection between friends and peers, at work and outside. The idea of putting in work into romantic and familial relationships has been acceptable for a while now (not everywhere, true, and we still have a way to go). When I’m thinking about something, I’ll want to read about it. This winter, I spent time on Dr. Vivek Murthy’s (the 21st US Surgeon General) book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World

So much about the book resonated, and I loved him speaking about moais—social networks originated in Japan that entailed five friends coming together for emotional, relational, financial, and logistical support. Dr. Murthy spoke about his own moai that committed to monthly video calls, reaching out whenever needed, and being real in their conversations. He credits it with changing his life and being a strong support system and circle of advisers that have helped him make important decisions, including whether or not to accept the surgeon-general’s position again. I lowkey but not so lowkey want one of my own!

The potential health effects of loneliness are depressing at best, terrifying at worst. I won’t go into these too much, as the book does a much better job, but it helped me understand that feeling a lack of connection isn’t an issue I can—or should—put off for much longer.

I was fortunate to be in the audience yesterday when Dr. Murthy addressed a group at the Yale School of Management, of which he is an alumnus and where I’m currently doing my MBA. He touched on the shame behind loneliness—people misreading it to believe that they’re unlikeable, or worse, unlovable. 

“Your problem is not that you don’t have friends. It’s that you are not experiencing friendship.” This is what a friend of his told him when he was expressing his own connection needs. I needed to pause (as much as one can as an audience member) and let this sink in. Yes, yes this exactly. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a number of close friends whom I cherish deeply. These people have my back, and they understand me. So why have I felt this loneliness from time to time? Most of them live a few flights away from me, and I haven’t been experiencing friendship as much as I’ve needed to.

This ties into another quote of his which really resonated: “Connections which are useful at staving off loneliness are those in which we are seen and heard.” As above, these connections exist for many of us—they certainly do for me—but experiencing these connections is vital to feel seen and heard. 

I’ve been reflecting since—hence the need to write today—and I realise I need to be better not just at expressing my needs to my networks, but also at ensuring I’m creating space for connection for others--for my friends, for my teams, for my peers and those around me, to ensure that they’re also experiencing connection and feeling seen, heard, and understood. Today’s reflection was more personal, but I believe absolutely applicable and vital to think about in workplaces.

I hope you'll be doing the same.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

42 Lessons from 42 Years

 My amazing sister, Ranjeeta Walia, turned 42 yesterday. As a joke, I asked her for 42 lessons she'd learnt along the way. As soon as she started spouting wisdom, though, I knew I had to capture these and share with a broader audience.

1. Never compromise on your core values/ principles

2. Always seize opportunities to grow and become a better human being. There’s always something to learn

3. Eat those vegetables/ aim for a well-balanced diet

4. Don’t be quick to judge others

5. Respect people irrespective of their age or position in life 

6. Look after yourself mind, body, and soul 

7. Cultivate relationships with people who love you for you/ people you can be yourself around and who are sincere with you 

8. If you must have a life partner (not everyone wants one), take your time to find one who complements you. Remember you are already a complete human being on your own, so no one else can complete you

9. Don’t give unsolicited advice 

10. Never miss an opportunity to brighten someone’s day 

11. Our mission in life (indeed, our innate being) is about being happy so do what makes you happy as long as it does not hurt someone else

12. It’s never too early to learn about and apply knowledge of personal financial management so invest in this knowledge; financial independence is key

13. Invest in moments, not things. Material things just create clutter while moments are experiences that give you true happiness

14. Mental well-being is just as important as physical well-being and there’s no shame in seeing a therapist regularly

15. Read voraciously. It’s an easy and fun way to learn and grow 

16. 7-8 hours of sleep regularly is important for one’s well-being and productivity 

17. Cultivate and set aside time for your hobbies 

18. Make time for close friends and family 

19. Movement/ some form of exercise is a great way to improve your mental and physical well being 

20. Spending time with pets (especially dogs) and nature is very therapeutic 

21. Be there for your friends and family, especially in times of grief 

22. Regularly donate to charity 

23. There is a higher power/ being looking out for us 

24. Some skills, e.g., changing a tire and cooking, are life skills everyone should know—irrespective of gender 

25. Take some risks in life/ get out of your comfort zone once in a while; it helps you grow 

26. Look for the lesson in hard times/ challenges 

27. Try and spend time alone regularly 

28. Never be ashamed or apologise for being yourself 

29. Cultivate a practice of gratitude

30. Always look for the silver lining 

31. Work at finding a balance in life; life is not just about work 

32. We all make mistakes in life; learn to genuinely apologise and take responsibility for your mistakes as well as learn from them 

33. Set an example for the next generation in your behaviour

34. It’s a good thing to have an opinion and never be afraid to express it 

35. Emotional abuse is just as bad as physical abuse 

36. Travel when you can. It opens your mind and is a great way to meet new people and experience different cultures 

37. Always try and be kind, even when giving constructive feedback 

38. Mean what you say and say what you mean 

39. A genuine apology comes with changed behaviour 

40. Anything that’s worthy in life comes with time and effort

41. Don’t be pressured by timelines in life—we all have different paths in this journey, so stop comparing yourself to others your age

42. Don’t lose that inner child. Children know what true happiness is and are not afraid to be themselves

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

To Be, To Listen


It was there when I first emerged into the world. It's always there, I'm accustomed to it--to the point that when it's quiet, I feel like something is missing. 

There's the constant urge to fill moments with noise that have resulted in the inability to be still and to listen. To be still. To be. Whether my phone and the myriad of distractions within, or movement, or the many books I've read, I've forgotten how to exist in silence. 

Yesterday, I went on a surprise visit organised by the Executive Director of Metis, where I'm interning this winter. We ended up at Nairobi National Park, and the open greenness of the park juxtaposed with the city in the background was ideal for thinking, as was the conversation sparked my colleagues, from which two themes emerged: stillness and attention. 

I could contextualise where these came from, but I think that matters less than the fact that they did. And they resonated, deeply. 

I've forgotten how to be still. I've forgotten to use that stillness to pay attention in a way that matters. Instead, stillness is so foreign that it's almost frightening. That I rush to fill it--either with distractions that take me away from it or with ruminations that feed into a growing sense of anxiety about my life, about the future, about my country, about existence itself. 

"Who would you be without your anxiety?" My therapist asked me this question about a year and a half ago and it stopped me in my tracks. It's a question I'm still exploring, and I'm slowly realising that the stillness that feeds my anxiety is the same stillness I'm called to pay attention to in order to dissolve it

I have forgotten how to be bored. We as a society have forgotten how to be bored. This has implications on my ability as a 30 year old to create vs. just execute. I can't even begin to imagine what this means for children. 

What does this mean for me, then? 

I'm holding myself accountable, gently, kindly, to be still. To tune into that stillness and pay attention to it and to what matters. To be grateful for the ability and privilege to do so. To stop letting my head be louder than my heart. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

On Being Kenyan

                            Quintessentially Kenyan

21 September 2013. A dark day in Kenya's history but one that also brought a lot of unity. Everyone came together to help. "Even the Indians," it was said. "Najivunia kuwa mkenya" was shared by Kenyans near and far.

Today, you see everyone with that beaded bracelet on their wrist. You know the one I'm talking about. Kenya on one side, the Kenyan flag on the other.

Or that feeling of happiness when you hear someone speak Kiswahili on the other side of the globe. "I'm Kenyan too!"

Don't get us started on our beaches and our national parks. They're amazing, and you should definitely check them out.

What does it mean to be Kenyan?

Recently⁠—unfortunately⁠—for most people, being Kenyan has been a passive, positive thing. We celebrate the good but turn our faces away when confronted with the bad. Somebody else's problem, right? It's easy to see differences emerge once we have to deal with the hard stuff. Especially so when our privilege means that the hard stuff actually serves us⁠—even if this is at the expense of others.

We do not have a shared Kenyan identity. We do not have shared pride in being Kenyan.

Sure, there are some things about Kenya we are willing to celebrate loud and proud. But if we truly had a shared identity and were proud of being Kenyan, it would mean that we'd be willing to put in the work to deal with the stuff that's not so great.

Misaligned incentives are at the core of many of the issues we have here. Think about corruption⁠—it serves many to engage in this. In fact, thinking about getting rid of corruption is likely to have some people squirming, because the current systems serve them. We feed into a system that serves us, without regard for those who're punished because they can't engage with it, for many reasons including affordability (strange how we think of corruption as being affordable or not, isn't it?). Let's take another issue, traffic. A similar dynamic is at play here, where people are willing to watch out for themselves, without care for how this impacts others.

I don't think that there are groups that are more or less guilty of this than others—at least, the idealist in me hopes so. However, it does seem that over time, those with the determination to make changes lose steam and give way to a commonly-held cynicism. It won't change in our lifetimes, so why bother at all?

Why bother at all?

Because Kenyans are resilient and warm and innovative. Because our entrepreneurship culture is to be celebrated. Because of a myriad of other reasons I couldn't begin to name.

Because why shouldn't people speak about us they way they do Nigeria and South Africa?

What is it going to take? How do we build a shared identity, and start to strengthen that which is good in our country as we work to change that which is not?

Honestly, I don't know. I'm hoping that there will be some wiser than myself who'll read this and reach out with an answer.

What I do know is that individuals can make commitments in the right direction. Commitments to question the status quo. To believe that we can be better. For those who can, to use our privilege to elevate other Kenyans. To stop only watching out for ourselves. To be kind.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

10 Lessons from Books That Changed my Life

Roll your eyes at this title all you want, but I am absolutely giddy with glee at being able to use a click-baity headline that’s truthful! And sure, it’s not that reading these book was like immediately ingesting a magical formula. It’s more that when I read them, the messages resonated with my journey and where I was at the time, and there’s something powerful I took away from them that’s stayed with me to date. Personal development/ lifelong learning is one of my top values, and these books have spurred me along on that journey. 

Disclaimer: I expect that this list will evolve over time; both as I read new books but also as I revisit old ones whose messages may resonate better than they initially did. 

  1. We become (or manifest) what we think, from The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. The central thesis of this book is that we manifest what we think, to the point that we manifest EXACTLY what we think. I remember one particular part of the book, where the author references someone imagining a feather in great detail, and then a few days (weeks? months?) later, seeing that exact feather float down in front of them. Now, when I read that book, I may have taken the message more literally than I should’ve (as you can tell, I’m skeptical (but open to changing my mind)), but now have come to realise that our thinking is something incredibly powerful, and can profoundly influence who we are. Seems obvious when I put it that way, right? By thinking happier thoughts, by internalising them, we can truly BECOME happier. Jury’s still out on manifesting pretty feathers.  

  2. Vulnerability is not weakness, from Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown. Us mere mortals cannot hope to put into words the power of her work, so if you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to check out her iconic TED Talk and then read this book as soon as you can. I’ve read it about three or four times in the past three years, and it’s probably the book I gift others most often. 

  3. Sleep is a nonnegotiable priority, from Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. Here’s another simple lesson that we may be forgiven for thinking is more accepted than it currently is. I’d always known sleep is necessary on some level, sure. This book really hit home WHY we need to sleep, why we don’t just need to sleep, but need good quality sleep, and all the scary stuff that can happen if you don’t sleep. I’d especially recommend this if you’re in a professional path where sleep is often the activity that gets compromised due to academic or professional work loads. Oh, look! He’s another one of those with an awesome TED Talk you can check out.

  4. Solve for energy, not time, from The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by James E. Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Along the same work-life balance lines for lack of a better category (life-life balance maybe?), this book helped me realise that when your energy is at its highest level, you bring your best self to all aspects of your life and get the best out of all your resources, including time. And there are things we can do to cultivate and replenish our energy and but we DO need to remember that our energy is not infinite (hence the need for replenishment). 

  5. Simplify, reduce, prioritise, from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. This books speaks a lot about prioritising in a professional context, but the stuff that I took away was more about prioritising personally; for example, the people whose opinions matter and the things I choose to spend my time (and energy!) on.

  6. All we have is now, from The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. This book, along with conversations with the friend who gave it to me, have helped ground me in the present (another simple, obvious thing I don’t do enough). I realised I was spending unnecessary time and energy analysing my past or preparing for my future—time and energy that were taking away from today.

  7. We’re capable of terrible and beautiful things, from The Ten Types of Human: Who We Are and Who We Can Be by Dexter Dias. This book is a TRIP. Dias explores ten archetypes of humans, making the case that we can be (and we are) all of them. All of the greatest and worst of humanity’s achievements are things are things we’re ALL potentially capable of. It’s scary and yet empowering at the same time. Emphasis on the empowering; we’re not necessarily slaves to our human nature (whatever that means), but can CHOOSE. 

  8. But mostly, we tend toward beautiful things, from Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman. I know, I know, humans are crap sometimes. Well, we choose to be. This is the perfect follow up to the previous title. It was the perfect read to end my 2020 with and reminded me that actually, humans are pretty decent overall (you’re probably at all the way at skeptical on a scale from 0 to skeptical, but trust me, check it out). Not only does this book make the case for humans being good and decent, it works to dispel some of the erroneous myths based on sensationalised cases like Kitty Genovese’s murder and the Stanford prison experiments. 

  9. Say yes!! From Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. This one is self-explanatory, but I experimented with using this for about a year, and I definitely felt much happier/freer/ less encumbered. 

And last but not least,


10. Romance is a great genre, from the Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn. I know, I know, you expected this post to be full of preachy, self-help-y wisdom, and then I threw a historical romance series at you. Psshhh. Life is nothing if there’s no time for fun! This is the first historical romance series I read more than a decade ago (maybe even the first romance series?), and it opened up the genre for me. It’s funny, well-written, with believable characters who have GREAT chemistry (not just in the romantic sense). Of course I’m celebrating now that it’s been (further) popularised by the aforementioned Shonda Rhimes in a new Netflix series. (Us diehard fans are shaking are heads as we breathe “FINALLY!”)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

On Social Intelligence


I first read Daniel Goleman’s ‘Social Intelligence’ in December 2015, on a year-end trip with my parents. I enjoyed it then, and have intended to revisit it since. 

I’m not quite sure what took me so long—I finally picked it up a few weeks ago and finished it this weekend—but I’m glad I read it at this point, as it was incredibly timely. This is not only because COVID has changed social interactions and connections in an interesting way, but because over the past year or so, I’ve been thinking about connection and trying to be more deliberate about this. 

If I was to sum up the central theme of this book, it would be this:

Our social intelligence, which Goleman organises into two categories (social awareness, what we sense about others, and social facility, what we do with this awareness), is something that is shaped by our backgrounds, our cultures, and our pasts, but it can also be worked on through our lives. This does require a degree of deliberation, but its payoffs can be huge. Working on and applying social intelligence can have lots of benefits to us and those around us; on the flipside, neglecting it can have detrimental effects. 

It's important enough to share, so I won’t paraphrase. Here is how Goleman breaks down the components of social intelligence: 

Social awareness

Social awareness refers to a spectrum that runs from instantaneously sensing another’s inner state, to sensing her feelings and thoughts, to “getting” complicated social situations. It includes:

  • Primal empathy: Feeling with other; sensing nonverbal emotional signals.
  • Attunement: Listening with full receptivity; attuning to a person. 
  • Empathic accuracy: Understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions. 
  • Social cognition: Knowing how the social world works.

Social facility

Simply sensing how another feels, or knowing what they think or intend, does not guarantee fruitful interactions. Social facility builds on social awareness to allow smooth, effective interactions. The spectrum of social facility includes:

  • Synchrony: Interacting smoothly at the nonverbal level. 
  • Self-presentation: Presenting ourselves effectively. 
  • Influence: Shaping the outcome of social interactions. 
  • Concern: Caring about others’ needs and acting accordingly. 

 The following is a (by no means comprehensive) list of my reflections inspired by this book, and built on by thinking about the content and speaking to others: 

  1. Empathy is undervalued but incredibly important. Lack of empathy can change an I-You relationship into an I-It relationship. This makes it easy to ‘other’ people, which can lead to Us vs. Them walls. There are things we can do to build empathy—I’m not going to be comprehensive here due to numerous resources available elsewhere—but there’s something to be said about listening to those around us and ensuring we expose ourselves to diversity. 

  2. Emotions are contagious. We all know this on some level. Everyone has emotions, and those emotions can be contagious—more so depending on our relationship with the person in question. This brings up another recurring theme for me this year, that of boundaries. This point calls on us to be more deliberate about our boundaries, both in terms of what we allow into our space, but also in terms of how we express our own emotions and put them on others. 

  3. Our relationships shape us. What’s that saying, something about you become the five people you spend the most time with? Well, it’s true! And when I say shape us, these relationships shape us on a biological level, to the point of influencing how various genes are expressed. It again brings up the point of deliberation. When we’re younger, we do not have as much control over the people we spend time with. However, as we become older, we can be thoughtful and intentional about the relationships around us, and how we cultivate connection in these relationships. This intentionality must also extend to thinking about how we show up for those we have relationships with. 

  4. Humans are wired to connect—connection has a wide range of benefits and can even serve to make us happier (no surprise) and healthier. Another word that’s come up a lot this year: interconnectedness. We seek, crave, NEED connection with others, yet often feel ashamed of this. Not only should this need not be a source of shame, but it should be something we act on, something that we use to understand we actively need to cultivate connections with those around us. Just like buying a plant and not watering it is a sure way to kill it, being in a relationship, any relationship, and not working on it is a similar death sentence. Work can look like many things here, but it’s important to consider conversation (distance and time don’t kill relationships, silence does), vulnerability, and shared experiences (at varying degrees of complexity). 

  5. Friendships are even more important than we thought. There’s a prevalent underlying belief that friendships are less important than family and romantic relationships. However, studies have shown that this is not the case—for example, a study quoted in this book showed that people often reported being happiest when they were with friends. Again, this points back to the need to be deliberate, and to cultivate. 

  6. We all need a secure base. Every relationship ideally should provide a secure base, but I think that this is even more important in some cases. For example, parent-child (this relationship lays the foundation for our attachment style when we’re older), therapist-patient, partner-partner, supervisor-employee. I’m not saying this is not important in other relationships like teacher-student and friend-friend, but in these cases, there are often more options for people who can provide that secure base. 

  7. Care and deliberation are required as we raise the next generation—all the way from small family units to bigger communities. These don’t just include providing a secure base and cultivating social intelligence from a young age, but also providing a space to learn and fail and recuperate, and taking extra care with young people in juvenile correctional facilities. Towards the end of Goleman’s book, I was struck by the sections where he spoke about youth who had committed crimes and been placed in these facilities, but whose integration back into society was handled with care and empathy, vs. youth who were not given that same level of care, and for whom staying out of trouble became much harder. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Lessons from 2020


If you’re here, I’ll assume you’re already aware that 2020 has been quite a shit-show. It seems as though every day, one wakes up to crazier and crazier news, till the temptation to bury one’s head in the sand and hibernate is almost irresistible. I won’t debate how much of the craziness is due to unavoidable circumstance, but it’s definitely true that a lot of it is due to human beings’ inability to be kind, courteous, and unselfish (y’all know who I’m talking about). 

Before I delve in, a caveat. The ability to take 2020 and learn something from it is definitely due to the privileges I’ve been afforded so far, and some of these lessons will not resonate with others for the same reason. 

Here’s what I know so far: 

1. Life refuses prediction. How many of us, when asked what we thought our 2020s would hold, would have been able to accurately predict the future? This craziness aside, I look back at my life and see a pattern where some of the best things that happened to me (best either at the time, or due to what they taught me) were things I couldn’t have planned for. And for someone who loves planning and being control, this isn’t easy to accept! 

2. When people show you who they are… listen. I’ve found that I tend to hold on to an idealistic sense of who the people in my life are, based on who they used to be, who I want them to be, or sometimes, even my own projections. However, I’m not the only one! I’ve seen my best friend do this recently too, and it’s easier to look in a mirror when you have external examples to reference. 2020 has been a perfect way to do a people test, if you will – sort of like if you’re on a first date at a restaurant, how does the other party treat the staff?  

This year, human rights issues have been at the forefront. We’ve watched as the rights many take for granted – to live, to love, to exist, to be, to have control over our lives and our bodies – have been curtailed or infringed upon, either due to COVID-19, related responses, and worst of all, people believing they have the right to decide for others. Pay very close attention to how those around you have interacted with, talked about, and responded to these issues. Pay very close attention to those around you who HAVEN’T interacted with, talked about, and responded to these issues. Let go of your ideas of these people and see them without a biased lens. 

3. Trust your instincts. This has shown up weirdly for me this year, in terms of the people I’ve chosen to spend time with and the opportunities I’ve chosen to pursue. I won’t – or can’t – give much more detail on this one, but there’s something I was exploring earlier this year. Around the time when I had the choice to dig deeper or pull away, my instincts FLARED up and I decided to pull away. I was still in two minds, though, until others reached out weeks after to confirm what I’d felt. I now look back and realise that the instincts I’ve had in the past, that I’ve sometimes felt guilty about, probably weren’t leading me the right way… and I should have just listened rather than try to rationalise. 

4. Be kind. I’m not sure I had fully appreciated the value of kindness till this year. It was something that existed, that was missed when I didn’t see it, but maybe not something I dwelled on as much. However, this year, I’ve seen the value in kindness to self, to others, to the world we live in. I’ve been inspired by tales of kindness from various places, and I’ve come to prioritise this value as a filter for people and situations I choose to spend time and energy on. 

5. As long as you’ve done your best, there’s power in surrendering to the outcome and the unknown. There are some of you who’re reading this who’re probably cheering at this right now, but it’s a lesson that’s taken a while for me to absorb (and I won’t say I’m 100% there)! This probably goes back to my first point, but I’ve realised that a need for control paradoxically erases control – as soon as you’re in an unfamiliar situation, you flounder and feel more out of control than you ever did. If you learn to ride the flow and embrace the unknown – you’ll never truly be out of control. There’s a lot this year that’s happened that I didn’t necessarily plan for, but that I’ve accepted, and found myself happier/ more at peace because of it. 

There’s definitely more but this felt like a good stopping point for now. I’d love to hear from you – what has growth and learning looked like in 2020?

Monday, September 30, 2019

Right Here

Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay

This post has been building up in my mind for some time, and I finally felt like I was in the right place to verbalise what I've been feeling.

Those of you know know me well know that I like to spend a decent amount of time on self-development, introspection, and reflection. One of the tools I've been using for this is FutureMe - simple enough concept, where you write yourself a letter (email) and can choose when you'd like to have it delivered to you. I've been writing letters to myself for years now, and I'm now reaching a point where I'm getting letters I wrote 5 years ago.

What a blessing to be able to get such a direct, (relatively) objective view into the past!

I got a letter a few months ago from 2014-me - and at that time, I was feeling professionally and personally lost. I won't go into details of what the letter said, but part of it was along the lines of '...and I'm sure that you're now exactly where you need to be.'



Epiphany, because 2014-me was totally right. If 2014-me could see where I am today, she would've breathed a sigh of relief. If 2010-me could, she'd be ecstatic! The lesson was this - I am exactly where I need to be right now, and yes, things do go wrong from time-to-time and everyday isn't sunshine and rainbows, but if we look into the future, chances are whatever is stressing us out today won't even be worth blinking over then. Of course, there are things that have happened between then and now that I wish I could take back, people I wish I could get back, but part of the lesson is that I may not be able to control what happens to me, but I can control how I choose to react to it.

It was a lovely reminder to learn to really be present and grateful for where I am now, and not worry about where I'm going to be later - and thought that this may be a useful reminder for those of you who haven't heard this recently, because it was definitely useful for me!

You are exactly where you need to be right now. If you look back at your past, it led you here for a reason, and there's no need to sweat the small stuff right now because if you look back in a few years - it won't matter all that much either.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Solve for Energy, not Time (part 2)

Photo by Simon Wilkes on Unsplash
Expounding on my last article, where I talked about optimising for being at my best energy, and some things I do to manage physical aspects of this, this one focuses on some tangible strategies to work on mental energy (but keep in mind - these two aren't fully separate and there are bound to be positive spillover effects, including regular renewal).


Mindfulness: Inspired by the growing body of research, literature, and people who speak about their experiences, I’ve made it a goal to practice mindfulness (or another form of meditation) every single day this year. I may have missed a day or two in between, but I’m pretty proud of myself so far! Right now, I’m on a streak of almost 60 consecutive days.

Do I see value in this? Yes! Among other things, this has significantly helped my ability to focus, be present, work (and play!) efficiently, and get better at recognising and processing emotions. A part of this involves building a gratitude practice, and that's also helped me get better at understanding that happiness can be in the here and now and doesn't need to be on the other side of some imaginary finish line.

Writing: There's something incredibly therapeutic, cathartic even, about putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard?) and just WRITING. Whether this means blog posts, or other pieces designed with one audience member in mind (me), I've found that this helps me to process and get very real about my experiences, what affects me in the present, as well as what I'm carrying from the past and anticipating about the future.

Reading: One of the greatest fears of my life is that one day, I may be faced with the same amount of knowledge and wisdom that's available to me today - but I won't be able to take it in. Reading, for me, is a way of exploring worlds and ideas beyond myself, of learning, of ensuring that my mind doesn't stagnate.

Understanding psychology is something I'm personally passionate about, and it's amazing how much you can learn about human psychology from reading fiction (then again - maybe not. These books were written by humans, after all).

Recommended reading

Following on from the above, some of the reading I've been doing over the past year has been incredibly helpful in allowing me to delve into and practice these topics further. Some recommendations:

Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker

Daring Greatly, Brene Brown

The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

The Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down, Haemin Sunim

When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, Gabor Maté

The Science of Meditation, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson

Monday, June 3, 2019

Solve for Energy, not Time (part 1)

Over the past year and a bit, I've had a bit of a realisation around what's important to prioritise. This has been a lesson that's been building up over time, 'helped' by various events in my life including my experience with mental health, the recent loss of a loved one,  the observation of some of the healthy, happy and thriving older people in my life and what they had in common, and of course, my love of reading.

I think the first time I was really able to articulate this idea of solving for energy, not time, was when I did this quick interview for the McKinsey website. And since then, I'd call myself a passionate and vocal advocate of this idea.

The basic premise is this - a lot of time, we focus on how to manage our time to be able to dedicate this to the right activities. However, we should instead be focusing on how to be at our best energy, so that we can bring our best selves to whatever we do, personal or professional. This latter strategy has the benefit of not only being useful in the short run, but also in the long run.

I think we all derive our energy from different sources - and I'd encourage you to explore what these are - but there are some that are common and applicable to all, no matter who you are, like sleep, healthy eating, and regular physical activity.

I'll quickly talk through some of the things I make sure to make time for in order to optimise my short- and long-term energy - these fall under two main buckets: physical and mental.


Sleep: I recently read Matthew Walker's Why We Sleep, and it was a terrifying wake-up call (heh) to find out what the detrimental effects (again, short and long term) were of me NOT having healthy sleep habits!

Some quick, (hopefully) scary facts: 1) Sleep deprivation can lead to higher mortality, risk of cancer, heart disease, weight gain, rate of infection, Alzheimer's, irritability, inflammation, lower productivity, lower rational decision making and memory recall, lower emotional control, and lower immune system function; 2) Driving while sleepy can be worse than driving while drunk - while drunk, your response is delayed but while sleepy, if you have a 'microsleep', you may not react at all (driving after having slept less than 4 hours can increase risk of crashing by 11.5x); 3) Sleep can help improve long-term factual recall and 'muscle memory'; 4) Less than 1% of the population is able to survive on six hours of sleep and show minimal impairment; and 5) Less sleep causes immediate effects on productivity, as immediate as the very next day. Need I say more? You should DEFINITELY read the book.

Since reading it, I make it a point to start winding down for bed around 10 pm every weekday – this means putting down all electronic devices, reading a few chapters, maybe meditating a bit – to allow myself to get to sleep by 11. I've also tried to implement some of the other healthy sleep habits that Walker recommends.

Physical activity: I learnt this lesson a long time ago that if I miss a few days of physical exercise, I notice a marked difference in my well being – not just physical, but mental too. Since then, I’ve made it a goal to get some activity in every single day. If I can’t manage a full workout, then I need to get in at least 10 minutes of activity, even if it’s just a walk. Done is better than perfect – a ten minute walk I did do is better than a 60 minute workout that I missed, and again, science talks about the importance of not just doing regular physical exercise but also remaining physically active (going to the gym everyday doesn't help if I keep sitting the rest of the day without any activity at all).

My 90-year-old granddad has, for as long as I've known him, worked out every morning (and what this means has changed over the years), as well as walked every afternoon (intensity may have changed but not frequency). It's admirable to see how fit and relatively independent he is at this age - this proof was enough for me!

Nutrition: Still something I'm working to get right, so I won't say much here, but it's important to mention because it IS important.

Rest: I see this as a little different from sleep, although it may include sleep. Rest can mean recovery. It can mean making the time for short breaks between work. It can mean going for a quick walk to energise yourself. It could mean taking a sabbatical. I put this at the end because it can be a very 'mental' thing too. Basically, I've found that sprints vs. marathon allows me to be more productive, and that rest contributes to this productivity and efficiency (and yes, before you ask, this is also supported by science).

Keep an eye out for part 2, where I expound on the Mental aspects I referenced. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Onwards: Interview with Amandla Ooko-Ombaka (part 2)

If you haven't yet checked out part 1 of this interview - find it here!

I’ve always been impressed by Amandla’s boundless energy – in the face of adversity when most of us would shy away, she boldly looks a problem in the face and says ‘try me’.

Amandla is a young Kenyan woman who describes herself as having ‘a public sector heart, a private sector mind, and a passion for getting things done.’ She is interested in spending her most productive years doing her part to help Kenya become the thriving democracy her father envisioned, and being a fierce and loyal supporter of all her friends who’re trying to change the world. If she were to choose three words to describe herself they would be: caring, hardworking AF, and persistent.

She also confesses that she has an unhealthy obsession with gummy bears, and her happy place is Watamu on the Kenyan coast – she just needs coconut water, a book, and the sound of the ocean waves to be at peace.

She believes that in life, she has to be her own biggest cheerleader and hype herself up – hence the boundless energy! If she won’t do it – who else will? As she puts it:

“There are too many enemies of progress in life for me to be in my own way. Also, more practically, if going to get out of bed at all (and some days I just stay in bed and phone in because I’m human), I better put my best high-heeled foot forward and SLAY.”

Among some of Amandla’s innumerable successes, two stand out. The first was her siblings’ graduation. She made them both promises that she would do her absolute best to make sure they had access to all the opportunities they would have had to complete their college educations had their parents been alive. Watching both of them graduate with honours (and as mini-celebrities) from school has easily been the proudest moment of her life!

The second happened more recently – the agriculture strategy she led has formally moved forward for implementation. Her team and her gave everything to the project, and the potential for it to impact millions of farmers and >25% of the GDP of the country is humbling. As she puts it, “it’s not a slam dunk yet because the proof is in implementation, but we’ve supported this process as far as we can without being in government. Maybe it’s a sign that I should be in government 🤣"

Amandla is a role model and inspiration to many, so it was only natural that I ask who hers have been! She listed a few who, as she put it, serve inspiration for breakfast:

  • My grandma is the real OG. Her steadfastness, shade throwing, and zero tolerance for anything but our best has been a rock for our family and the many women and men she gave life to
  • My mom, if I can be half the woman she was...I’m done. Also, I was born 5 days after her wedding in her 30s, and she went back to work two months after. She constantly showed us that it was possible to have what you prioritised in life
  • My younger sister who takes self-care, wellness and treating her body and mind with such kindness. She also wakes up like clockwork everyday around 5am to work out without an alarm, and is in the office by 7am. #Lifegoals
  • The Council of Stateswomen...they are the real squad. And thriving right now in our 30s as a collective. I love these women

Reflecting a bit on being a role model and the learnings that emerged, Amandla shared the following, and commented that living her life the best way she knows how can be an example to anyone at all is all the more reason to keep grabbing life by the horns:
  • Listen and ask good questions - I never try to make decisions or pretend to know what is best for anyone else. I can only offer my relevant lived experience and a sound board for folks to work things out.
  • Women in particular that I try and mentor are much harder on themselves than the guys in general, and are less willing to take a big bet on themselves. Some of the jobs I see guys apply for (one particularly intrepid young Lagosian man I met wanted to apply directly to be a Partner at McKinsey from undergrad - usually a position one is qualified for about 6 years after graduate school)... I want all my ladies out there to have even half the boldness. We are often qualified many times over... be your own best cheerleader / hype woman.

 The 4 most important principles Amandla believes a leader should live by: 
  1. Integrity and a firm moral code: I need to be able to level up with myself every day and be accountable to the team I am serving. One of my professors, Clay Christensen, always says it is easier to stick to your values 100% of the time than 98% of the time. And it’s so true... how often have you done one small thing and told yourself only this once, and then all of a sudden you can’t remember the last time you didn’t eat a packet of gummy bears a day?
  2. Authenticity: Leadership is not a role or title I can put on and take off when it suits me. It is something I have to practice and live by every day, it’s the only way to get better.
  3. Servant leadership: My father epitomised this for me, particularly in public service. It’s not about me. It’s about the people I am serving and the work that has to be done.
  4. Empathy: Human beings are complex. Everyone comes to work or school or the grocery store with their own burdens to bear. If I can’t connect on some fundamental level with each person I interact with, how can I do service to the challenges that keep them awake at night? My sister likes to joke that she wishes she could just deal with soil samples all day, they don’t talk back 🤣. But even then, to be a leader in her environmental research she has to connect with and see things from the perspective of the earth, literally
The best advice Amandla’s ever been given is 1) Ask for forgiveness, not permission. Just do it if you can stand by your decision, and the rest will follow and 2) Have a voice, don’t be a brand.

Amandla plans everything to a T so she can orient herself in ‘this crazy thing called life’, but does mention that some of the most memorable and fun experiences of her life were unplanned (note to self!):
“Moving to Lagos for work when I was 23 without having visited West Africa before, the most magical and spontaneous 10 hr date I’ve ever been on with a very good looking man I dated for a while, randomly entering a dance competition on Saint Patrick’s day in Addis Ababa (even more random) and winning my favourite piece of art ever...”
Let’s just say Amandla got a sudden million dollars, hers to do with as she pleases, no questions asked. What would be the top 3 to 5 things she would prioritise and why?
  1. Immediately put half of it into an investment vehicle so it keeps working for me
  2. Pay off any big debts of the family members and friends who took us into their homes when our parents died, and shared what they had
  3. Take my extended family on an awesome vacation to Watamu
  4. Revive the spirit of the Education Trust that my mother tried to start. It doesn’t have to be my own organization or anything. Perhaps a scholarship at Kenya High School in her name to educate more female scientists and doctors from high school to grad school, and some sort of fellowship in my fathers name for young Kenyans who want to run for office and need mentorship, coaching, and strategic advice on running campaigns
  5. All the rest I’d donate to the Katiba Institute, a non-profit to help implement our constitution and empower all Kenyans to know their constitutional rights
If she was invited to give a TED talk, what would it be about? I’d take the TED-style talk I gave in grad school to the next level… “Yes, African: Breaking through mental barriers to Africa development”. 

While no single narrative defines the continent, countries in Africa share similar barriers to reaching our visions of prosperity. I’ split these barriers into two broad categories – hardware and software. Hardware is as all the ‘technical’ stuff that we know how to address e.g., utilities. More than 60% of Sub-Saharan Africans lack access to electricity. The grossly simplified answer to this challenge is to build more power plants.

Software is a more nuanced concept. It is an attitude, a state of heart and mind. Software is the attitude that led Kenyan bankers to dream and launch M-Akiba, the world’s first e-Treasury bill that allows ordinary citizens to purchase government bonds directly from their mobile phones, imagine that…

You have to wait for the TED talk to get all the goodies, but I used the talk to lay out 3 ways to break through these “software” barriers…

What are the top 3 books she recommends to others?
  1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: heart-breaking, a fiction novel, but an incredible call to action to know where we come from
  2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby: he wrote this entire book by blinking one letter at a time
  3. Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan: it’s holding up a mirror to why we continue to make decisions not in our best interests. Essential reading for leading teams

Amandla believes her biggest source of strength comes from her belief in God – many events in her life could have had wildly different outcomes, and she believes that there definitely is a higher power looking out for her. She struggles with institutionalised religion a lot because of how it is so often corrupted by people to do pure evil (from her own experience in intolerant Christian Churches, Nadia Murad’s experience as a Yazidi with extremist Islam). But her current Pastor Pete Odera (see a snippet of an old interview she did with him here during one of her summer internships: is teaching her to question and believe at the same time.

Also, it helps just knowing that most things in life are surmountable, as long as you’re alive. Amandla has an incredible family and group of friends who’ve lived through a lot together.

Does Amandla have any success rituals she swears by?
Getting really razor focused, and being honest with myself - if I really prepped for it (did all the studying, got in all my long runs while training for my marathon...), I trust that the practice will kick in. If I haven’t put in the work, I hope for luck but level set my expectations.

Depending on the time of day and how much time I have before the moment, I’ll go for a run, meditate, or blast Beyoncé’s Formation and Flawless on repeat.

If she could have a dinner party and invite any three people, dead or alive, who would they be?
Mom, Dad and my Aunt Barb who I hope are all really proud of the young adults that my siblings and I have become. It would be a dinner full of love, hugs and real talk

Monday, May 20, 2019

Onwards: Interview with Amandla Ooko-Ombaka (part 1)

Amandla Ooko-Ombaka. Where do I start? Those who know her know that she’s a force of nature, a whirlwind of energy and inspiration, and an amazing colleague. I love being surrounded by amazing women at work who’re intelligent and hardworking, and Amandla is certainly one of those. Is it any wonder that I decided an interview with her HAD to be done? Amandla, to me, truly embodies the values of resilience, persistence, and hard-work. After reading this, I hope you’ll see why!

When speaking about her family and growing up, Amandla uses the words ‘full of laughter, travel, SO MANY COUSINS (40 first cousins!), and lots of activities’.

The laughter and travel she attributes to her dad, who was the ‘most serious jester’. Growing up a daddy’s girl, she witnessed his seriousness at work, as an MP in Kenya’s first multiparty election in the nineties – she’d drive upcountry with him quite often while he was campaigning.

By day, however, he was a lawyer willing to take on the ruling party of the day. Case in point? He represented Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai in her landmark case against Kenya Times Media Trust, and the Ominde clan in the Ouko murder trial. He faced a number of attempts on his life in his line of work, upto and including his final big project – co-leading the team that wrote the current Kenyan constitution. However, to his credit, he managed to prevent these stresses from invading his home environment, coming home, throwing his kids on his back and belting out an old school Luo rhyme about a donkey reaching Yala, tickling them till they cried.

The cousins and activities she attribute to her mum who ‘didn’t play’ – according to her, family and excellence (including applying yourself fully to everything you tried) were non-negotiable. Amandla remembers many a Saturday afternoon at her grandma’s house playing around with her cousins – but only after cleaning the house in the morning, hopping on a matatu to town for her dance classes, and finishing her math homework!

For the first few years of their childhoods (Amandla has a younger sister and brother), their mum was the head of the OBGYN department at Kenyatta National Hospital. If Amandla wanted to go to dance class while mum was at work – well, she found her own way there. Her mum was very clear, she and her husband had a driver, Amandla did not 😉

Her parents were very supportive. There were no expectations of their kids having to follow in their professional footsteps. Amandla dropped Biology after standard 8 – so that ruled out medicine. She fell in love with Physics and Mathematics in high school – so that ruled out law. However, she’s clear on the fact that she still wants to run for office one day like her dad (and those of us who know her know she’d be great at it!) – she remembers writing an essay in standard 2 saying that she wanted to be the President of Kenya. True to their expectations, her parents would often remind her of this audacious (or so she says…) dream by asking her what she was doing to prepare – that too, was a job!

Baby Amandla started off at Madari Kindergarten (I’m an alumna too!!), before becoming a proud Msongari girl then heading to Brookhouse for her O-levels. She left Kenya at 15 for boarding school in the UK to do IB. She’s always been a self-professed nerd – she latched onto Maths in high school, which turned into Economics and Mathematics at Yale University for her undergrad, which then led to Development Economics and an MBA at Harvard for grad school (note to young readers out there: Maths is good! And not something to be afraid of.).

Amandla describes her Yale experience as life-changing. Her dad passed away just before she started IB and her mum just before she applied to college. Many people told her she should move home after IB and reset her expectations – after all, college abroad was too expensive. She was terrified about the application process itself; her mum had read and edited every important essay she’d ever written so far – how was she going to apply without her? How was she going to even afford college? What about her two younger siblings? Their parents had always said that their education was the only thing that couldn’t be taken away from them – what sort of example would she be setting for her siblings if she compromised then?

And so, she didn’t. Going to college so far away from home provided a hard shot of realism for Amandla. It was the first time she truly struggled at school; her freshman year grades needed an academic intervention. She was grieving, and not dealing with it very well. On top of that, it was very clear that there was always someone more (...insert word here!) than her in her classes.

To compound issues, while she was on full academic financial aid, her room and board were taxed. She lived off Ramen noodles for weeks at a time and volunteered for all kinds of ‘free Psychology studies’ to make ends meet – in between her two on-campus jobs.

Amandla was looking for full-time employment when the 2008 financial crisis hit; all of a sudden, the jobs that she had been setting up for herself since freshman year that would pay her enough to help her siblings through college evaporated. Companies courting her to join investment banks couldn’t guarantee visas for her to stay after school.

At this point, Amandla leaned hard into the incredible support network of her college friends – a particular group of three other African women she met at Yale, who call themselves the ‘Council of Stateswomen’ – and applied for every single scholarship and fellowship opportunity available. She stayed in the computer lab for four days straight once because her laptop broke and she couldn’t afford to fix it before applications were due (it was much cheaper to fix in a town four hours away by bus – but she didn’t have the fare or the eight hours to spend not working on applications).

Luckily, everything worked out at the end. When looking back at 21-year old Amandla, she is incredibly proud of the strong and resourceful woman that Yale helped her become. She’s also extremely grateful for the eye-opening experiences it provided. As part of a Yale delegation, she was an election monitor for the 2007 Kenyan elections. They were in Kibera when Raila Odinga arrived with Fred Gumo and couldn’t find his name on the voters’ register… a rock hit the window above her head soon after this news spread – but she tells us that’s a story for another day. She knows many Kenyans smarter and harder working than her, who similarly lost their parents while quite young, but did not have access to the opportunities that Yale afforded her.

Currently, Amandla is an Engagement Manager at McKinsey’s Nairobi office, affiliated with the Agriculture and Food practices – a role she simultaneously describes as the ‘most exhilarating and stressful job’ she’s ever had. Her job is to hold the complex spiderweb of a project together, and make sure that her team delivers the best answer possible for some of the most complex problems faced by their clients.

This team includes the 3-4 analysts and associates she directly coaches and supervises, 2-3 partners who provide deep expertise, and countless other incredible McKinsey gurus in research, analytics, visual graphics, etc., that help deliver for clients.

Recent problems she’s worked on include 1) writing a national agriculture strategy for an African government and 2) helping a global food manufacturer figure out how to triple their revenues in Africa and further localise their business model.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Nick Ndeda: The Person behind the Persona (part 2)

I hope you all enjoyed getting to know more about our favourite radio personality in my previous postWithout further ado, here’s the next part of this!

When asked who Nick Ndeda is, his answer was very simple - an artist. Over the many years that I listened to his show, I always admired the fact that he’s always had great rapport with and empathy for your listeners, and had to ask where this came from:

Thank you. I think it stems from the fact that I love listening to people. I like hearing how they articulate/express themselves (something I also selfishly use for my acting) and also, given the fact that I am the one who controls the show and thus have unlimited airtime (so to speak), I realise the importance of gravity of a listener getting some time to shine.

Nick attributes his key successes (professional and otherwise) to discipline.
Discipline. It’s got very little to do with talent. We are not special as professionals, it is what we do that is special. So I worked damn hard preparing and practicing, so that when it’s time to go on air/stage/set it looks easy. It’s all about discipline. And practice. That’s what makes Cristiano Ronaldo Cristiano Ronaldo you know!!

In terms of role models, in life, Nick looks to his parents and siblings due to their belief in being good people, doing good to others, and always putting in 100% in whatever you do.

Career wise, Nick thinks Ryan Seacrest is very good at radio and TV presenting. Vis-à-vis acting; Leonardo DiCaprio, Denzel Washington, Audrey Hepburn, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Hlomla Dandala, Moshidi Motshegwa, Emily Watson… he could go on and on!

Speaking of role models… Nick has been one to many over the years. Reflecting on this, he observes  “that everyone is afraid of their dreams and that’s ok. I get the reason why. It could all blow up in your face and you end up looking like an idiot. Embarrassment is up there next to crucifixion when it comes to things we as humans fear I’d like to think. So, I always try my best to show that the risk is worth it. It may not go as planned (as life always seems to be) but it’s worth giving a shot.”

Journeys always come with surprises, and when asked about his, Nick remarks that he didn’t expect to be on radio for so long, much less end up assisting in production and other spheres such as presenter training! In his words, “However, to see Mwalimu Rachel (NRG Radio), Ciru Muriuki (BBC) and Amina Abdi Rabar (NTV/Capital FM) shining as bright as they do, then that’s great pat on the back for me!”

Emceeing and voice over work were also things he had never envisioned doing, but that he now loves, in Also, emceeing and voice over work was stuff I had never envisioned doing but I do it now and love it. He also mentioned writing movie and theatre scripts as pleasant surprise additions to his CV.

What are the three most important principles Nick believes a leader should live by?
Being an example

Being disciplined

Correcting by not condemning

Three words Nick would choose to describe himself
Artsy. Disciplined. Brilliant.

What’s the best advice someone ever gave Nick?
“If it ain’t fun, run!”

My former director Neil Schell from the TV series “Higher Learning” once told me this on set and I have never forgotten this gem. Real talk!

Let’s just say Nick got a sudden million dollars, his to do with as he pleases, no questions asked. What would be the top three to five things he would prioritise, and why?
1. Build a HUGE house because I need the space for my cats, future dogs, future birds, fish and turtle

2. Build a house for my parents and my wife’s parents because parents!

3. A pair of shoes for every day of the month (at least 50 pairs)

4. Trips to islands because I love me a beach

5. The rest of it I would put into making movies because Kenyan movies are always lacking in the budget department

If Nick was invited to give a TED talk, what would it be about?
It would be called “Do what the fuck you want, as long as it's legal”, and it would be about listening to your inner voice. It’s never wrong and when you calm the noise outside and listen keenly - all the answers are there. Thank you for coming to my TED talk!

What are the top three books Nick recommends to others?
1. The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy

2. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

3. Needful Things by Stephen King

What is Nick’s biggest source of strength?
Belief in myself. If I can see myself do it in my mind, then I can execute it perfectly in the “real world”.

Does he have any success rituals he swears by?


Writing down goals for the day each morning

Giving myself pep talks!

If you could have a dinner party and invite any three people, dead or alive, who would they be?
Marilyn Monroe

Kanye West

Bob Marley

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Nick Ndeda: The Person behind the Persona (part 1)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nick Ndeda, I should give some background. Nick was a presenter on my favourite radio channel, X FM, and I’m a huge fan. His morning show coincided nicely with my morning commute to work for many years, and I absolutely loved listening! He combined some great music with a genuine connection to and empathy for his audience – many a morning found me venting to his breakfast show WhatsApp about traffic (often) and humanity (sometimes).

Unfortunately, circumstances meant that Nick had to leave his morning show to move to an afternoon show within the same radio network (you’d better believe this was a huge shock and disappointment to all his loyal fans!) I decided to take the opportunity to ask for an interview – and I definitely fangirled HARD when he said yes!

Nick’s early background
Nick grew up in a small nuclear family of three brothers and their parents. He describes his eldest brother Jeremy as being the brightest academically, along with being a school captain, leading to a lot of “Why can’t you be more like your brother Jeremy?” as he grew up.

His second-born brother, Innocent, is a whizz at anything mechanical or computer-oriented – as a result of which, he became the go-to kid for fixing anything electrical. Nick observes that his parents were always stunned by Innocent’s skillset – and rightfully so! He went on to become one of the youngest systems administrators for a huge bank when he was just 28.

Nick, being the last born out of three (much like myself!), found himself with perfect examples to sculpt his aspirations. Their greatest link as brothers, though, ended up being the fact that they all had artistic inclinations. As Nick says, “Jeremy was a dope rapper and writer – he went on to become a really cool radio presenter till the day he died; Innocent can draw, paint, and rap; and I loved acting and generally performing in front of an audience (despite my obviously shy demeanor as a child!).”

Their parents encouraged all of them to follow what they loved, which is how Nick ended up pursuing a career as an actor before radio came calling.

Nick’s (formal) education

After finishing high school, Nick wanted to get into acting, and his parents agreed to give him a year to go after his dreams – with one caveat. If he was unable to find work as an actor (after all, he was only 19 and in Kenya), he would join university. He spent that entire year going for auditions and failing every single one.

Finally, his year off came to an end, and time came to apply for admission. Coincidentally, on the same day he submitted his admission forms, he auditioned for a play and won the part.

After that first play, directors and fellow actors began recommending him and his acting career begin to take off.

He did still go to uni though, where he pursued a double major in Journalism and Psychology and minored in Spanish and Industrial Psychology (phew!!)! After all… the forms had been filled, and the admission fee paid!

When I asked Nick how (or even if) his education prepared him for the real world, Nick said:
At the beginning of my third year on campus, my eldest brother Jeremy, asked me to accompany him for a radio presenter audition. While there, I was convinced to try it out myself and I got the job! Working on radio whilst learning about it in theory in class worked to my advantage. I was able to have “work experience” as I learnt and this helped me wash away the BS that can sometimes cloud your mind when you are only confined to books, libraries and lecturers when it comes to your opinion of the workforce as well as the workforce environment.

Nick’s work background
As far as radio is concerned, Nick started at Homeboyz Radio in 2007 where he was the stand-in Breakfast Show host, as well as host for a daily interview-oriented show about youth empowerment. After leaving Homeboyz, Nick joined Hot 96 in 2010, where he not only became the youngest breakfast show presenter EVER in Kenya (he was 25!), but he was also the Deputy Programmes Controller (yes, at 25!).

He took a short break from radio in late 2011 to late 2012, in order to do some acting out of the country, and then moved to XFM in 2012 where he hosted the breakfast show for 7 years until the station was closed in early 2019 (moment of silence, please).

In acting, Nick has had the honour of acting in over 50 plays since his stage debut back in 2005. He has played supporting roles in huge TV shows like ‘Jacob’s Cross’ (M Net), a popular South African series in 2012. He played a lead role in a local TV series, ‘Higher Learning’ (NTV) in 2010, a lead role in the MTV series ‘Shuga’ in 2012, and most recently, played the lead role in the critically acclaimed movie ’18 Hours’, which won best movie in Africa last year (!!!) at the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards.

His latest venture is playing a supporting role in the popular telenovela ‘Selina’ (Maisha Magic East).

Currently, Nick is an afternoon drive-time show host on Kiss 100 FM. He got there because they closed the station he was at, but the station’s parent company (Radio Africa Group) decided to ship his talents to another one of their stations (I hear fans breathing a collective sigh of relief).

Acting wise, all Nick told me that he’s looking forward to his next project (contracts don’t allow him to say much, much to our dismay!)

I asked Nick about what roles he previously played that he enjoyed.

1) On radio, hosting XBRKFST on XFM was a dream come true because I always wanted to work in that station and when you dream hard enough, and keep the faith, it always manifests.

2) On stage, I absolutely loved playing the role of “Henry” in a play called “Freefall” It was a tough character to muster, and the physical transformation made me love it even more. I had to put on a shave that made me look 10 years older and adapting mannerisms that were so unlike me in person. I mean, isn’t that what makes acting awesome?!

3) On screen, it has to be the role of “Angelo” on MTV Shuga. I got to show off my rapping skills (yeah, I rap too just like my brothers, because we listened to a lot of great hip hop growing up).

We’re not quite done yet! Stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll get to know Nick a little better.

Monday, January 7, 2019

12 Reads of 2018

I'm a voracious reader and as I've grown, this has meant more and more nonfiction work. I had a goal of reading 12 nonfiction books over 2018, and I'm happy to say that I succeeded. (I won't even count the fiction I read over the year, because it was A LOT).

Here are the 12 that made my 2018 list in no particular order:

1) Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Duckworth is a psychologist (and McKinsey alumna!) who takes us on a journey of exploration of the qualities that lead to success and achievement. She covers in detail 'grit', that secret ingredient that's not really luck or talent, but a combination of passion and resilience. 

Recommended? Yes, I'd give this an 8/10. You'd also enjoy this if you're a parent.

2) Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brené Brown

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
If you haven't yet already, I'd recommend watching Brown's sensational TED talk. I love what she spoke, and this is what led me to buy the book. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was truly a game changer for me - I'd love to give copies to lots of people I know! We live in a culture where vulnerability has traditionally been seen as a weakness, but Brown presents a powerful case for why it actually is a strength.

Recommended? YES. 10/10. Go buy it right now. Buy a few copies. Give them to those you know. 

3) The Ten Types of Human by Dexter Dias

Oh. My. Goodness. Y'all, this book made me think and ponder and marvel and tremble. It's also been a while since I had to sit down with a dictionary as I read, and this book definitely required that. Dias does a marvellous job of tying in various anecdotes, research and his own personal experiences to present the ten archetypes of - as he says - who we are and who we can be. These include:
-The Perceiver of Pain
-The Ostraciser
-The Tamer of Terror
-The Beholder
-The Aggressor
-The Tribalist
-The Nurturer
-The Romancer
-The Rescuer
-The Kinsman

This book will scare you as it dives down to the depths of the worst we can be, but also comfort you as it shows you the flipside of these archetypes. This book was a good ~750 pages but I was so absorbed that I finished it in a few days. 

Recommended? Yes! 8.5/10. It's not an easy read, and that will dissuade many, but I think the messages are worth hearing. 

4) The Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down, by Haemin Sunim

You're probably expecting something hokey here right? Get past that, and give this a chance, I think you'll be easily surprised. This book is full of easily digestible words of timeless wisdom that you can return back to time and again, meditate upon, and share with those around you. 

Recommended? Yes! 9/10. Keep it by your bedside and come back to it.

5) The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

I've long been a believer that you should solve for energy, not time, to bring (and get) the best of yourself to the different dimensions of your life, including family, friends, and work. 

This book does a great job of expounding on that, as well as giving practical tips (e.g., getting enough sleep, regular workouts), for doing just that.

Recommended? Yes! 9/10. I'd also recommend reading this book with a highlighter and making notes if you'd like. 

6) Fierce Fairytales & Other Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill 

I loved the concept and thinking behind this book! However, there were definitely some stories I enjoyed more than others. I would gift this to younger friends and family because I think that's the exact right age to read this. 

Recommended? Yes! 7/10. I'd recommend buying a copy, reading it yourself first, and then reading it to younger family members.

7) milk and honey by rupi kaur


8) the sun and her flowers by rupi kaur

you tell me to quiet down
cause my opinions make me less beautiful
but i was not made with a fire in my belly
so i could be put out
i was not made with a lightness on my tongue
so i could be easy to swallow
i was made heavy
half blade and half silk
difficult to forget and not easy
for the mind to follow
-rupi kaur, milk and honey
I don't really read poetry that much, and always thought this was something to be mulled over. However, I devoured these two books in October and have already returned to them and finished them a second time. As a Punjabi woman in this time and age, kaur's work was especially relatable for me. Give it a try.

Recommended? Yes! 9/10 for the first and 8/10 for the second.

9) Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Another book I was led to by a TED talk, Sinek's book's premise is that it's more important to solve for your 'Why', and then your 'How', and then your 'What'. He goes on to give examples of organisations and people who've lived and worked this way, and provides compelling evidence for why (heh) this works.

Recommended? Yes! 8/10.

10) Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

'Ferriss has a very successful podcast, and has included wisdom from those he has interviewed into this book in three sections: healthy, wealthy and wise. Each little nugget can be digested on it's own and there's really no particular order in which you should read this!

Recommended? Yes! 8/10.

11) Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

I was led to this book after reading Dexter Dias' Ten Types of Human (above), and after it was recommended by a colleague and mentioned in passing by someone else. I thought all the hype must be for something - and I was right!

Harari does a great job of laying down the thousands of years of human history into a compact and easy to read book - I devoured the ~450 pages in about six days - and covers some of our greatest achievements as well as some of our irreversible (often ecological) fuck ups. It's also strange how often themes in this book have come up in the days since (I finished this last week). 

I liked it so much I ran to the bookstore to get his next book (I got the last copy they had!) and plan to start it soon. 

Recommended? Yes! 9/10.

12) Originals by Adam Grant 

What is it that makes some of us more creative than others? How is it that there are so many cool, original startups around, but only so many succeed? What is it that ensures a good idea is executed well?

Grant is an organisational psychologist who covers all this and more in his wildly popular Originals. 

Recommended? Yes! 8.5/10. Even if you're not an entrepreneur, the knowledge in this book is applicable.

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