Introduce yourself! Who are you?
I call myself a Gender Equality Evangelist, because pretty much all my work is related to advancing gender equality in one way or another.
Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?
I grew up desiring to be a human rights lawyer. I did become a lawyer, and I focus on women’s rights work…so I guess I ended up not too far from that.
Were you scared to start the process?
“Feel the fear and do it anyway” is how I live a lot of my life!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Oprah once said the way to find your life’s calling is to just keep taking the next logical step in your life. She said to always stop and ask yourself: What is the next right move? And then, from that space, make the next right move and the next right move.
That quote freed me from thinking I needed to figure out my life’s purpose all at once, and has stayed with me for a long time. I don’t make 5 or 10-year life plans anymore—I just keep assessing what the next logical step to take in my life is at each juncture. And I’ve found, the more steps I take, the more I can look back and connect my life’s dots.
What would you say to 16 year old you?
I would tell 16-year old Blessing to calm all the way down. I would tell her that a lot of her life will not go like she plans, and that she will be better and stronger for it. I would tell her a lot of the things she is stressed about right now won’t matter in the long term. And I would tell her she is enough, just as she is.
Have you ever had anyone doubt you? How did that make you feel?
All the time. As a woman, a young woman, a Black woman, an African woman—I am consistently doubted and underestimated. It challenges me to keep surpassing expectations.
What message do you think every woman should hear?
I think every woman should know that her most authentic herself is her most valuable offering.
Have you always had confidence in yourself?
For the most part, I grew up having confidence in my intellectual abilities. It took me longer to embrace the other parts of myself.
What do you love most about yourself?
I love my versatility most. I like that I can talk about pop culture and policy with equal competence. I like that I understand faith, and also understand feminism. I like that I can navigate being both Nigerian and American. I love that I am not a one-note-type-person.
Do you remember a specific time you overcame adversity?
I am a black woman living in America, and working in a predominantly white sector—my life is a series of overcoming micro-aggressions and micro-adversities. However, I’ll give you two examples:
The first major adversity I had to overcome though, was my father’s death. My father was my hero and I owe much of my confidence to him. He died when I was fifteen years old. Surviving his death taught me a lot about my strength.
Law school was tough for me. I didn’t have any one in my family or circle who had gone through the American legal system, so navigating that process (from law school applications through taking the New York Bar exams) felt very much like stabbing in the dark. I learned a lot about my resilience in the process.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Oh gosh, that’s a whole book. One important lesson I’ve learned though is to just keep putting one foot in front of another, no matter what—just keep going. There’s a Nigerian-American poet I like, Bassey Ikpi, who says this phrase often: Allow Yourself Morning. No matter how bad a day has been, I remind myself to go to sleep and allow myself morning. Or like one of my fiction faves– Anne of Green Gables– said: “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.”
What motivates you most?
The idea that I was put on this earth to accomplish a purpose that is bigger than me, and that I have a finite amount of time to manifest my purpose.
How do you manage your work-life balance?
I’ve come to realize that I do my best work and my best thinking when I am rested. These days I have become very intentional about prioritizing the things that give me joy, and I’ve found the productivity flows from that place of joy.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow and move forward?
I consume a lot of information on a daily basis—from podcasts to twitter to conversations. Constantly being exposed to new points of view and new language to frame these points of view is an important part of my growth and evolution.
Do you have a mentor? If so, what did they teach you?
I do not have one formal mentor. There are different people I seek advice from about different things. For example, when I need financial advice, I have my go-to people. Same, when I need fashion advice, and so on, and so forth. Also, in the age of the internet and free information, there are so many mentors I have that I’ve never met!
There’s a great book called The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. He recommends that everyone should have “a personal board of advisors”—a diverse group of people who are wiser/more effective than you are at certain things, who you can call on for advice. This isn’t a formal board, just a group of people whose advice you value and can call on for different things. I more or less live my life by this principle.
A common thread of advice I’ve garnered from these different sources: patience. Life is a marathon—not a sprint!
What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?
I think most people are surprised to find out that I can be a bit of a recluse. Because I am an extrovert and quite transparent on and offline—people are often surprised by the facts that I am a big homebody, love periods of silence, and can be very private about parts of my life.
Who is your biggest role model? Why?
My mother is one of my biggest role models. My mother grew up in extreme poverty in Northern Nigeria, but she fought hard for her education. I am consistently inspired by her grit. Also, she is hands-down the most generous human I know— I hope to spend my life for others the way she does.
Where do you find inspiration?
A lot of my inspiration comes from 3 sources… we can call it the 3 F’s: 1) Faith, 2) Family, and 3) Friends. I am also inspired by culture a lot—television, film, podcasts, music, etc.
What are your biggest passions?
Gender Equality and Women’s Rights are my biggest passions—advocating for the liberation of women is what I was put on this earth for.
Blessing Omakwu is a Nigerian-American Gender Equality Advocate, Lawyer and Blogger. She is the Founder of The She Tank, a digital think-tank focused on promoting gender equality through mindset and policy change. She also serves on the Goalkeepers Advisory Board at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.