THERE IS NO LIMIT TO ACHIEVING MY GOALS
An Interview with The Fabulous Folukemi Akinmeji, a Policy, Government & Public Affairs Specialist.
My name is Folukemi Akinmeji and I am from Ondo State in South – Western Nigeria.. I am the last child in a family of five. I was born in Lagos and spent most of my life there.
I have a strong relationship with God. My father is a catholic and my mother, was a protestant. When I was younger, I gravitated towards my mother’s faith but as I grew older I started to form my own relationship with God. I will say I am more spiritual than religious and I strongly believe you must find what you believe in, not what your parents, friends or community believes in.
I have recently taken up mindfulness and meditation and it has truly helped me through some very difficult times. One of such times was when my mother passed away. . I never got the chance to say goodbye and for a long time it was a great regret and burden. I also internalized my grief and paid dearly for it because a few years later I went through a difficult patch where I blamed everyone for her death. With meditation, I was able to come to terms with her passing, deal with my grief and also now see that there was nothing I could have done because it was her time. I have unburdened myself of that grief and now live life with greater introspection. Nowadays, I listen to a lot of mindfulness podcasts, spend at least 30 minutes every morning meditating and read a lot of books on spirituality. This has enriched my mind, body and has invariably informed my actions.
Education and work…
So my father makes this joke and says, he wonders what transformation must have happened in my life that all of a sudden I became a book worm. He says this lovingly because I was never interested in education. I simply hated school. I was the one who always woke up late and delayed everyone from getting to school early, always feigned illness so I could skip classes, purposefully got into trouble so I could stay away from school. I was simply that child that thought learning was stressful. Fast forward to today and I have a first degree, 3 masters degrees and undertaken numerous certificate courses. I sometimes think that perhaps an alien took over my body.
Jokes apart, I think that I realized after completion of my first degree that in order to compete in the burgeoning and competitive job market, I needed an advantage and so I told myself that I had to buckle up and embrace learning. To this effect, I have become a voracious seeker of knowledge, anything and everything is good knowledge.
I attended the Lagos State University and studied Philosophy, went on to the United Kingdom, Scotland to be precise and studied for an MSc in Corporate Communications & Public Affairs from the Robert Gordon University. In 2012, I took a study leave from work and moved to Washington DC where I studied for a Masters in International Public Policy (MIPP), concentrating in African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In between my last two Masters degrees, I started and completed a distance learning programme for an MBA (Cert) in Strategy & Planning from the Heriot Watt University. I am also a Fellow of the prestigious Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) Abshire Inamori Leadership Academy (AILA), Washington, DC.
I have spent 12 of the past 19 years of my professional career with Chevron Nigeria Limited where I have held numerous cross functional positions within the Policy, Government and Public Affairs function in Nigeria and the United States. In my current role as a Public Policy & Government Affairs Advisor, I manage the company’s business priorities from the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja where I interact with the bi-cameral National Assembly and all other relevant Federal Government ministries, departments, agencies, civil society organizations and think tanks to help influence Chevron’s business objectives.
Chevron is indeed a great company to work for, with great people and great opportunities for career advancement.
I struggled at the beginning of my career particularly working in a male dominated industry. Being a straight shooter was something I realized was not particularly appreciated. Nigeria and indeed most of Africa is patriarchal. Infuse that with cultural and religious nuances, particularly for a woman and you have what I will call a hot mess. So, imagine the challenge of being a strong, independent minded woman, I have to say that it was not easy. So, it required me finding the right balance between voicing my opinion without offending the sensibilities of my male colleagues. I get asked this question by some of the young women I mentor, how are you able to be a strong woman in the face of conscious and sometimes unconscious biases about women and my advice to any woman is to stay true to who you are, hone your craft and learn to build alliances. It took a long time for me to get to that realization but as soon as I did things became easier.
Never stop learning: I have experienced first-hand the benefits of self-development. Waiting for someone or your organization to train you, is a defeatist mentality. I have always liked this quote, ‘Success happens when preparation meets opportunity’, and so for me, my motto is ‘be prepared’. Preparation is the only thing within your control, everything else is time and chance.
Never say no to any opportunity, even when you are not ready because you never know what will happen there after..
Always aim high: Benchmark yourself against people you admire their careers. Study their career paths and journeys and find something you can learn from and possibly emulate.
The moment you start feeling comfortable, that’s the moment you should challenge yourself to add something new to your skill set.
Build networks and alliances: Building alliances across the company with people who mostly speak to your own values is critical but also learning to never see relationships as black and white is also important. Learn to always give room for people who fall within the ‘grey’ areas and build alliances there too because people outside your ‘zone’ have tremendous skills too and you can learn a lot from them.
Be good at what you do: That’s what gets you respect then those networks and alliances become easier to navigate and manage.
Think globally: Never limit where your skills and experiences can take to you. Update your skills for global competitiveness
Be strategic: Don’t waste time doing everything at the same time, you might run yourself to the ground. Stay focused on what you are good at, understand how it ties into the organizations strategic objectives, be willing to challenge yourself, look out for opportunities that take you closer to your career goals and leverage on your network
Finally, try not to burn bridges. There is no point creating enemies. We are all on different paths and you never know when you will need someone.
Interviewed by Ama Duncan, Founder of The Fabulous Woman Network
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- Breakfast With The Girls Accra 21st September 2019 Breakfast With The Girls – Accra & Kumasi
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