What drives you?

Birds fascinate me. The sense of community they share when they fly together and yet that sense of scarcity they feel when they flock onto the very same branch, leaving several empty branches free. Enough space and abundance to spread out comfortably.

Individually, they fly with purpose. When it’s time to stake claim, they sit on the very same spot.

That’s why this proverb from my native Yoruba is one I love sharing repeatedly.

The sky is big enough for birds to fly without touching themselves…. Yoruba proverb

What drives you?

What truly drives us and the work we do? Is it to inspire others? Make them live better versions of themselves in whatever paths of life they choose for themselves?

Is it to open doors and normalize closed off spaces because representation matters by living our own best lives? Is it a combination of both? Is it in selfless service to others? Or, self-righteousness masked as selfless service?

Because the question of “what drives you” might seem like inspiration on the surface but could be attached to a much darker space. Maybe silencing the naysayers and haters by living your truth? All very valid emotions too. What drives us might seem like fighting a cause but the minute we personally get in or are included, then all is good.

So, what drives me?

Listening.

For many years, when I first moved to the US, I wasn’t listened to and my voice was nullified because I was different and didn’t fit a predefined box. That act of listening, truly listening to nuance and what others are saying or trying to say, is what drives me.

That’s what keeps pushing me into spaces to help normalize different “nullified” voices on a mainstream level. Voices that can say whatever they want to say and are not expected to say certain things or fill certain roles solely because of their background or beliefs. And I support – both quietly and publicly if needed – other people’s causes where I fully feel their “eccentric” passion coming through.

Lola Akinmade Akerstrom jumping at Mount Pilatus, Lucerne, Switzerland

So, what drives you?

The honest answer you come up with will begin to release certain mental burdens we place on ourselves, because the most insane thing you’re currently doing right now is comparing your real life to others who carefully curate theirs online.

Look, I’m human and I haven’t achieved any Zen levels of enlightenment yet. As a Christian and person of faith, I check my emotions and ego daily too. One thing I’ve realized long ago is that comparison is futile because we’re all driven by different motives. Longevity within creative businesses comes from honing and maturing your voice and style.

Once you’re plugged into what truly drives you, you begin to develop your own unique voice.

You stop adapting to every trend, you stop focusing on solely making millions, you stop trying to one-man-up others, and you stop hustling for the sake of hustling to appear relevant. People get tired, and if I lived solely to please and cater, I would forever be changing and morphing myself and my voice to please people and remain relevant in their eyes.

We all know this, yet somehow, we make ourselves insane.

So, I want to further break this down:

Choice

I once had a long conversation with a friend who seemed frustrated with the industry. That all the work and toil she’d put in over the years was being dismissed by a new crop of bloggers who seemed to be flitting all over and gaining with ease.

The first question I asked her was if the people she was worrying about had kids they were feeding and taking care of like she was?

Having choice is already a privilege and the quicker you realize this, the more you start switching your perspective into one of gratitude. The choice to live where you want, travel where you want, and make life choices… whether you want to marry or not marry, have kids or not have kids… is cloaked in privilege.

None of this should denote settling down but rather, another life transition you choose to make. Once you make a choice, whatever it is in life, it moves you into a different vertical, down a different path to carve as yours.

I have two beautiful kids and a loving husband. This choice I made has blessed me in so many ways I can’t count. But it is my choice.

So, comparing my life with someone in a totally different track with totally different breadth and depth of responsibilities feels like insanity to me. These are emotions we must check constantly. Remember, social media is the carefully curated and crafted bits of our lives we want to share with others.

If you personally can’t deal, then just unfollow people so you can focus on your own track without whatever you consider as distractions.

Medieval Visby – UNESCO Heritage Site

The subjectivity of creativity

We all know this as well. No, that single white dot in the middle of a black canvas is not art to me and shouldn’t be sold for millions. There are billions of people in the world and expecting everyone to like you or like your work is insanity.

There are types of artists and creative people I’m drawn to, and there are thousands more I’m not. There’s a difference between gaining inspiration to grow and improve your work, and diluting your vision just to appear creative.

Finding originality on Instagram these days can be challenging, but remember, what I find original and creative is very different from what you might find interesting. The key is creating your own space with your own voice, so it attracts the right audience who don’t seek or impose dilution.

There are many amazing young travelers and artists I don’t follow on Instagram. Not because they are not inspiring. It’s solely because they are following completely different paths that bear no relevance to where I am in my own life stage.

So, I’ll rather leave that space for following people who inspire and push me on my own path in life.

Paving the way and more importantly, making space for others

Storytelling from a minority view isn’t new. Black travelers have been exploring for decades. No one person wields the magic key that automatically opened the space for others of color. If anything, that one person who did is long gone and buried due to old age, not still alive today. So, hanging on to the thought that people are stealing rather unoriginal ideas we think we developed ourselves is insane.

What we’re collectively doing generation after generation is passing the knife on. The small carvings we make on that very hard bark gets easier and easier with each new slash. That is how we make space and continually pave the way for others.

It doesn’t stall at a single generation that tries to stake claim to progress. No, it collectively gets passed on like a relay baton.

Remember, you’re growing and maturing as well. Your audience is growing with you. By staying true to who you are, you can inadvertently inspire a new generation drawn to that wisdom.

I call it the Tina Turner vs Madonna effect.

Tina Turner isn’t adapting for nobody, yet when she struts out, everyone pays attention. Madonna tries to morph with each passing generation, and while I respect all her hard work, it’s not the same effect.

Scenes from Ravenna

On envy, jealousy and emotions you need to kill

I always say “envy” is wanting what others have and “jealousy” is not wanting them to have what they have. Both are very caustic emotions that stall you like a rubbernecker in your own lane. Of course, it’s easier said than done when we see people living similar lives we dreamed for ourselves. But always remember, success for most people didn’t just happen overnight. They’ve been working hard for years, inching along, digging, clearing, doing the dirty work.

Alongside hate, these emotions are the ones we need to rid ourselves of as quickly as possible. A much-needed social media purge will help. Reassessing your “whys” and “what drives you” will start realigning you.

A space for silent slayers

We all have different callings and reasons we were put on this earth. There are many people who have all the benefits of fame without actual fame itself. The silent slayers building businesses and enterprises, making big changes and dollar figures without announcing it daily, and mobilizing armies like a stealth general.

I know many of these types of movers and shakers who are shaping the industry behind the scenes. They are opening doors, creating doors, breaking down doors. There is a space for them too, and dare I say it, they may be the most important of the lot.

What you have that others crave

You’re comparing your downtime with loved ones to those who wished they had that downtime behind their gloss and glitter. If you investigate your own life, there are relationships that others crave, whether they admit it publicly or not. While you’re left despising your choices because you’re following their confetti, they would rather have what you have.

Some have tried and it’s a painful heartbreaking process. Some want to someday and are just laying down their foundations and comfy nests in preparation for once they get to that transition.

So, please be grateful for choice and potential. Be grateful for all what you’ve accomplished along your own path in life. Be grateful for friends and family firmly in your corner who always prop and support you. Be grateful for their love.

Above all, be grateful that you do have a path in life to travel down and make all your own.

So while flying with the flock, you can rest on a totally different branch when you land.

Not only is it okay, it’s needed.

Mauritius