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Ready To Start Your Own Purpose or
Passion Project?

Imagine finally taking that dream of starting a podcast, writing a book, becoming a public speaker or any other creative endeavor and turning it into something tangible in the world. I'm talking #Done

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Where can the people learn more about your passion project and the dope work you are putting out into the world. 

I love to send people to and you can learn all about my business, my passion and some of the new products that we will be releasing very soon.

What do you do for Full-time work?

So I am an EVP. That's Executive Vice President of strategy, legal and operations for the city's Economic Development Agency.

What is your passion project and how long has it been in existence?

So my passion project is called Ulo. Ulo is a homewares company that is African inspired. I launched it last July. But it took me about two years before I launched it last year. But it definitely has a life of its own now after starting it last year, so it's still pretty new, it's still less than a year old.

What is your project’s origin story: Why did you start this project; what was the passion behind the project.

I’m a person  from South Eastern Nigeria and Ulo means home. Or it can mean the place where one is from, like your community or your neighborhood, your city. So I love that dual purpose, meaning that I got clarification from my dad. And you know, it really just speaks to the place where you seek refuge in my humble opinion. And so I think that that is really sort of why I picked it because we are sort of beyond what we seek. We can seek refuge from our hometowns or the places that we feel familiar, right. But it also is interesting to sort of think about it from your actual house, like your building, right, the place that your bedroom is and where these products would be used. So just thinking creatively and beyond the four walls.

Well, I was pregnant with my daughter. And I wanted to decorate her nursery with an African flair. Right? So modern, but African contemporary flavor. And I just found that that kind of month, you know, contemporary style was not seen and the sort of modern mainstream home decor spaces, right. So like the big retailers, they would tell you that African inspired home decor are safaris, it's the cheetah print, it's the dashiki spread. I was just super unimpressed. And I just thought, you know, I really think that the African decor base, or landscape story is much more complex than a safari. And just felt like, you know, we are so much more complex and more modern, we love all around the world. And it is not just sort of, you know, what the African home decor spaces on the continent, but the shared Black Heritage across all black cultures. Right. And that's Caribbean, that's Afro Latina that is, you know, African Americans or Africans and Canada, African Americans. So I just felt like, you know, the African heritage that I saw displayed as decor style was super dated, and super cliche. And I wanted to change that.

Is there a point where you hesitated to start it?  What got you over that hump?

Yes. So I'm, I'm an attorney by trade. And life is really hard. Especially if you're working in bed, blah. And there's so much diligence that goes around starting a homeless company. So as I mentioned, you know, Lola, we offer African inspired home wares, right so Neo African homewares. And so that's bedding, you know, flat sheet, fitted sheets, pillowcases, the type of cotton, everything is organic artisan crafted. A hand sewn. How do you find factories? I mean, how do you even begin to start This journey. And so in the beginning, I was like, This is crazy. Focus on your data and stop coming up with this crazy idea like, just seem really far fetched and really hard. And so at the onset, I was I kind of stopped and started, I also had ideas, right? Like, I was like, Oh, you know, I really wanted an African factory to make African inspired betting makes complete sense. But once you do the diligence, and you see that there aren't really a lot of accessible factories that make betting on the continent, you see a void for sure. But it's almost like you have to start somewhere, right. And at first, I was like, Well, I'm not gonna even do it, because I want it to be really clear that we are trying to uplift African artisans. But, but then we you have when you think about it, you have to start from a place where there's accessibility, and, and move forward. And maybe you can, you know, this is what I'm telling myself that I could potentially fill that void once I get to a certain stage. And that would mean setting up the infrastructure where you could actually train people on the continent to create betting, according to the certain standards that you see in the market now. So so that was just one of the many reasons I gave myself for not doing this. But But yeah, many reasons why I wouldn't do it in the beginning. And I would stop, and then I would think about it, I would research, I would also think about the capital requirement, lots of money, lots of money, lots of money. The upfront capital that you need, I think, is it's overwhelming. And so that was another reason why I was like, This is insane. I don't know if I can carry this through.

ou know, as I mentioned, you know, life is hard as an attorney and big law. And I just felt that we only have a limited time, amount of time on this earth, right? We only have a limited amount of time walking this earth. And so what would my legacy be? Would it be the documents that I'm drafting in the office at a big firm? Or would it be impacting people who look like me on a larger scale? And what did I want the world to look like? And what would my imprint be? And so for me, I thought, why not go for it? I mean, even if it doesn't work, you've learned something, you never know what this could turn into. I'm also obsessed with home decor. So for me, I thought, How awesome would it be to dream big, and see if you could actually do this thing, right? And impact lives truly.

Right? So you start off with this idea, and you have all these obstacles? But what if you actually start to figure things out, and you're successful. And if it is successful, not only are you successful, but you actually get to uplift artisans around the world, who otherwise may not have been included, you know, with respect to certain dignified opportunities for work, and supporting their families. So for me, I was just thinking about how fortunate I am to be where I am. And why not try to think outside of my sort of day to day work, and think beyond. You know what I'm doing here, but rather think bigger, and think about other communities that I could impact. So that really got me over the hump. I think the other part is, you know, I'm an immigrant. I'm from Nigeria. And my family worked really hard. We work really hard. And my parents jumped big. They came to America, my dad is an engineer, my mom is registered nurse. And they always sort of taught us that.

you know, to those who have, I always get I'm gonna mess up this quote, but to those who much is given much is required. Right. And so we were always told that we were just destined for greatness, like that's just, I've what kind of surgeon will you be like? Those are the questions that our parents were asking us when we were in elementary school. And so to me, it was like, do the thing that's hard, because we can do the thing that's hard, but also look at all the people that came before you who had less, and did amazing things. Right? And so you've been given this amount, what can you do for others? Who don't? You know who don't have? And to me, I think that's what kind of got me over the hump. That's a long winded answer. But I think it's all tied to thinking beyond myself, and thinking bigger about impact, and what the impact would look like on the world.

And you know, a lot of times, it's hard to see beyond what you can touch and feel. And if you have no faith in things you can't see and are only so focused on what you can you limit yourself, I think, too. You know, things that you feel like are beyond your capabilities, right? Because you can't touch and feel them. But you sort of have to take a leap of faith and say, You know what? Can't see it. Can't Feel it. But to your point, imagine if you can actually do this thing. And it may look like something completely different than what you thought. But if you sort of think beyond what you can or cannot see, feel, touch, smell hear. You start to sort of create something else. I think that that can be bigger than yourself.

One of the biggest challenges people face when it comes to starting passion projects is finding time in their already busy lives to do it.  How did you find or make time for your project?

That is a great question. Um, it is an ongoing battle. You know, my day job is really busy. And so sometimes you're working till seven or eight, nine o'clock and then before you know it is time to return her to sleep. And then once she's sleeping, get back to this passion project, right, this this side project. I'm busy all day every day. And working to balance rest, I think is the biggest challenge that I have. But, you know, she's my priority. family's my priority. So once I have any free moments, I'm with her my husband, and you know, trying to balance work demands, as well as the side business is tough. So I don't have a great answer except that I'm always prioritizing family first with with work and then this business, so very, very full day.

Another big challenge faced is fatigue.  You work 9-to-5, it takes up 95% of your energy.  And we are not even talking about family and their needs yet.  What can you share with the listeners about getting energy after all the demands of life?

spending time with my family goes Energy, right? I look at my daughter, and I'm just like, look at what God has created. I'm so blessed to have been selected to be her mother, right. And so when I watched her, and I'm like, learning, you know how to be a mom of a threenager, and she's learning about the world that inspires me, because the things that I do, are for her, and for the future, you know, future people, I guess, young people in this world are, you know,

and when I say, who look like me, I should be very specific. I'm talking about young black girls, I do this for young black girls, because it is really hard to break into this industry. And now that I'm starting, I see why this just, they're just so many hurdles. And so when I look at her, and I'm like, you know, I sort of mentioned do the thing, that's hard. I do the thing that's hard for my daughter and little girls like her. And the younger me, right? Because I think you cannot see yourself in something that you cannot you haven't seen in the world, right?

I haven't seen. There, there, there are some right, black owned, you know, high end luxury bedding business owned by black people, black women, I haven't seen that. That doesn't mean they don't exist. But it is really hard to imagine yourself as something you haven't seen. And so my daughter will will see me as an attorney, she'll see me as an executive level, professional, making strategic decisions. Within economic development, she'll see me as again, as a as an attorney. And she's seen as a business owner. And so I saw my dad, my dad is as was a business owner, and he is an engineer, my mother's a registered nurse, who is also a business owner, I saw that in them. And so that I think, subconsciously has inspired me as well. And so I think, when I look at her, and I just see how much she's grown and how much she will grow, and how much the world will throw at her, she'll have the vision of herself in a certain kind of light. And that will be I think, by God's grace based on the positive images she sees in me. So I think that that gives me a tremendous amount of faith and a lot of energy to keep going. Because half the time I have no energy. I think when i when i with my family that really did energize me in a very interesting way that's hard to quantify. But I also from an on a tactical level, I have a to do list every day. Now. I before I turn on my computer. And like before I start to check my emails, I have to have a blank sheet of paper, and I write all the things I'm supposed to do for the day. Because I think what happens is before does a sacred moment in the morning before you open up your computer. And before you start to talk to anybody. You need to kind of center yourself and say, What are the things I need to do today and write them down. Now that the reality is half that stuff, I don't get to something else happens. But I think you know, there's power and trying to control your day. And saying, you know what, I'm not going to open up my emails until I've have figured out what I'm going to do. Because once I get into those emails, there's so many things that happen during the day. But it's really helpful to kind of keep yourself on track, right? Like, if it's possible to check these four things off before 11am I'm gonna unless there's a fire drill, which I get fire drills, like at least two or three times a day. So you know, it's just trying your best to sort of control what you can set to do less helps.

I love that actually that you kind of sparked that from Yeah, you know I always Say that once. It's so funny that you say that actually, because given, you know, all the time constraints I've had genda through the different careers, their career options that I've had, right through my career. Time is always of the essence. And I realized that by the time noon hit, if you haven't done what you're supposed to do, then you've missed the deadline. I feel like after you know, what 1130 hits, something is shifting in the day. And if you have not finished that thing, this afternoon, get done unless you're fine with it being done the next day. Right? Like, that's how I've, I've seen the day slip away, like if I if I have to get, you know, really critical thinking done for a particular day I am I'm trying to attack this from like, 7am 730. And by noon, I need to be wrapping it up. Because something does it something happened during the day. Like once it's like 1230. Let's shift it like, right?

I have heard about passion projects providing renewed confidence and new skills when it comes to people’s day jobs.  How has your passion project impacted the way you show up at your day job?

I would say that a couple of things. So I work in economic development, and I, I now have a newfound understanding for some of the hurdles, you know, new black on businesses have. We are always looking for economic inclusion, and I see how there needs to be a certain amount of focus. And including black and brown businesses that are starting, right, just from a legal standpoint, capital, what's your business model? What is the plan? What kind of advice Are you getting? What kind of consultants are you working with? You know, are you testing what you're selling, whether it's services or products, so I have a newfound understanding for that. And then I think, you know, empathy is a word that comes to mind, I think, showing up at work. Having empathy for senior people, I mean, I'm one of the senior people, you know, on my team, but having empathy for the CEO, and wanting to make sure that he or she has the kind of support that a CEO meets, because I'm basically the, you know, the CEO of my little company. And the decisions, the strategy, the questions that sometimes you don't have the answer to and realizing that it is really hard. So I I empathize with CEOs are business leaders, right. And we also work with business leaders of some of the top firms. Right, you know, my organization is basically a nonprofit. And it is managed by a board of, you know, the top top business leaders in the city. So, you know, if you're, without naming them with if you're a large business, if you're a large international business, and you have a presence in the city of Chicago, you are likely on the board. And I empathize now with them because there's so many decisions that you have to make that impact lives, that impact your bottom line, the impact the way that your business moves forward. And I think really thinking about how we can support them in a real way. I think is is part of the The new ways that I show up at work

There is someone out there listening to this recording who has something they are passionate about but they are on-the-fence when it comes to starting.  What bit of guidance would you provide to them?

you can have some really good questions, Mike, this is good. What I tell my son myself, I would say, forgive yourself for the mistakes you're going to make. And keep going. Make your intentions clear. And keep going. Try your best to do diligence on everything. But keep going, I think. Yeah, that is, is what I would tell myself, I definitely doubted myself and doubted this idea. This could be happening, data that was possible. And really sort of thinking about, again, what I mentioned earlier, believing in something you can't see and willing it to be so right like you will it to be so and not doubting an idea if your intentions are clear, right. So I think the biggest thing really is sort of thinking about your intentions and what you want to do, the shape of that will manifest itself at some point. But if you're clear on your intentions, you do your best do your diligence. You You know you're thinking about something and a really smart way as as best as you can and forgive yourself for those mistakes. Keep going, keep going and will it to be so and whatever the right format or structure for that thing that you're you're thinking of creating it will manifest itself in the right way. may have some different phases. But I think in the end, you know, you'll figure out if you're in the right direction, if you keep going.

Lastly, are there any particular books that you have found helpful along the passion project journey?  Please share 1 to 3 of them if any come to mind.

So one of the podcasts I listen to is NPR is how I did how I built this. How I built this is so inspirational to me, I listened to it before I go to bed. I listen to it in the morning as I'm drinking coffee. And I think listening to other CEOs and other founders of really successful businesses is super important.

right, knowing that that could be you one day in five to 10 years telling people how you built this. And so that is my favorite sort of resource. I read a lot of different outlets on on on the internet, different media outlets, so I don't have one in particular. Besides this, this podcast and listening to this podcast.