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Otegha Uwagba on Carving a Meaningful Path

Otegha Uwagba on Carving a Meaningful Path

Writer and speaker Otegha Uwagba, in partnership with Brunello Cucinelli, shares the rules she’s learned in raising up her voice for issues that matter

Decide what drives you

“I am motivated by wanting to encourage people to look at social issues differently, in ways that they perhaps wouldn’t otherwise, especially when it comes to issues like racism, social inequality and feminism – basically anything that falls under the category of social justice. The aim of my work is to persuade, and hopefully encourage people to question the status quo. That’s really the goal and I just look at different methods of doing that. Some days that might be a tweet, others it might be a podcast episode, other times a book.

“Conversations about money are always a crucial topic, but especially now with the pandemic having been so financially challenging for many; I’m looking forward to having some really honest conversations about where we go from here. The past few months are, I think, a real prompt to completely rethink our beliefs about money; to question what we’ve been led to believe is necessary or normal or unavoidable; to question how money is allocated along class or gender or race lines. I hope that [my book] We Need To Talk About Money can be part of that narrative.”

Identify your tools and challenges

“I find the internet and social media to be both a blessing and a curse. In many ways they’ve enabled my career and allowed me to build a platform for my writing and for [my platform] Women Who, but I’m also incredibly easily distracted and prone to spending obscene amounts of time scrolling on my phone. A real challenge for me is not allowing social media to encroach on my writing time, which I’m managing by taking regular social-media breaks. I often have a close friend change my Twitter password for a few weeks when I have a deadline to hit because I’m really my own worst enemy on that front.”

The aim of my work is to persuade, and hopefully encourage people to question the status quo

Never shy away from honest discussions

“In the run-up to the publication of my Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women, I felt a real disconnect between the external persona of the ‘young debut author’, which is quite glamorous – full of interviews and events and book launches – and the reality of my own personal finances, in particular how I felt about them. I remember walking home one evening feeling deeply anxious about it all and realising it was something I needed to write about at a later date: the complex emotions and relationship most women have with money, and what we conceal in discussions around it, at both the personal and structural level.”

Focus on your own interests and achievements

“I wish I’d been a little less self-flagellatory [when I was starting out]. I used to really work myself up about not having done ‘enough’, and compare myself to my peers incessantly, often taking on projects that I wasn’t particularly interested in, just because I felt like I should be doing them. So, I wish I’d been a little kinder to myself, and more focused on my own work.”

At some point in your career, you’re going to hear the word ‘no’. And that’s okay

Take pride in speaking your truth

“My most recent essay Whites, is about racism, whiteness and the mental labor required of Black people to navigate the two. It’s something I’d been working on for a while but finally decided to publish in response to the killing of George Floyd in May and the subsequent protests. While the circumstances that prompted me to write it are obviously deeply regrettable, having the freedom to express my views as honestly as I do in this essay is something I’ve been working towards my whole career. It hasn’t been published yet so I don’t yet know how it will be received, but I feel proud that I’ve ‘spoken my truth’, to use that slightly corny term.”

Combine the things that energise you

“The lightbulb moment that inspired Women Who [the community Uwagba founded for working women] happened when I was at something of a career crossroads – I’d quit my job in advertising and wasn’t sure of what to do next; I was just desperate for more freedom and creative fulfilment from my career. I felt like I couldn’t be alone in that, so I decided to combine the things I find most energising – creativity, culture, women, and work – into a platform that could provide support and inspiration for other women like me.”

Find your “yes” people

“‘Not everyone’s going to clap for you’ – some tough love, courtesy of my mother. Whether it’s being rejected for a job or pitching an idea at work that your boss isn’t that in to – at some point in your career, you’re going to hear the word ‘no’. And that’s okay – rejection or disinterest, in all of their frustrating and disappointing guises, are things everyone has to deal with, no matter how successful they are. The important thing is not to dwell on that for too long (or to take it too personally), and to focus instead on finding the people who’ll say ‘yes’ to you and your ideas.”

Written by Otegha Uwagba for Net-A-Porter

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