Maxwell: This pandemic, are there any lessons to be learned from this pandemic?
[Otema Yirenkyi is currently the Vice President for Global Engagement at the Project Management Institute. Formerly of IBM, she also was the first-ever female country manager in Microsoft’s Africa operations.]
Otema: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think the thing we’ve learned is, we are indeed our brother and sister’s keeper, right? We do get some guidance from the government, you know. “Wear your mask”. “Wash your hands” and stuff, because it’s a disease that’s communicable. It spreads. So we’ve learned that we’ve got to take care of each other, and be responsible for each other.
The other thing I’ve learned in the pandemic, is that the message of light is so, so, so important, because people are feeling weighed down, they are feeling heavy. Everyone has that thing they see as the light. For me, it’s my faith. For me, my faith is that light that I lean into. It’s also really important this time to remember that we’ve got to push back the darkness, and darkness could be whatever is weighing you down.
They often say that people who are really successful are in what they call “the flow state”. They’re in a state of constant positive movement; that’s the flow state. And if you’re in that flow state, guess what, you are squarely looking at the light, you’ve pushed down the darkness, you’re into positive interactions, you’re into positive business connections, you’re into positive positivity, which leads you to success.
Maxwell: Flow State – I think that’s one thing I will keep in my back pocket from now – get into that flow state.
Otema: Get into that flow state, exactly.
Maxwell: I’m seeing how that is really practical, because we tend to be distracted by the darkness. We tend to pay more attention to the spot in that white linen, rather than the 99.99% of white positivity that’s there surrounding us. In the time of a pandemic, when everything seems gloom, that message of life might just be the difference between someone losing all hope and someone saying, “wait, I can do this – I will persevere!”.
Which leads me to my next question – the message of life and hope.
This pandemic has come with so much sadness and confusion all around. I mean, I literally have good friends that have died from this pandemic. And I have to mention this for my audience to understand I’m not saying this from a disconnected standpoint. I am witnessing the distress, the havoc that it’s wreaking.
What message of life and hope do you have for anybody that might be listening to this that feels like “things are going so bad; my business has lost 90% of its revenue flow; I have lost a loved one or family member; what am I going to do?” What message of light do you have for the audience that might be just reaching out?
Otema: First and foremost, remember to stay focused on the light. You know, even when all feels lost, you do that. I think it goes back to one of my heroes, Nelson Mandela, 25 years of captivity. How dark must that have felt, right? But he continued because he was so clear in his aspiration and his “why”. So if you know the why for your business, and you are very clear about what you want, even though you know you might be on your knees, you are going to be resilient.
So then I ask you, what helps you to be resilient? That’s what I’m going to leave you with.
When I find myself in a bad place, I try to hold on and reach for the light. My light, as I have said, is my faith. So that becomes my anchor through my storms when they come. And then I really try to get into that flow state, because that’s also about momentum. Momentum builds upon and builds upon, and then you start to see yourself gradually improving. You might have been crawling, now you’re walking, then you’re trotting. And then, guess what… you’re running!
I’ve lost friends as well in the pandemic. I’ve seen people, businesses being crushed. Surround yourself with a good team, good people. Ask yourself, “who’s my squad or my posse?” “Who works with me on this journey?” “Who walks with me, who works and walks with me?” “Who’s coaching and mentoring?” “Who’s supporting me” because that is what will build resilience.
Maxwell: I always wonder ‘who inspires the inspiring, and why’. You are very inspiring. I wonder who inspires you, Otema.
Otema: Well, I’ve got two people that I find very inspirational.
Nelson Mandela – most people say that but there’s a quote that he says that just… I often repeat over and over and he says “The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time you fall”. It’s why I find him so inspiring; it’s that resilience factor.
As a businessperson, as a corporate executive, you must be resilient through the change, when you’re succeeding, and also when you’re failing. Have that ability to say, “you know what, I’ve fallen, but I’m going to get up”. And what helps you get up is maybe telling yourself, “I need a better team, I need more knowledge, the acquisition of knowledge, maybe I need to relook at my product or my service”.
Another person who really inspires me on the artistic side is Maya Angelou. I think her story is so interesting because she started the first part of her life unable to speak due to trauma, and that ability to find your voice, as an entrepreneur, or as a businessperson to understand “What’s my brand? Who am I? What do I stand for? How do I grow my business?”
There’s one poem of hers that I love, ‘I Still Rise’. Again, that idea that you do fall, that sometimes things don’t work out, but she says “still like air, I rise”, you know? It’s that awareness even in times of doubt, and when things are not working out, remember who you are, and remember your past successes. Maybe you even haven’t had a success, but remember your vision.
Maxwell: So, to normalize rising from failure, one needs to normalize failing, understanding that failing is part of the process, that is if I’m getting you correctly.
Otema: Well, this doesn’t only apply to “Oh my God, failure, like I lost my business and everything”. But maybe it’s an idea that didn’t work, right? And you quickly calibrate. Or maybe it’s a customer segment that’s not right for you. So it’s not just colossal failure, but it’s about maybe bends in the road, if you will. Or turns that you might make but through that all you’re continuously evolving and learning. So that’s what I want to be clear there. The question here is “are you able to pivot?”
Maxwell: Thanks for clearing that up.
You have a podcast? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Otema: I was inspired to start a podcast when the pandemic happened. So this is the interesting story… I normally write and I also perform at different venues and stuff. But I wasn’t able to do that. A friend said, well, gee, you know, why you don’t create the podcast, so that you can continue to share your messages of hope and inspiration. And that’s why I created the podcast, and it’s called “Catching A Glimpse”.
It comes from a manuscript that I’m preparing for my next book. It has in there are stories of people moving to the light, where they’ve caught a glimpse of hope, inspiration, and then they’re motivated to move on.
Maxwell: I’ve listened to some episodes. The stories are very uplifting, very engaging, it’s like you are walking with the poet. These poems, who are they tailored for?
Otema: You know what, I think my audience is for everyone. Because if you’ve listened through the podcast, there’s different voices. There’s the voice of a child, there’s the voice of a mother, there’s the voice of a couple, there’s a voice of someone who’s a refugee. I tried to find the different voices. But I think what’s important is that they’re all filled with hope. It shows you that you can be inspired or inspiring to others, regardless of your circumstances. And so that’s really the core message. It’s about how do you in this world that sometimes is dark, how do you see the light?
Maxwell: It’s been a pleasure having you. My final question is, I’m sure everybody’s wondering right now how they can reach out to you. Who is this lady that just blew our minds and how can we connect with her? I’m sure people want to know more, people want to read more, people want to listen to you more. Who are you and how can we connect?
Otema: Sure. So obviously, I have a website. So, it’s otemayirenkyi.com you can find me there. You can also find me on Anchor to be able to listen to my podcast. So if you look at ‘Otema Yirenkyi’ you will see me there on Anchor. So I also want to give a shout out to my niece. It’s interesting, I have a niece who’s also Otema Yirenkyi. She’s also a poet and she’s there as well. But I think you’ll see mine has my picture and my podcast is called “Catching a Glimpse”.
Listen to the full conversation on the Entrepreneur In You podcast by visiting www.anchor.fm/einu
Find inspiring stories from Otema Yirenkyi on her podcast, Catching a Glimpse, on the Anchor app.
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Maxwell Ampong is an Agro-Commodities Trader and the CEO of Maxwell Investments Group. He is also the Official Business Advisor to Ghana’s General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) of TUC Ghana, the largest agricultural trade union in Ghana. He writes about trending and relevant economic topics, and general perspective pieces.
LinkedIn:/in/thisisthemax | Instagram:@thisisthemax | Twitter:@thisisthemax | Facebook:@thisisthemax | Website: www.maxwellinvestmentsgroup.com | Email: [email protected] | Podcast: Entrepreneur In You Mobile: 0249993319
Otema Yirenkyi is the Vice President for Global Engagement at Project Management Institute. She has formerly taken up leadership positions at IBM, Vodafone, NexInnova and was the first-ever female country manager in Microsoft’s Africa operations. She’s a prolific writer, storyteller, and her podcast, “Catching a Glimpse” shares much-needed messages of hope for many around the world.