Hey guys, I’m back! Hope everyone is doing well.
Today’s post is very different to my usual set up as it’s an interview (well, more like an informal but informative chat) with a good friend of mine. It may be the first in a series of “Meet ___” but we’ll see. I guarantee by the end of this post, you’ll be glad you met Tolu today.
So I met Tolu within the first few weeks of university back in 2013; we both studied Law. Like the eager-beavers we were, we attended a pre-university insight event in Canary Wharf for “black high achieving school leavers” and we were placed on the same table. Truthfully, we didn’t speak much that day, but I decided that there was something cool about her demeanour. I didn’t realise at the time but she would quickly become one of my very good friends and be positively instrumental to my whole university experience. (I wrote a blog post about my time at university – you can read it here). But anyways, last month I was able to grab a few moments of this busy Superwoman’s day and I picked her brains a bit over lunch. Our friend Nonso came too and he recorded it all which made writing this blog post a lot easier – thanks Nonso lol.
Here’s what happened:
When I asked Tolu to suggest somewhere for us to do lunch, I was unsurprised when she replied “I have a list of places.” That’s very Tolu. She had recently returned from volunteering in the latest host of the Olympic Games – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
So how was Brazil? Remind me, what did you go there to do?
So I went there [Brazil] with the People’s Palace, the charity that works on campus. They basically do an exchange programme with a non-governmental organisation called AfroReggae and it’s a local organisation that uses arts and cultural events and activities to keep young people out of criminal activity in favelas. I basically went there to teach arts stuff, ask questions and speak to the Board, to see how things run and challenge them a little bit as well… to see how they can get better.
What’s a favela? – An illegal settlement where people come together to find somewhere to live… and they start building houses on top of eachother. They are not necessarily slums e.g. in Ipanema there’s a favela where rich people live. They have their own personal pool.
In the short time I’ve known you, you’ve travelled a lot. Amsterdam, Cuba, Nigeria, Brazil… What is it that you like about travelling?
I have this thing where I feel like it would be good to meet people. I think it’s good to have an international experience and meet different people. Even just moving here [to London from Nigeria] when I was 7… it’s like “OK your life is uprooted and you’re starting somewhere new.” Like I’ve never been afraid of just going somewhere, seeing what the culture is like, seeing what things are like [there].
Where is your favourite place that you’ve travelled to so far? – *Laughs* Rio. I really wanna go back! Like I’m currently still learning Portuguese.
Describe to me a typical morning for Tolu the Law graduate.
I’m currently working at a tech start up, which I love(!) It’s very dramatic. I love it. I’m basically helping them raise money and find new clients. And recruit as well for the company. Yeah I’m doing a lot. Today I had to be in for 8:30am. I had a meeting with the CEO to decide what our goals were for the week and to split it up – so what would I be doing, what would he be doing… It’s actually a difficult time because I just came back from holiday, so someone covered me for 2 weeks. So I’m doing catch up at the same time. From there we have a meeting with the rest of the team and that’s usually at 9:30am. Then we go through our goals from last week, and then set what our goals for this week will be. Lunch is really whenever.
Okay, let’s talk about your upbringing. Describe to me what the 16-year-old Tolu growing up in North London was like.
I remember when I was 16 I was really broke in the summer. Is that when the riots [the London Riots] were? Yeah, it was 2011. So I was broke and scared. I just remember looking forward to college. There wasn’t much… I’d say my life was pretty basic until I got to uni. There was nothing to really stress about. All I’d want to do was go to the cinema with my friends, that was it.
You haven’t always lived in London though. What was your childhood like? How did you find the transition moving from Nigeria to London?
I was born in Kano. I lived with Hausa people. I had Hausa neighbours. It was sandy… not sandy, more like dusty. I remember not going to school for ages because we were moving around. I did Year 5 like three times because like, I’d take a break and then try to restart. Yeah, there was a lot of moving about. [Until I moved to London] I don’t remember one constant friend apart from family. Family were kind of my friendship group.
Since I did Year 5 like three times, when I came here [to London] I was ahead. It was so dull. In Nigeria everyone is so far ahead. In Kano, we all had tutors. I was doing indices when I was like 7 and then all of a sudden, I came here, and we were still doing “what’s the time?” *laughter* I remember there was one lesson where my teacher drew an angle on the board. You know where they just draw the two lines so it doesn’t look like much. And people were getting so confused like, “Is it clock hands?” “Is it the letter L, just slanted?” And I was just like: YOU PIPO [people], IT’S 45 DEGREES. But yeah, Year 5 and Year 6 were slow for me.
What was the hardest thing for you about university – socially and academically?
Academics was definitely the hardest part. Being at university was the first time when I was like “Rah Tolu, you can actually be dumb. You and this subject, you don’t mesh.”
I felt like I did more socially. At university, I decided to take the step to do more [than at GCSE or college]. I didn’t really find anything such a struggle apart from the nonsense talking that tends to happen… when people tried to ruin my life. You can phrase it like that. One thing with social groups is that it can be quite messy. I’m still not used to it and I don’t enjoy it so I just find ways to cut that off. So being able to keep your own sanity, your own inner peace, whilst being in the social group.
This chicken is dry [Re: Bodeans].
What advice would you give to your first-year-of-university self?
*Pauses* I’m thinking. Really small things like, maybe you should have moved out. That’s one thing I really loved about Rio, I had time to myself and it was so precious. I loved it. My room was very big and even though I had a roommate she was hardly in the room and I was just like, living for myself. I’d wake up myself, I’d get breakfast… even though we were a group, I kind of explored living by myself. I found out the most about myself in Rio. Like you know when it says in the Bible… sorry Nonso, don’t catch flames… *laughter* You know when it says that people will notice the change. People will notice the difference in you. I got a lot of comments like that in Rio but not from Brazilian people, from the English people I went with. So there was a lot of reflecting on like, who I actually am.
And I feel like if I had more space to do that, where I’m not worrying about my brother’s socks or something [because I lived at home], university might have been more enjoyable. But then again, I’m not about sharing space with anyone. If I lived in halls [on-campus student accommodation]… yeah, let’s not do that.
[Side comment from Nonso: Halls was bants. People used to do drunken wet t-shirt contests]
You got involved in quite a few extra-curricular activities when we were at university. Societies, paid work, a social life, church commitments. This is why I call you Superwoman. How did you balance it all with your degree?
I didn’t [balance it all with my degree] in second year. Because yeah… second year I underestimated how much the academics actually was. But in terms of juggling just my extra curriculars alone, I think I did that quite well in second year. Because if you think about second year, let’s say I wasn’t a Law student and I was just #TeamSocialite… I was ACS, Unite, Equip that had now turned into a charity and a society. And then there was church. And then there was *sigh* applying for vacation schemes [paid legal internships]. So there were still many things going on apart from my academics and I feel like I’m able to juggle all that stuff because partially, my attention span… if I spend too much time on one thing I tend to slow down. But if I’m doing many things at once I’m able to keep on top of it. It’s kind of like me and swimming. I can’t float but I can swim really well when I’m moving.
So you’re starting Law School next year – congrats! I know it took a lot of hard work on your part to get to this point. Could you give some advice about what you’ve learned through applying for internships and successfully gaining a training contract [to qualify as a solicitor] at a top City law firm?
I’d say for getting the training contract, it’s just surrounding yourself with the best people. I say this all the time, if you and Yemi [our friend] weren’t around I wouldn’t even be going to [her future place of employment]. Because I wouldn’t have applied. I would advise people not to knock things until they’ve tried it. Even though you might have this dream firm in your head, just go for everything because you never know where you’ll actually find your fit.
Make use of like… Rare… and people around you that can criticise you properly. That can look at your apps [applications] and say “I’m sorry this is rubbish, I’m so sorry. Delete it. Undo it. Revoke it. All of the above.” That was really important for me.
With the vac scheme stuff and the training contract stuff, I just had faith. I remember in first year I said to myself, I’m not going to third year unless I have a training contract. And obviously… be active with it. Like, still pray. I would go to my Mum and Pastor and say “I have an interview, you need to pray for me.” Be active in keeping your faith up so you don’t even have room to doubt yourself. And when it’s not the plan, then it’s not the plan. [For example] I was planning to do like three vacation schemes. What time did I have to do three vacation schemes abeg? I barely had a summer. So if the plan changes it’s because the other plan is the better plan. But you just keep your eye on what you want. God has a way of making things that are hard very easy for you.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
[Interruption from Nonso: Besides Beyoncé?] See Beyonce didn’t come to mind first. I’m inspired by how hardworking Beyoncé is but that would be it really. Because I’m not looking for a career in performance.
I’d say my Mum… just how ambitious she is. She had a chicken farm, she did Real Estate… what is she even doing now, I’ve forgotten. But I’d say that’s the closest person in terms of how ambitious I am. I always try to keep going for things and keep going for new things as well because that’s what she does and it’s kind of led how I behave.
What more do you want to add to your CV before you retire?
Huge! In terms of titles…
[Interruptions from Nonso: Chief Dr Mrs Engineer.
Honourable Lady. Duchess. Duke Mrs.
I want to be an entrepreneur, I want at least two businesses and another qualification. EquipAfrica needs to be bigger on my CV and some other things that I haven’t figured out yet.
By this time, Tolu’s lunch break had sadly ended so she had to get back to the office. I asked her what she had planned for the rest of her day and she said she has to work on the “investor pitch deck… basically a big presentation that tells investors the story of your business and why we value ourselves the way we do.” No surprises there then – of course – a Superwoman never rests!?
I hope you guys can take something positive from meeting Tolu today. I personally was reminded that life is for LIVING and we all have the same 24 hours in our day – what do you do to make your days count?
(P.S. Big thank you to Tolu for giving her time and to Nonso for the banter, recording and for being my co-interviewer, sort of!)
“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” – Proverbs 13:20
God bless you!