Coffee Q&A: Tiwalola Ogunlesi

This year, the International Women’s Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge. Individually and as a collective we are called to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and I know no one better who helps us do this work within ourselves than my next Coffee Q&A guest. A woman who challenges all of us to live the life we want and deserve – regardless of our gender – and teaches us to truly celebrate ourselves and all women around the world: Tiwalola Ogunlesi. 

Tiwa is a woman with many accomplishments under her belt. A globally recognised and qualified life coach, an international speaker who’s worked with organisations from Google to Beautystack to UN Women, Positive Psychology Specialist, Master Neuro-Linguistic Practitioner and founder of the “self-love revolution” Confident and Killing It. However, the road hasn’t always been smooth for Tiwa. In this month’s Coffee Q&A we chat through Tiwa’s journey to creating Confident and Killing It and her advice for living a life that’s true to you. 

Rebekah: In 2020, we all experienced a tremendous challenge. But as you describe openly on your social media and talks, you had a quite a bit of professional misfortune about this time last year, but you turned that situation into an opportunity for both personal and professional growth. I wanted to start this chat by explaining how you came to founding Confident and Killing It and how the pandemic changed your business.

Tiwalola: Confident and Killing It is all about waking women up to their worth so they can be confident, unstoppable, and really dare to live the life that they truly desire. My original business plan, before the pandemic happened, was to run in-person workshops, coaching, going into organisations etc. It looked like a good plan. And then obviously, March happened, lockdown happened, and everything got cancelled. 

I was getting cancellation email after cancellation email after cancellation email. People were just nervous and scared. No one knew how this was gonna play out. And so every single thing I had booked got cancelled. I had quit my full time job with three months worth of savings and I was quickly coming to the end of my savings. March was meant to be one of my busiest months ever, with International Women’s Day coming up, but everything got cancelled. And I really hit rock bottom. I was like, “What am I supposed to do now? Do I get another job? Is this the end? Am I a failure?” 

My negative thoughts were so quick to let me know that I was a failure. They were so quick to be like “Oh, yes, you should go get another job. This is the end, there’s no way you can bounce back from this.” I had to check myself and say: Tiwa, is this the story you want to tell yourself? COVID happened and you lost all your business, and you gave up? I told myself: no. That is not what I want my story to be. When COVID happened, I got the cancellation emails. But I later saw the most growth in my business than I’ve ever seen before. I built a community of women from all over the world. 

The story you tell yourself is so important. And I decided in the pandemic that I would tell myself a story of love, of belief and of abundance. And that’s exactly how it played out.

Wow, that’s pretty inspiring. As you know, I changed careers last year and I think being forced to stop sometimes helps you reevaluate and say: how can I make this situation work for me? 

In your recent podcast episode, after your break, you mentioned that it’s important to listen to yourself and ask do I actually need to work at 300%? Or should I stop for a moment, refocus, and reset?

Thank you. It’s so important to reset and ask yourself: am I living at my own pace? Or am I just trying to keep up with the rest of society? The work does not stop, so you have to decide for yourself what pace you go at and be unapologetic about it.

Unapologetic. That’s one of the words I’ve really taken from our chats together. Next, I wanted to ask you about self-love. We hear the words self-love used quite a lot, but you call yourself a self-love activist. And I wondered if you could tell people what that means to you and why you choose to kind of label yourself that way.

To me, self-love is radical. When I use the word activist it’s because I want that radical kind of sense to it. I really, truly, believe that people who want to do good in the world need to be just as loud or even louder than the people who are doing evil. We live in a world where there is a generational cycle of low-self esteem in women and girls. And that’s because we live in a patriarchal society that is capitalist and benefits and feeds off women’s insecurities. 

When women don’t feel good enough, someone is making money, because they are selling products. They’re selling everything to make us feel like “oh, when I get this cream, this food, then I’ll be good enough”. The connection [in this messaging] is that external things validate your worth, but your worth comes from within. So the people who are pushing all these messages are subconsciously telling women they are not good enough.

They are unapologetic in pushing these messages. Meanwhile, the people who want to see good in the world are saying “oh, I’ve got to be humble, there’s already so many people out there doing good things, the world doesn’t need another female empowerment brand”. And I’m like: no, we need to get radical about this! We need to shake things up and show people that they can learn to challenge society, and instead:

Choose love instead of choosing not being good enough.

So I call myself a self-love activist because I am proactively doing my part to challenge society’s stereotypes or norms that keep women restricted. The work that I’m doing is actively and strategically waking women up to their worth so they can start making their own decisions and live life on their own terms.

Every time I hear you speak, whether we’re casually chatting or in a talk, it’s always inspiring. When I first heard you speak it in summer 2020, your confidence was quite infectious. And having built a friendship with you and hearing more of your work, especially with the podcast, I definitely think that it does inspire women to take things into their own hands. 

I wondered if you had any tips for my readers, especially women reading this interview, on how they can boost their confidence and enact that change, that love that you were describing?

The first thing is understanding your strengths. Your strengths are the foundation to your confidence. When I ask women to tell me what their strengths are, they start looking left, looking right, up ahead and hoping something drops down. And I’m like: honey, God isn’t going to save you right now. You need to know this for yourself. 

Women come to me and they only know three strengths. By the time they leave, they know 30. There is so much greatness inside of you all. If you’re reading this now, you’re not only good at three things, you are good at many more than three things. You’re just not awake to those things yet. So it is your job and your number one priority to wake up to your life and all the amazing things about you. And to challenge the negativity and the lies and the self-doubt that often holds you back. If you don’t know your strengths, you don’t have the capacity to challenge yourself. So, Step One is to have that awareness of who you are, what you’re capable of doing and what your strengths are. 

Step Two is to challenge the negativity when it arises. We often believe all the negative thoughts about ourselves, but actually, we can create our own truth and you can challenge those things. Building your strengths, challenging the negativity, and then finally, celebrating yourself. 

I love celebrating myself. If I do something good that I’m proud of, I will celebrate myself. The reason why my confidence is infectious is because I bring people into my journey, I share my wins and I share my losses. It’s important because it shows people you’re not some kind of perfect person and it shows [people] it’s achievable for them. You’re on your own journey too. If I can do it, that means you can do it. Don’t be afraid to celebrate yourself. It’s not bragging or being arrogant. If you did something, you own it because that’s gonna inspire another woman to do so as well. 

I remember in one of your talks you mentioned that hiding your gifts is not the same thing as being humble. That was really transformative for me because in the past when I wanted to say I did this great thing, I stopped myself as I thought people are gonna think I’m not humble, or even arrogant. I was so preoccupied with that, that I would not only not celebrate my wins, but also diminish them. And I think that’s, that’s where you come into a problem, right? Where it’s not just about keeping silent, but it’s actually ignoring or downplaying your wins completely.

Yeah, it can get very dangerous. It’s actually scientifically proven that when you own your accomplishments, and you celebrate yourself, you actually programme your mind to look for positivity in the rest of your life. It makes you feel more confident and optimistic about the future. You remember all the times you’ve been killing it more than the times where you’ve made mistakes, or you failed at something.

Completely. I think it’s also about celebrating wins as you define them. One of the things I love, that people can download for free on your website, is the wins tracker: small and big wins. And you always say this when you introduce it, that small wins can literally be anything. In lockdown, for example, showering every day (as I put in my Thank U [2020], Next post), was a win. It can be anything that you want it to be as long as you are happy and proud of it.

Exactly. Define wins on your own terms.

That’s really good advice. Often in my work to de-stigmatise mental health conversations, I notice confidence ties in quite closely, I believe, with a journey (at least my journey) out of anxiety. Could you tell me a bit about how you manage your own mental health and wellbeing and if you have any tips for business managers for managing mental health and wellbeing in the workplace?

I saw a quote on Instagram that said, doing your best doesn’t mean working yourself to the point of a mental breakdown. 

I thought that was powerful. Because oftentimes, when we go into work, we forget we’re human, we forget our humanity. We think that we are just robots and we have to deliver, deliver, deliver, otherwise, we’re going to get fired at any moment. And that’s not going to happen. 

When you know what you offer, what you bring to the table, you don’t have that fear. Because you know that you’re bringing or delivering value. So having confidence in yourself and knowing that you’re doing good work, actually allows you to have the confidence to set boundaries and be unapologetic about learning to say no to people, because when you’re freaking out that you’re gonna get fired at any second, you don’t have the capacity to say no, you say yes to everyone and everything because you want to be a people pleaser. 

Having the confidence in your work to not be a people pleaser, to understand where your boundaries are. Saying no. Remember your humanity – people need breaks, we’re not robots, and it’s OK to take a break. Taking a break does not mean you are not good enough, taking a break does not mean you are bad at your job. I think a lot of people in the workplace struggle with perfectionism and a “superhuman” syndrome, where they say yes to everything to prove that they can do it. But we can do too much work and it is overwhelming, and then you start to drop the ball and think you’re not good enough. And actually, it has nothing to do with you not being good enough, you’ve just taken on too much work. You can be the best chef in the world but if you take on too many orders, you’re gonna drop the ball. Understanding that your work and your productivity levels are not the same thing. And if you know you deliver value to your organisation, own that, and don’t be afraid to say no and set the boundaries.

That’s really good advice. And, speaking of good advice, you give a lot of advice, but what’s one piece of advice that you’ve been given, either personally or professionally that you’d like to pass on to others?

One piece of advice wasn’t directly at me, but it was in something that I read, was Maya Angelou’s definition of success. 

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.

That quote really changed my life because I realised that I can learn to define success and failure on my own terms. The moment I had that mindset shift, honestly, it freed me so much. In the past, I was obsessing over numbers, obsessing over if this person liked [what I was doing], if this person didn’t like it, how many shares? How many comments? 

My whole life was [thoughts like]: “Oh, only two people signed up? Am I a failure? Oh, 10 people signed up? You are amazing.” I was just at the mercy of the world because I felt successful if it got high numbers in comparison to somebody else, right? It’s always in comparison. Two [people] in a workshop could look like a high number compared to somebody who has zero. The moment I saw that quote, it allowed me to stop comparing myself to other people and allowed me to define success and failure on my own terms. I got to decide what was successful for me. Success is no longer how many people come to a workshop, but it’s: I was brave enough to put the workshop on, to reach out to promote my work and to put myself out there. 

A great quote. I think it comes through in a lot of what you do. Helping people take ownership. Next, what’s one book that you think everyone should read?

Can I give two books? Haha! My first book is The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John C. Maxwell. That book taught me that growth is intentional. How growth doesn’t just come with age. I thought, by the time I’m 30 I’ll be grown and life will be good. And it’s not like that. You get through your 20s but if you’re not working on yourself, it doesn’t come. Learning that confidence is a practice and that growth is intentional, and how you have to do something every day to work on your confidence, to build it. 

And my second book is The Code of The Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani. I love that book because that’s where I really learned that my mind was a battlefield. We have really shitty thoughts and we have really empowering thoughts. And, your job is to decide which thoughts sabotage you which thoughts empower you, and to run with the thoughts or empower you. I didn’t know I had the power of choice to decide that. I thought my mind was my mind. There’s nothing I can do about it. Your mind is your mind, yes, but you can programme it for success. So that book taught me that I was capable of doing it and taught me practical steps on how I can begin to make a change.

I’ve read John Maxwell’s book but I haven’t read the second one. So that’s definitely going on my list. And, what’s your happy place?

Being by the ocean. Crystal clear blue water, palm trees everywhere. I’m such a tropical person. It’s complete and utter serenity and relaxation [for me]. I’m getting so relaxed just thinking about it – take me to a beach right now! Haha! 

Not necessarily being on the beach, but just being around nature and greenery – seeing a blue ocean and palm trees. That’s my very very happy place but my second happy place is my bubble bath so if I can’t get crystal clear water and palm trees I settle for my nice bubbles in East London.

Nice, I love being by the sea too! When I had an operation two years ago, before I went in, the anaesthetist asks you where would you rather be – obviously at first I said anywhere else! But then I immediately thought of the sea. There’s something about water, I think it’s a very common happy place.

And, what are you most looking forward to this month?

International Women’s Day and all the bookings I have, and all the different talks I have coming up. From zero bookings in March 2020, I’m now fully booked in March 2021! It’s a big full circle moment for me. So I’m super excited to get out there and share the message with so many women and celebrate each other.

Speaking of March 2020, if you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing in March 2020, what would you say to yourself?

Everything’s gonna be alright. Trust the process. Don’t be afraid to switch off. Trust yourself, trust the process, and everything’s gonna be okay.

Definitely good advice for all of us. And, to finish – my favourite question, what would be the title song or soundtrack to the movie of your life? I know you’re a Beyonce fan. So I’m, I’m expecting Beyonce to be in there somewhere…

I think it would have to be [my own theme song] called Unstoppable. I think that’s the one word that just defines my whole life. I never give up on myself. I always bet on myself. If I get a no I always find another way to get a yes. I just don’t give up on myself. So I think I’m unstoppable. And when I do get hit, I keep going. I take the rest that I need to take and then I get back up and I keep going. So that would have to be the song of my life.

You can find Tiwalola on: 

You can find our more about Confident and Killing It on: 

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