TOPE AKINTAYO. There is this saying that there’s a difference between existing and living. The sentiment behind it being that most people, from birth, merely existed until they became old and enlightened enough to consciously pursue meaning in life. At what stage in your life can you say that you stopped merely existing and started living?
NIYI SOYINKA. I love that you asked this question, and that shows you already know there is a difference between living and existing. Existing simply means you’re just waking up to face everyday as it come, anywhere belle face–like everybody. Living means living with purpose, sense of direction and focus.
For me, it started in 2002, I was about 17. We had a new pastor in church and he began this series of sermons calling the congregation to look inwards into the greatness in them, those things triggered the drive in me and I began to carry the mentality of meaning and purpose with me everywhere I went.
Incidentally, as at the same time, I began to stumble on the books of Dr. Myles Munroe. You know those books? Understanding Your Potential… That book, for instance, changed my life. It revealed to me the mission of dying empty.
So, when I got to the university I wasn’t too confused. In 200 level, I already knew that the course I was studying wasn’t for me. But I ensured I finished it and then I went for my MBA.
On the 4-Step Path to Greatness
So the first step you took was that you ensured you were clear on what you wanted to become, that is you no longer wanted to pursue a career in Biochemistry. You wanted to work in a bank. That’s clear. But now, you’re not only working at a bank, you’re also involved in people development, coaching and so on. When did this other aspects of your life catch up with you?
Well, it was almost at the same time. Because then, one of the directions I got was that while discovering my purpose, there’s also a drive, a calling, to get others to experience purpose. In fact, I hosted an event in school then with the theme Destined for Greatness.
This drive actually influenced my choice of the kind of people I moved with. It influenced the church I was attending and at a point I became personal assistant to my pastor then.
So since then you’ve decided that you were going to help other people find themselves too.
Yes, because my calling is to align men on the path of greatness through the discovery, development and deployment of their potentials. Recently I even added duplication.
Yes, because discovery is not enough. You need to develop it because you don’t consume the material raw. And, once you develop it, you need to deploy it. A lot of people have moved above the level of discovery but are stuck on the level of development, they are clueless as to how to effectively deploy. You told me earlier that you do freelance web design, you are deploying–which is good. There are a lot of people who are highly skilled but cannot deploy.
Then recently I’ve discovered that even after you’ve gotten the level of deployment right, you are left with the duplication level. Like they say, ideas are children: the offsprings of your idea are its many subsidiaries, the many sub-ideas that can bud from the major idea to make it evergreen. Also, duplication can be about spreading abroad, and the new media has made this easier for us.
So duplication is basically about creating new dimensions in the deployment of an idea.
On the 3 Ls of Purposeful Living
That is very interesting. So how would you answer the question, “What is the purpose of life,” and how do you think someone can be fulfilled in life?
I believe that living a purposeful life is about living, loving and leaving a legacy. Now, there’s a reference here to the first question you asked. The one about living and existing. So, life is about living with a sense of purpose, living with the knowledge of your why. Why were you born? Why here? Why now? That’s what living is.
Loving. This is something that has been lost on the human race. We don’t love enough. This is our major problem, especially in this country. I tell people that our problem in Nigeria is not much a problem of leadership or corruption as it is a problem of lack of love.
Everything you do every single day, and in every single minute of it, is a legacy. I tell that to people all the time. Even if it’s one person, two people. the seeds are being sown. You’re actually leaving a legacy already.
– Niyi Soyinka
As a leader, if I love you, I would do nothing but lead you well. I won’t withhold your portion of the so called national cake. The problem of being self-centered would be solved.
Then leaving a legacy is also very important. The reason why a lot of people are not where they ought to be, why the world is in chaos, is because a lot of people are living without a sense of purpose, without the sense of what am I going to leave behind for the coming generation. And legacy is not about when you are 70 years old and then begin to ask around how can I leave a legacy? Everything you do every single day, and in every single minute of it, is a legacy. I tell that to people all the time. You see, your coming to my office now, my conversing with you now, they are all seeds. If we all have this understanding we’ll breakthrough, we’ll feel more fulfilled and purposeful. When we do everything with the seed consciousness, with a sense that whatever I do would by the end of the day pay off. Whichever word I say now, whether good or bad, would have its effect.
So living and leaving a legacy is about being deliberate about the steps you take and the conversations you make and about whom you move with and about the decisions you make and about the places you go to… because everything we do is a seed.
Yes. So, legacy doesn’t wait till tomorrow. Legacy starts today. You’re already living and leaving a legacy.
You know, sometimes I face the challenge of self doubt, of feeling that I’m not enough. I know I want to leave a legacy but I keep feeling like my standard for legacy is so high that it would be so hard for me to attain it. And it actually tells a lot on how much satisfied I am about my life. So this idea of everything you do being a legacy inasmuch as its satisfying a desire–either yours or another person’s– is really transformative for me.
That’s why you have to be deliberate about what you’re doing. Even if it’s one person, two people. the seeds are being sown. You’re actually leaving a legacy already. So don’t wait until you’re say the president of Nigeria or a billionaire.
Then there’s a last part I didn’t mention earlier. After living, loving and leaving a legacy, we have learning. A man who is not learning is a dead man. Once you stop learning you become an oldie and you start dying. There used to be a trend of people asking “Are you a learner?” You see, anybody who ask me if I am a learner I will reply “Yes, I am a learner!” Because I must keep learning to keep living. The definition of illiterate is no longer just the person who didn’t go to school but someone that has halted on the lifelong process of learning, unlearning and relearning.
On the Importance of Properly Done Collaborations
What were the first step you took while venturing into your journey, especially as a life, leadership and business coach, and what were the obstacles you faced during the early stages?
First, I believe collaboration is key. Infact, I think collaboration is the next phase of scaling in our world. It’s natural to compete, however if we would scale massively and achieve tremendous results, collaboration would work better than competition. As the saying goes, where one would chase a thousand, two would chase tens of thousands.
So, for me the first step was to collaborate with people, flock around people who are already doing the things I wanted to do. Some of these people were near to me while others were in entirely different worlds out of reach.
Then, secondly, you see, I would always be grateful to the church. One of the things I realize about the church is that it gives young people a space to realize and nurture their potentials. So, I started in the church, I moved up an hierachy. Starting from being a part of the choir as a drummer, then I became the choir leader, and then I became the choir pastor, then I became a pastor. You can see the phases.
Today, you’ll see me talking as if I was born a talker but I wasn’t. I used to be shy but through my involvement and the utilization of the platform the church provided I was consistent in practice. And consistency is key.
You need to be sure whether you are a pioneer or a partner.
– Niyi Soyinka
On the issue of collaboration. The trend these days has been young people starting projects solo. I was discussing with a friend earlier about this who said he’s been finding it pretty hard to find people to work with him on a project, that most people he met has given the same reason for declining: “I have my own project too.” If we keep up like this, what do you think the future of collaboration holds for young people.
Basically, I think you need to know what you want. You know, human beings are naturally born to be expressive. So, we must not downplay that. But then we need to be sure of what we’re called to do. You need to be sure whether you are a pioneer or a partner.
Then we also need to look into the character trend among the pioneers, some of them are not being gracious to their partners. They are always after making all the name for themselves.
See what I did at the TEDx last week. I’m not sure I did 20 percent of what my volunteers did. I only provided the license from TED, and the funding. They did the rest. And I’ve also told them that if there’s anyone of them that would love to get a TEDx license for themselves, I would be willing to give them my template.
The point is we still need to be very sure about what’s best for us. Collaboration have gone wrong for some and some have gotten it all wrong by standing alone. So while collaboration is key, we still need to be sure that’s the right key.
I spoke with Chude after TEDx and there’s something interesting he said. He said that meeting Adebola was one of the best things that ever happened to him.
Imagine what a collaboration between Apple and Samsung would do to the smartphone market. I believe that collaboration would do very great deal, greater than we can ever imagine, to our future if we allow it.
However, I would like to come back to what I said about pioneers treating their partners rightly. We must carry them along and give them exclusive stage. This thing is psychological. Make them secure and they’ll pay you back with unbelievable loyalty.
I believe the three greatest word combination on earth is Just Do It.
On Dealing with Uncertainty
While starting out, did you ever deal with self doubt and uncertainty, and how have you been able to overcome these feelings?
Let me use TEDx as a reference point. Now, up till the night of TEDx, I still battled with self doubt and uncertainty. I still felt like “okay am I doing the right thing at all?”
Despite the fact that that was not the first event of such magnitude you were hosting?
It happens every time. It’s the ability to overcome it that must be learned. I said it at TEDx that the nickname of procrastination is perfection, which was my major enemy for many years. I was always looking towards perfection in everything but I learned to just take the first step, perfect or not. If you take no step, the work done is zero because no man builds a reputation from what they intend or like to do. People build their reputation from what they’ve done. That’s why I love Nike. I believe the three greatest word combination on earth is Just Do It.
For me I’ve been able to battle uncertainty and self doubt with the belief that failing is not the opposite of success. Inaction is. Failing is rather a twin to success. If you tell me you have been successful without stories of failing, I would doubt your success. Behind every successful man are loads of failures. It’s not that they’ve not failed, it’s that they’ve failed forward.
So, I love it when we tell ourselves the truth. Even the most successful ones amongst us cannot say that everything is rosy. Up till today I still procrastinate, somethings. I still have my fears etc. But my joy and my celebration remains that, despite all these, the vision still remain intact. And I keep surrounding myself with people that keep challenging and motivating me.
I believe that if you’re in a room of ten and you’re always number one–anytime they see you they are always like “the boss is here, the idea fount, let’s get our jotting pen!”–then you’re in a wrong room. Locate a room of ten where you’re number ten, then push yourself and get to number one. When you get to number one there, change your location again. Repeat and repeat.
The largest room in the world is the room of self improvement because until you die you can never reach the end of it. So, I try not to be complacent with my position at a given time. I’m always looking up the people ahead of me, whose stature and position I can aspire to.
So as a practical example, let’s assume that you’re the best for a particular thing in Malali, ask yourself, “am I the best in Kaduna City?”. Then if you can answer yes for that, ask again, “am I the best in Kaduna State?”. If you can answer yes for that, “am I the best in Nigeria, Africa, the World…?” You see? There’s never room for complacency. There would always be room for improvement.