Call me late to the party, but this weekend, I spent hours catching up on a Kenyan soap opera starring none other than the very fabulicious, Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o.
Though I was happy for her Oscar win as a black woman and young African leader in her industry, I held mixed feelings about the type of role she won the award for. Those mixed feelings led me to research her a bit more to get a sense of her beginnings and her acting credits.
I must admit, seeing the young, promising woman of power in such a vibrant, contemporary and liberated role in the MTV series Shuga, further fueled my
obsession interest in continuing to watch and rally for her continued success in an industry where quality, diverse roles are few and far between for black, female actresses.
Along with my hopes for Nyong’o’s continued ascent to the top, I hold the same for young professionals who also seek to achieve at the highest levels in their careers and overcome challenges in their industries—especially millennials of color. So, here are three boss moves inspired by Lupita’s journey to, in turn, inspire you:
1. Take on projects that not only challenge you, but show that you can push boundaries for leadership. Nyong’o’s first major TV break was her role in Shuga, a series that pushed the boundaries of global dialogue about sex and dating in Africa and advocated for HIV awareness. Her character was edgy, beautiful and a risk-taker, teaching audiences lessons about promiscuity, ambition and sexual safety. The show aired in 40 African countries as well as in the U.S., and was a hit, garnering a 2010 World Media Festival honor in Hamburg, Germany.
In the same way, as young professionals it’s good to go for projects at your job that are above-average, will make a statement and truly showcase your leadership skills in a dynamic way. If in your position you’re not able to get a leadership role, find a way to be of aid to the person leading those key projects, and build a reputation for showing and proving.
2. Embrace your diversity (in terms of experience, race, ethnicity or gender) and draw from the strengths of those elements in your professional endeavors. Nyong’o holds citizenship in both Kenya and Mexico, and she can speak Luo (her tribe’s language), as well as Italian, Spanish and Swahili. Her father, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, is a political leader in Kenya, and his work (and self-exhile) put the actress in the public eye at a young age, being in the presence of who’s who in African government, leadership and activism. She has gained the attention of both Africa and Mexico, coping speaking engagements, opportunities and interviews from both locales.
With the business world becoming that much more global, leveraging your diversity is a smart move. And, according to Pew research, millennials are the most racially diverse generation in history, with some 43% of millennial adults being non-white. Just as Nyong’o’s experiences have helped shaped the person she is today and positioned her for career wins, so can yours. Despite stereotypes and challenges, draw from lessons you’ve learned, people you’ve met, and your diverse circles in the ideas you pitch and the projects you take on. It will set you apart from the rest and enrich what you offer to the market.
3. Use what can be seen by
short-sighted critics as a disadvantage to your advantage with confidence and strategy. Many news reports and blogs have lauded and debated about how Nyong’o has embraced her skin tone in a society that oftentimes promotes a perception of beauty that is the total opposite of what she embodies. She has managed to become one of Hollywood’s hottest “it” girls by simply embracing traits that were once frowned upon growing up. And at 5’5, this actress stands regally and confidently, ready to take on her next roles and endorsements.
In that same way, use what makes you unique to your advantage. Many leaders have had to do this in their careers, overcoming the stigmas and fears associated with being different and turning them into gold mines of opportunity. If you’re not embraced for your quirks or uniqueness where you are, find other places where these traits are embraced and nurtured to bring value. If you can’t do that, learn to boost self-love and confidence by surrounding yourself with a support system that empowers you to do your best at work, whether it’s family, a church group, an industry organization or friends.
In what other ways can you be inspired by Lupita Nyong’o’s career journey? #Soundoff and follow me on Twitter @JPHazelwood.