Episode 116: Lee Litumbe, Jendella Benson and Ijeoma Oluo on Changing Your Mindset
On this week’s show, we hear from travel photographer and blogger Lee Litumbe. Lee’s work is all about celebrating Africa in all its beauty and diversity. Through her website Spirited Pursuit, she documents her travels around the continent, shares tips, reviews and city guides, and even includes resources for aspiring writers and content creators.
Lee talks about the moment she decided to switch directions and carve out her own career path, as well as some of the difficulties she’s faced along the way and the things she needs in her life to keep her grounded.
- Lee’s creative journey started with the realisation that the corporate life she was living was not for her
- How journalling, therapy, pilates and cooking became ways of dealing with her anxiety
- How turning your hobby into your job can come with unexpected complications
- The difficulties that come with being forced to make decisions purely out of the need to make money
- How despite having a strong sense of belief in herself, she still sometimes experiences self-doubt
We also hear from Jendella Benson, editor of Black Ballad, a lifestyle platform centred on the experiences of Black British women. Jendella talks about the importance of rest and thinking about mentorship in a new way.
Finally, we hear from writer and editor Ijeoma Oluo, who talks us through the importance of remembering your worth, and why we should never feel reconciled with the unfairness of life.
Welcome back to Wanna Be, the podcast that takes you from where you are now to where you want to be in 30 minutes or less. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here. I’m your host Imriel Morgan, the founder of Content is Queen, a podcast agency and club for ambitious podcasters with phenomenal taste, high expectations and a desire to sound as good as I do right now. Wanna Be’s focus is to help you take consistent action to build a successful life and career in the creative and entertainment industry. In this episode, we are bringing you three phenomenal human beings who I respect and adore, and today, they’ll help you understand why you need to prioritise rest, feel more at peace with yourself and break out of your obsessive thinking. Buckle up as it’ll go faster than you think.
I want to introduce you to Lee Litumbe, who is an incredible content creator, travel photographer and blogger. Lee celebrates Africa through her content and travel photography and she effortlessly brings out the inescapable natural beauty of the continent. You will see for yourself when you follow her. The focus of this interview is to look within and challenge our thoughts and decisions, to take control of our lives and move forward with intention and purpose. Lee is warm, vulnerable and endearing. You are definitely in safe hands here. So let’s go.
Imriel Moran 1:32
Who did you want to be before you became who you are today, and why?
Lee Litumbe 1:35
Oh, that’s such a heavy question. I don’t think I ever really knew what I wanted. I knew what I didn’t want. So from a career standpoint, I just knew that I didn’t want what society was telling me I should have, and I wanted to carve out my own path and I wanted to be the person who was living intentionally and living in a way that was honest to themselves, as opposed to trying to meet the standards or the milestones that society was dictating for me to hit.
Imriel Morgan 2:05
Yeah, that makes sense. And that sounds like so profound and wise. Where did that come from?
Lee Litumbe 2:12
Honestly, it comes from being on some level, like having a conflicted internal dialogue a lot of times. So there’s a lot of internal dialogue that I’m having with myself, which sometimes is good, because it allows me to be reflective, and intentional, but then sometimes it’s way too critical and kind of paralyses me in a way. So I used to have panic attacks, actually, in my late teens and early twenties. I vividly remember during my sister’s graduation from college, and we were having this huge celebratory party for her at this fancy sushi restaurant. And I remember just having a panic attack, for whatever reason, and my dad was trying to talk me off the ledge. And he was like, ‘what is going on? What happened?’. But in that moment, I just felt I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.
And it just kind of sparked this anxiety about – are you actually taking steps to do what you want to do? And at the time it was just more so about this realisation that I went to undergrad for finance and actually worked in finance and corporate in the past. And I was kind of on this trajectory that didn’t feel honest to me, and seeing my sister celebrate this milestone actually put fear in my heart like – she’s happy, but this is the path I’m going on. But would this make me happy? And for whatever reason, that triggered that stress. So whenever I am making decisions or striving to do something else, it’s just always about checking in with myself and kind of living inside out versus outside in. And it’s just this constant balance of – how do I bring to the world who I am? That’s the person who I want to be.
Imriel Morgan 4:07
Yeah, that’s beautiful. There is definitely something to having, arguably like kind of how you describe that moment with your sister, there’s these moments that trigger the change, and you never quite know when they’re going to come or how they’re going to come about. But it sparks this profound ripple effect on the rest of your life. But I’m sorry to hear that you experience anxiety like that, as someone that has also got an anxiety disorder and experienced panic attacks as well. I don’t know that I had the kind of presence of mind just to ascribe it to me just not being on the right path. I’m glad that you’re pursuing what you love and what you intend to do now.
Lee Litumbe 4:44
I think that it’s very easy to look back on something and say it from this, like you say, this wise perspective, but it doesn’t feel wise in the moment. It’s scary. It’s terrifying. And the only reason why I would say that I was, I am able, because it’s still something that I do, or experience, not at that same level. I think it’s just important to listen. I think it’s important to listen to yourself. I think at that specific time of my life, and even after I went on to get a finance degree, I went on to work in corporate, so my panics were warranted because I was going down a path I didn’t want. But what was actually something that triggered real change beyond the panic attack was actually living the life I didn’t want. Living it. And not just anticipating living it, but actually being… like going to a job that I really feel unfulfilled by and doing all these things.
I’ve always been someone who was really keen and curious about the world. And I traveled since I was very young, thanks to the business that my parents had. I would go on trips, I would save my money and go on… I did like a month in South Africa and documented that on my Tumblr. And that was kind of what also inspired me to create my own website because I’m like, ‘well, if my photos are doing so great on Tumblr, shouldn’t they come to something that I’ve owned?’. But it was more about just actively living the life I didn’t want and just saying, you know what? I’m ready to risk it all for what I truly want.
Imriel Morgan 6:22
I want to pick up on something you said earlier around the anxiety you’re feeling kind of paralysing you and paralysing your decisions. Are there any things that you do now, that you know now today, that keep you feeling healthy and at peace with yourself?
Lee Litumbe 6:37
Journaling is a huge one. So, of course, when I was doing this on Tumblr, I didn’t realise I was journaling. But yeah, I find that writing down my thoughts and just getting it out, that tends to be extremely helpful. I also started therapy a few months back, which I’m really, really excited about. It’s been transformative. I’m someone who has also experienced lots of different traumas, particularly in my childhood and in my adolescence, and so being able to kind of talk to someone in a way that it’s truly dedicated to your healing, it’s quite transformative – just in taking back power to say, ‘okay, at least for one hour, during this week, or bi-weekly, or however way you do it, this is dedicated to my healing’. And just having that scheduled is just so empowering. And so that’s something else that I do.
To be honest, I try to be someone who’s fitness-focused and I’m not always consistent, but I find that once I managed to actually do the thing, I feel good. And so I typically like to do things like Pilates. Cooking, for me is so therapeutic. There’s just something about using your hands that really… and something where there’s no deliverable, there’s nothing that is required of you, other than hoping that you make something that tastes good. For me, I started my platform out of a hobby, and it was more of this creative outlet that allowed me to escape the life that I didn’t enjoy that I was living. And so now that has now turned into my work, and so it’s no longer a hobby. And so you have to kind of find new hobbies to be able to kind of express yourself through. And so I think cooking, and pottery and ceramics, I find quite therapeutic as well.
Imriel Morgan 8:30
I really loved what you said about your hobby turning into work. There’s conversations around ‘find the thing that you want to do, find the thing that you love, and turn that into your career and turn it into your work’. And then actually, that’s the thing – is that the thing that you love becomes your work. And therefore, it is really difficult to maintain the same level of motivation, joy and even passion at times. Not always. So yeah, talk to me a little bit about that experience for you now, because obviously you’ve got this massive platform, and it’s just stunning, just beautiful, beautiful imagery, beautiful person. And it just all combines into just gorgeousness.
Lee Litumbe 9:09
So the first thing is: I do not subscribe to this mindset, or this internet way of looking at things where it’s like – everything that’s a hobby has to be your career or you have to be… No! Like some things sharpen you for other things. If everything that you’re doing is about making money or everything that you’re doing is about turning it into a business, you’re not experiencing certain parts of creativity that are necessary as a journey or a process. But I do think that there is an element of turning your hobby into a business that from a creative standpoint people are not always prepared for, because when you say you’re a painter, right and you love painting, that doesn’t automatically mean you know how to sell your art. That doesn’t mean that you know how to build a platform that tells the story of your art. It just means that you really love painting, and you enjoy it. And so when you transition from a hobby to a business, you have to understand the business of it, you have to understand how to navigate and change.
When I was first starting out, all I was really doing was taking pictures. It was just all visual. But to be honest with you, now 90 percent of what I do is sitting at my computer and running a business. It’s ensuring that certain things are done, certain people who I need to hire are paid, there’s strategy, there’s a lot more involved. And so I think that if you are going into something without understanding the business of it, and how you will or are actually going to be working more than you are creating, you’ll be quite shocked. And so that’s part of the reason why also I would say that it’s okay to have hobbies, it’s okay to just do something purely for the enjoyment. Because when you enjoy that it sparks your creativity in you that you can then take to the work and the business that you’re doing. And if everything you’re doing is about a deliverable, or it’s about driving numbers and analytics, you lose a sense of magic that I think most creatives in particular, that’s the reason why they start. They start because of a feeling. They start because they genuinely love something. I don’t think that there’s anyone who genuinely loves like Excel spreadsheets.
Imriel Morgan 11:50
There’s a woman, actually. She’s called Miss Excel on Instagram, and she does these little dancing reels.
Lee Litumbe 11:56
I need to go look!
Imriel Morgan 11:58
Honestly, it’s kind of life-changing.
Lee Litumbe 12:02
I would actually spend more time making my Excel spreadsheets pretty than actually putting in the formulas to make them work.
Imriel Morgan 12:06
Oh my gosh, that’s hilarious!
We’ll be back with Lee’s incredible story in just a few minutes. Before that, I want to introduce you to someone that I know and admire online who’d like to share their areas of improvement, inspiration and motivation with you. I’ll let her introduce herself.
Jendella Benson 12:25
Hi, I’m Jendella Benson, and I’m an author and the head of editorial at Black Ballad, which is the award-winning digital media platform and online community for Black women in Britain and beyond. My debut novel Hope and Glory will be coming out in February 2022. So right now, I am working on doing rest better. 2020 was a mad year for everyone we know. And I literally worked right up through the year up until Christmas. Any annual leave that I took during the year was to work on my novel. And yeah, I really needed to rest when it got to Christmas, I was frazzled, frayed, very, very fragile. And this year, I’ve just decided that I want to do rest better, I want to actually rest during the course of the year so that I can enjoy things as they go along, rather than kind of enjoying in retrospect. At the moment, I’m still in the process of editing my novel. So I still work on Saturdays. But Sunday is the day that I just don’t do anything but play with my kids, go to the park, read a book, just chill.
I really, really believe in mentors, but I think that sometimes we put too much focus on mentors in an old sense of the word. So like the kind of one-on-one relationship where you meet up with people, you go for coffee, you quote unquote pick their brains. But now with technology, with a lot of people having their own platforms, there’s a lot more information sharing that goes on without having to actually meet people in person. An author that really is sharing so much is Dorothy Koomson. If you don’t know who she is, she’s the most successful Black British author of commercial adult fiction. Like she’s on her seventeenth or eighteenth, maybe even nineteenth book right now. She’s way ahead of everyone in her field. She interviews people within the publishing industry — literally like sales directors, like what do they do? A book editor, what do they do? — to kind of really share this information, like demystify publishing, and I really admire her. In a way she’s kind of like a mentor to me. And I think that we can do it with so many people that we admire. If we just do our Googles and we just look at their blogs, look at their interviews, there are so many ways to gather information and inspiration from people without having to email them or try and convince them to meet you in person or take a phone call. So that’s how I get my inspiration.
Imriel Morgan 15:02
What a great way to reframe mentorship. For more wisdom and gems like this follow Jendella and Black Ballad on Twitter and Instagram @JENDELLA and @BlackBalladUK, where you will also find details on where to pre-order her book. Hope and Glory. Now, back to our dazzling guest, Lee Litumbe.
Could you maybe describe a time where you made a decision that maybe went against your better instincts around your business? And what happened, when that happened?
Lee Litumbe 15:31
Oooh. I think it’s important, before I go into the question, but the note will be to… it’s important not to make decisions out of desperation. I think that that’s probably the biggest takeaway. And so for me, I would say a decision that I made, this was several years ago, pretty early on was doing things for money. Of course, if you’re in business, the goal is to generate income. At the time, I had quit my job in the US and I had moved and I was kind of, at the beginning part in trying to figure out how to monetise and how to kind of live off of what I was doing. And so I had kind of gotten to the point where I had gone through all of my savings and was just kind of like, I need to make money. And so this company approached me, and they’re quite big, and so I’m not going to name them. And they actually gave me this great opportunity, because I think I had like $5 in my bank account when they approached me. So I was just like, I was so ready for, I was just like, ‘yes!’. So they offered me this huge opportunity that was going to pay me, I think at the time, this was $15,000. So imagine having $5 in your bank account, and this company is offering to pay you $15,000 to go and to do this campaign.
But to be honest, the campaign was absolutely not anything that I actually wanted to do. Like I did that purely because I needed the money. And while I am grateful, because that specific job allowed me to kind of fund and to then survive for several more months until other work came and all of that, I think that when I look back, it’s not always a good thing to be in a position where you’re desperate, because then you will just kind of take what’s given. I didn’t even really negotiate because I was so desperate. So I think that I was taken advantage of from negotiation, and the terms and all of that. And, again, because I was in a place of not really caring that, oh, they could be paying me more for this, and this isn’t even something I really want to do. It’s like, I just need money, I’m going to do it. And I think that I would advise against that if you can help it.
Imriel Morgan 17:45
That’s phenomenal advice. And actually such a good point to make. Because, I mean, we’re in a particular period of time, where times are really difficult for a lot of people. So the reassuring thing is that it’s gonna happen, you’re probably going to make those decisions anyway. Like that’s just bound to happen. Thank you so much for sharing that though, because I think it’s really valuable advice for sure.
So I have something I asked Elaine Welteroth last season, and now I want to ask all amazing women that I meet this question, but where did you get your audacity from?
Lee Litumbe 18:16
Oh, wow, what a question.
Lee Litumbe 18:22
Honestly, I believe that I am destined for greatness. That is a belief system that I have, and everyone does. And everyone’s greatness looks differently. That’s the thing. And so my audacity comes from me knowing that my purpose in life is to fulfil my version of greatness. And so I need to do everything in my power to kind of live up to that. I’m just someone who is willing to jump off of a cliff and build my parachute on the way down. That’s just who I am. And I think that it’s so easy for people to look at someone else who they perceive to be taking these risks and doing these things, or whatever, and I think that no, audacity comes from… like how dare you tell me how I should be? I know who I want to be. I know where I want to go. And if you’re not aligned, then this is not the season where we need to be in touch. So please get out of my way while I continue to fulfil my own prophecy.
And so I think that, that it sounds so confident, but in reality, it’s terrifying. It’s actually terrifying. It’s actually, I mean, I can’t tell you how… I have had panic attacks and I am someone who is not scared to say that I’ve never been diagnosed, but I think that there’s elements of depression that I’ve experienced over the years. But all of those things are part of my journey. But it doesn’t waver my faith in what my own purpose is. And there’s no one on God’s green earth who’s going to stand between me and what I want for myself. And I guess my audacity comes from living in the light of that.
Imriel Morgan 20:20
That is the best answer I think I’ve ever heard in my life.
Oh thank you! Oh my goodness.
That was sick. I mean, Elaine gave a really great answer to that, but jeez. I was not ready. What are you working on getting better at right now?
Lee Litumbe 20:33
I have to stop getting in my own way. I’m someone who is an idea person, I’m not an operations person. And so I love… I have so many ideas. And even though I have a lot of ideas, I talk myself out of them, out of fear, out of doubt. And something that I’m consciously working to return back to, because I think that when you kind of do something for a while, you kind of get into a routine, or you talk yourself out of things, and my goal is to get back to the version of myself that is willing to just do as opposed to think about doing, and to just kind of figure it out and not needing to see 10 different steps to be able to take the first one. I think that at the beginning of my journey, I had nothing to lose. So I was able to take risks. I was able to easily be able to say, ‘oh, I’m going to do this, or I’m going to do that’. But now, I feel like I do have something to lose. And so it makes me more cautious with executing my ideas and making myself more vulnerable. And it’s part of the reason why I said yes to the podcast, because I get so shy. Like I need to get out of my own way. And I would like to share more of who I am and not just what my work is, if that makes sense?
Imriel Morgan 21:56
That does make total sense. Yes. I feel so blessed to have you on the podcast now. This has been, honestly, just a delightful conversation.
I was a fan of Lee’s before and I am a stan now. If you’d like to travel with ease and style or better still, you want to escape your current reality, I highly recommend following Lee on Instagram, @SpiritedPursuit. Everything she posts is stunning. She also has a fantastic number of content creator resources on her website, spiritedpursuit.com. I’ve used them – they’re fantastic. Go cop that.
Before we wrap up the show. I want to bring back one of my favourite women, the best-selling author and writer Ijeoma Oluo, who shares the seven magic words that help her break obsessive thought cycles. And she also shares her thoughts on how we can create a more just world. Over to you at Ijeoma.
Ijeoma Oluo 22:55
You know, I’d say the best advice I ever got, this this will sound completely unrelated, but it’s something I remember in so many different aspects of my life: I was in a relationship and it was a bad relationship, and I was in this obsessive stage. I was teenager, young adult. Probably 18 I think, and I was talking about it and talking about it, you know how it is. You complain to your friends, you’re always talking about things. And my friend’s older sister, she’s just a couple years older, but you know, that seems like a thousand years older when you’re 18, she interrupted me as I was once again complaining, talking about this. She interrupted me and she said, ‘Ijeoma, you’re so much more interesting than this’.
Oh my god, it stung so bad. It felt like I was punched in the face. But it was true. And oftentimes, I find that when we get stuck in these reactionary cycles, where we are obsessing over these hurts and these slights, we forget our worth. And we forget all of the better things we could be putting our brains to. And I just always try and remember. Occasionally I’ll catch myself cycling over something someone said to me, and then I’m stuck in pettiness, and all this. And then I’ll hear this voice that says, ‘you are so much more interesting’. I hope that every young person, especially young woman, who has been told by society that she’s supposed to obsess over these things that have so little to do with what she has to offer the world, I hope that someone will stop them and say, ‘You’re so much more interesting than this’.
The worst advice I’ve ever received. I would say the worst advice anyone receives is when they’re told life isn’t fair. I think that we start telling your kids at a really young age to get used to things that are inherently wrong. And young children have a really good compass for what’s fair. And fair is – what we’re really talking about is what’s just, and we constantly say, ‘oh, life isn’t fair’. But we don’t tell them life should be fair. And they’re angry, because something is wrong, and something should be done. And instead, we tell them to accept it as the way of the world. And I think that if we allowed our kids to throw more fits, and encouraged fits when things are wrong and things are unjust, we would have adults who would care a lot more about things that are wrong and things that are unjust. And so that’s definitely something I wish I had never been told, and I wish that no kids had been told.
It is true that life is not fair, but that’s not something that we should ever be resigned to. And we should at a very young age, when we see a kid when someone cuts in line, and they’re upset about it, we should encourage them, and say, ‘yeah, you’re right, you notice this, that someone took advantage that someone did something wrong’. And that’s a thing to be upset about. Instead of just saying ‘life isn’t fair’. So I would encourage anyone out there to stop saying this to the young people you encounter, and encourage far more fits, because we as a society are not nearly as upset as we should be about how unfair the world is.
Imriel Morgan 26:25
That’s a wrap! Thank you so much for listening to the end. I hope this half an hour has been a calming and joyful part of your day. I’d like to encourage you to think about one person who needs a little joy and calm and share this episode with them right now. If you want extended interviews, please do screenshot and share this episode to your Instagram stories and tag @contentisqueenhq. It also really helps get the word out about the podcast and you know, that would be nice too. So if you love it, let us know. Until next time, bye.