There is a saying in Zulu called “Ubuntu”, meaning “I am, because we are”. Put differently, it means, “you are a person through other people”. This saying is a true reflection of my journey over the last two years. And what an exciting journey it has been! Though it may not seem like an easy road, it is definitely achievable!
My journey started in January 2016 when I decided I wanted “more”. I could not define for myself or anyone around me what “more” meant, but I knew deep down it entailed me leaving my comfort zone. I had worked in multiple multinationals in Nigeria for 20+ years as an Auditor, Financial Controller and an Operations and Marketing Director, so whenever I said I wanted more, I got that look.. “what is she talking about?”.
Eventually I figured it out. I wanted to be able to take on more challenges and complexities of leading in an international market and it became evident that my education and prior experiences would no longer be enough. I needed to gain the strongest possible general management and leadership skills comparable to any other around the world to give me an equivalent opportunity to work in and succeed in the global market. My audit, finance, marketing and operations knowledge were definitely great experiences having all been gained in multinationals, but I now saw them as a good foundation for whatever I decided to add on (taking me to that next level I desired).
So, what better way to achieve this I thought, than finding a safe space where learning is encouraged. I decided that an Executive MBA would be a “Game Changer” and serve me best in achieving my objectives in the most structured way. Based on my research, the Foster Business School EMBA had a select team of talented professors that would ensure I get the level of real world training and focused admissions team on selecting the right caliber of students that would provide the intellectual diversity I needed for my personal and professional growth. After an interesting interview with Louise Kapustka (the Director of the EMBA program), I was accepted to be a part of the Foster School of Business, Executive MBA North American (Monthly) Class of 2019.
If that was all to my story, then I would not be writing this article today. I took on so much more.
My name is Awawu Olumide-Sojinrin; I was born and raised in Nigeria and my 20+ years of experience was all with various multinationals, but all based out of Nigeria.
I had been married for 14 years with two amazing children (ages 13 and 11), so of course once the admission was final, the next question was “what do you plan to do with your family?” and the “real” conversations started! Because I have such an amazing and understanding husband, we came to a quick agreement, Take the kids! They would also have a great opportunity to learn and grow in schools over there in the US and with that, I added the kids to my “cart”.
With the help of my specially selected classmates, whose combined intellectual horsepower was simply outstanding, I refocused on why I was here and stayed motivated with the support structure the EMBA NA (monthly) program offered.
Then came the next challenge, my job. At that time, I had worked at Microsoft Nigeria for 9+ years and was not ready to leave the company. I immediately started discussing possible roles here in the US, which for some strange reason proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be. Well, my admission was now my priority, so with no role in sight, I had to decide what was going to give; I had one goal and my admission letter in hand was a constant reminder of that goal. This was one decision that was not as easy as the rest, but I was certain it was the right next step; I quit my job at Microsoft, took my kids and relocated to the United States in August 2017.
With no job, very significant EMBA fees and two kids in tow, there was absolutely no way I was going to add on the cost of living in such an expensive city like Seattle, so again another decision was imminent. “Where would we live?” I don’t think I have mentioned that I have “the best” family and they all have the very best spouses. My older brother and his wife decided to make my kids and I their problem; we (Husband, Kids and I), landed in Dallas on August 21st 2017, got the kids all their shots and documents for school within the first three days and off I went to U-dub for my first contact with my classmates at the Back to School event on August 25th. My husband remained with us for a month and left me with the encouraging words “Awawu it’s you, if anyone can do this, I am certain that person is you”; with renewed confidence, I settled in Dallas. My brother had kids of similar ages, so I leveraged their routine for my kids, while I commuted to Seattle monthly for my classes. It was cheaper in my opinion to pay for monthly plane tickets, than pay rent in Seattle????.
And the journey began. The first year was hard, trying to get used to the culture, understand my new world, help my children settle in, survive without my other half and not lose sight of the fact that I was a student again. With the help of my specially selected classmates, whose combined intellectual horsepower was simply outstanding, I refocused on why I was here and stayed motivated with the support structure the EMBA NA (monthly) program offered. My class was special, we had some truly amazing characters and thrived on embarrassing ourselves for each other’s entertainment. Together we ensured that no one was left behind!
By January 2018, it was time for a new decision. Savings was getting depleted and I still had 18 months to go with school. I applied for any and every scholarship that came up as a stop gap, knowing I needed some form of documentation to get a job. I knew being a cash paying student, I needed some form of cash inflow to complete this program, so yes, I became a pain in Randell’s life. Randell Hernandez is the Director of Admissions and I needed his support to get some sort of work authorization from the school (curriculum practical training CPT).
I had the courage to keep going because I had the right support structure. I had the successes in my own life because of the sacrifices of many, especially my husband and my children.
School rules would not approve a CPT before year 2, so I defaulted to plan B and C. Go back to Microsoft or just put myself out there and see what happens. I was initially skeptical about applying to roles without a CPT, but when one of my new friends in my cohort sent multiple referrals to her company (Amazon), I immediately revived communication with my former employer. If she could believe in me joining her company, then I should believe in myself to get a role back at Microsoft. I started my search for a role in February 2018 and by April 8th, I was offered a job as a Sales Excellence and Strategy Manager, reporting to one of the BEST Managers I have come across in my career.
This great news however created another detour in my journey as the role required me to be based out of Seattle. Yes, you guessed right! This meant I had to de-stabilize the life I had created in the last year and create another mild earthquake in my kid’s lives. Being who they are, they shared in my joy, but just by talking to them, I realized how much I was taking from them and how much more I needed to do to make it up to them.
In August 2018, my husband was again right there to help me move, see that the kids were settled, and headed back home to Nigeria. Now, all alone in Seattle, with two kids, a new job and a new school year with a new study group. I thought year 1 was hard, but year 2 presented me with a new challenge of learning the art of balancing. My manager had waited 3 months for me to get a work visa from the company and I knew I must not let him down. I still had a goal to excel in school and a new study group that I also knew I could not let down. My children were now my TOP priority and there was no way I was going to fail in my duty to them as a mother and life coach.
To cut this long story short, I am writing this article today because somehow, I succeeded in all fronts. I had my family, my sister-in law and my friends all plan their visits to Seattle to coincide with when I needed to be in school, so they could have my back at home. I had my mother move in and stay with me for as long as she could to be a buffer where she was able to and I had this amazing Manager who kept me in check, helped in balancing my workload to ensure I made ALL my classes and had no reason to fall behind.
I am an extremely dedicated and focused person, a trait which I have come to realize is unwavering regardless of the circumstance I find myself in. Once I make a commitment to anything, I do everything I can to achieve my desired results, without compromising on quality, which is another strong characteristic of mine. It has never been how quick, but how well I deliver on my commitments. So surely for me it was all about “Awawu you can do this”. Not only did I do it, but with the support of the faculty, the teaching assistants, my awesome cohort, my friends, my manager, my family and the Grace of God, I excelled at it. I ended up as one of the co-valedictorians of my class, got a promotion at work after 9 months in role, won the Business Plan Competition with my business plan partners showcasing “Brown Girls Crown” and despite all the moves and changes, a proud mother of two very well behaved and outstanding straight A teenagers.
I came out standing tall because of the people around me. I had the courage to keep going because I had the right support structure. I had the successes in my own life because of the sacrifices of many, especially my husband and my children.
True, it was no easy journey, but this was one road I am grateful I went down!