The Thrive Questionnaire//

How Curiosity Can Be Your Best Asset and Your Kryptonite

Akinyi Ochieng on the importance of not over-extending yourself.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Akinyi Ochieng: In an ideal world, the first thing I would do is meditate. It’s a habit I got into while I attended my Quaker high school. But as the years have gone by, I’ve become much more lax. These days, I usually start my day with a hot cup of strong Kenyan tea while enjoying the beautiful London view from my window. During that time, I think about all the things I’m grateful for and how I can pay that forward personally and professionally.

TG: What gives you energy?
AO: Learning new things. I hope to leave every day learning more about this world than I did the day before. That intellectual unrest makes me feel alive, and brings pleasure to my work. I’ve always firmly believed that if you’re not surrounded by smart people who challenge your way of thinking, you’re missing out. I’m lucky enough to have a close circle of creative, inspiring friends.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
AO: Part of my job is to stay up to date on the daily news, which can be difficult given the turbulent state of the world. To renew my sense of optimism, I purposefully put myself in the way of beauty everyday. It can be a challenge on a busy day, but I always manage to find time for something small whether it’s a fresh bouquet of flowers, a few stolen hours in an art gallery, or a walk in the park.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
AO: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. My beloved well-worn annotated Penguin edition is one of my most treasured possessions. Every time I read it, I discover something new because stoic philosophy has so many different applications in modern life. Stoics seek a life based on principles of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice, which can be a light at the end of the tunnel during life’s lows and keep you grounded during its highs.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
AO: My phone and I have been co-dependent for a while, but our love-hate relationship is improving these days. At night, I try to put it on my nightstand, and spend an hour reading instead.

TG: How do you deal with email?
AO: I work remotely and travel quite frequently, so I am constantly bombarded with a large volume of email. Because I’ve worked in fast-paced start-ups and nonprofits, I am acutely aware of the fact that delayed responses from just a single person can become a bottleneck to the team’s collective progress. As a result, I try to process emails quickly and efficiently. Having my inbox at or near zero by the end of each day (I am a heavy “archive” user and lover of Boomerang) gives me both clarity and zen.

However, the formal nature of email can quickly drain time, so I’ve started to shift to using WhatsApp, GChat and Slack for simple responses and requests. The organic flow of conversation on those platforms reduces the amount of time I spend on online communications, and frees up time to focus on more in-person interactions.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
AO: Dance. Listening to ‘60s and ‘70s soul or Afrobeats always perks me up. If I’m in public, though, I’ll just tap my feet to the beat.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
AO: A few months ago. My best quality and my kryptonite is my curiosity — I’m constantly overextending myself with new projects, and activities. Growing up I was a quintessential overachiever, so I always thought that saying “yes” meant that you were positive and a go-getter. Now, I think that always saying “yes” can impede productivity and wellness.

My goal for this year is learn to say “no” more. I’m blessed that I consistently come across fantastic and valuable opportunities and experiences, but constantly saying “yes” to everything detracts from my time and energy to pursue the things that truly reflect my personal values and goals.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
AO: I am a diehard Oprah Winfrey devotee, so it’s unsurprising that one of my favorite quotes comes from her: “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life because you become what you believe.”

Akinyi Ochieng is a writer, policy analyst, and media strategist passionate about innovation and opportunity in Africa. She is a Director at the Africa Expert Network (AXN), where she helps support Africa’s leading innovators and entrepreneurs. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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