Conquering My Fear of An Arranged Marriage Made Me An Entrepreneur

At 6 years old, I was already a budding CEO!

As a startup entrepreneur, I am constantly asked this question:

What’s your background and how did it prepare you to become an entrepreneur?

Of course I expect people to ask and wonder, and I often wonder the same thing. While I think it’s just fine to have a great idea, I also believe that the life experiences I’ve had have deeply and profoundly shaped my qualifications. (more…)

Why Calling Yourself a Diva Matters!

Divas are Super HeroinesLadies!

I’m talking to you! You know who you are. You are pretty unstoppable in your world.

Whatever it is you’re doing, you make sure you do your best and people notice you. And when you’re best doesn’t work out, you believe there’s something else you can do. In the end, you keep trying.

You are a female entrepreneur, which also makes you a diva in my opinion. Now, I used to have problems with accepting the word diva, but this week I started using (and claiming) it and I believe you should too.

Here’s why I believe you should claim the word “diva”: (more…)

You can’t copy the soul of a company!

Elote para la boda

The soul of wedocracy is about fun & joy!

Last weekend, my husband (CTO) and I sat in front of the television and watched Shark Tank, the intriguing show where entrepreneurs get their few minutes of fame and the chance to pitch in front of investors who can choose to fund them or not. As the co-founders of a fledgling startup, we can’t help but tune in each week. One thing that comes up over and over as the investors debate whether or not they will fund someone is the question of uniqueness. Several times during a show, the sharks remind so many entrepreneurs that someone could copy their idea and they would be left struggling to compete. And while there’s some truth to what they are saying, I’d like to think of things in another way.

After watching this weeks episode, my husband and I started talking and I told him that no one can copy the soul of a company. He immediately said “I smell a blog post.” And in fact, he was right. I needed to explain what I was saying to him and to share it with others. Most entrepreneurs out here in the world of startup adventures want to solve a problem. For our part, we’d like to help people enjoy their wedding planning and the day itself. We want people to have a system that allows them to stress less and enjoy this significant time in their lives from the day they get engaged until the day they walk down the altar. How did we come up with this app?

Well, we built it during our own recent engagement. We wanted great online tools that would support us in planning our multicultural destination wedding. Can someone else copy that idea? Sure! Can someone else decide to build a wedding planning app? Of course!

We know we’re not the only ones out there. But there’s the product – and then there’s the people and the story behind the product. For me, the soul of an idea combines the problem, the people and the solution.

The problem was that we needed comprehensive online tools to help us plan. We wanted something aesthetically pleasing and practical.

The people behind the idea were two web development folks who believed they could create something that could solve their problem and add to their enjoyment, as well as the enjoyment of their guests.

The story involves a couple who owned a web development company and their desire to use great tools to plan one of the most significant days in their life. So, they created those tools for themselves. At the time, they did not think about making the app publicly available. But many months later, after they saw how much people struggled to enjoy this time in their lives, they wanted to help.

So, what’s the soul of wedocracy? It’s the many cups of coffee and the late night conversations about how to make something that will help people plan in a way that increases enjoyment for everyone. It’s the mornings seeing the sun rise after hyper-focused hours of prototyping, designing and coding. It’s the evenings we snuggle on the couch, holding a glass of wine in one hand and the remote in the other hand, ready to watch Shark Tank. It’s the smiles that come to our faces when we remember our wedding day, and are able to say we have no regrets whatsoever. It’s the unique opportunity to work together, love together and build something born out of our love. Now, that’s the soul of our company.

Can someone copy that? I don’t know. But I do know they’d have to get married, preferably in a wedding that involved guests from 4 countries, and customs from 4 cultures and maybe they’d need to throw in a tequila donkey to march in their post wedding procession with them.

Are you constantly worried that your latest venture may not be able to compete? Well, ask yourself this: can the soul of my company be copied? 

If you have something with an inspiring story based on a real problem you needed to solve that can really help other people, then you should keep going.

If you realize your idea or company does not have a good story, then it may be time to rethink things and make a few changes.

Got a great product with an even better story? Now, that’s hard to copy!

So, what’s the soul of your company?

A letter to African immigrant parents

 Dear African immigrant parent,

The beautiful thing is, we come into this world not yet knowing who we are. This means that just like everyone else, the purpose of our lives is to figure out how we can help, what we can do, the legacy we can leave, the hugs we can give, the purpose we can find. But, after we turn 10 or so, the pressure starts. It is often subtle, so you may not notice you are doing it. You whisper secretly to our aunties about what the “plan” for us will be. You tell us, while we sit in the kitchen on 10 pound bags of rice you bought from the nearby African store, that no one will marry us if we don’t learn how to cook.

And there we were thinking about boys and our new outfit on sale and just how we would convince you to buy it for us, and we are brought back from dreaming into the reality that is our lives. Someone will want to marry us, especially the girls. This will not happen that soon, especially since you want us to go to college. This will happen in the future, maybe in our early 20’s when college is over. The thing you do not understand as our parents is this: fear, once instilled, is hard to get rid of. You say this marriage won’t happen for some time. For us, it’s happening tomorrow. We get confused, and uncertain. We are only 10 years old and already we understand the meaning of words like must, will, force.

And the way we understand them makes us stay up at night. And this is the story for those of us whose parents went abroad. The golden ticket came to our doors one day while you, our parents, were still in the village. And all of a sudden, everything changed. Change is not always positive. You were excited, waving that college acceptance letter around and dancing with our grandparents. Beke, they called you, my mother. The one who went overseas. And we all arrived to see snow for the first time. And the years piled up and the father’s hands hit the children’s faces. And the girls knew learning was important, school was second only to god. And the girls thought about two things: marriage and books. There was no room to think about boys.

And this is how one childhood disappears. It is a subtle thing sometimes, but other times it is quick and swift like an overnight storm. We are all sleeping when it happens, only to see the chaos of trees cracked at the spine the next morning. For all of us, for me, the change happened suddenly. But thankfully, it happened. It must have been a test I took in 5th grade. Yes, that’s when everything changed. I was tired of showing up to school with a plum colored face and hiding marks across my body. I was tired of not getting the chance to figure out who I was meant to be in the world. I knew I was not meant to despise everyone and everything. The word hate was making its way to the back of my throat, with a plan to stay there, and I would not have it. And at 10 years old, I was afraid of being that person. And then I took a state test. The teacher announced my score, made me stand up and talked to me after school. I missed 2 questions out of 100, and in his opinion, that meant I should do something with what was in my brain. It took 3 more years for me to find myself in the school library, where I started planning.

You see, we are all invested in who we become. But we cannot become those people when we are constantly afraid of being silenced or bullied for doing so. The plan was precise. I would study my way out of the chaos that was my home. I had very little room for error. Did I feel lots of pressure? Absolutely! Was I afraid I would not pull it off? Absolutely! Was I wondering if it would all fall apart? Absolutely! But I had my mother’s wisdom and my father’s rage in my pocket.

Rage is nothing to be afraid of unless you turn it on yourself. I kept it in my pocket, ran my hand across its pebbled ridges and knew that it was simply his own insecurity talking. I took my mother’s dreams, opened them up and looked at myself. It was this mirror that let me know how much I was capable of. Parents, the thing is, we have the right and duty to become all of who we are meant to be. And when you hold us back and we nearly miss that opportunity, you may not realize that you are playing god. And guess what? No one should have the right to do that. And I mean, no one. I have never been religious, but I know many of you are.

Call god the universe, a divine spirit or whatever you’d like. The point is, you are taking something into your own hands that is not yours to take. Your children were given to you, but they are not only yours. They belong to the greater world that will help shape them alongside you. And when you play god, the lives of your children are uncertain and things happen that you thought you could control. They set their cell phones to special ringers when you call. The kind that say, don’t pick up. They lie to you about the men they are dating because maybe their lovers are actually women. And even when they snuggle up to men at night, your girls still pretend because dating was never supposed to happen before marriage and if you happen to be a parent who allows it, his last name better sound as familiar to you as the dishes you put on the table to remember your homeland every night.

The thing is, you sometimes miss their whole lives. And I don’t think that’s what any of you ever intended to do. But that’s what’s happening. Luckily for me, I found college. Just writing that makes me laugh because I think about how many of you talk about how your life changed when you found god, or some form of a higher spiritual calling. And so while my parents found god, I found college. In truth, college was my bible but what i really found was possibility. The right to know what was possible for my life and the ability to act on that knowledge. And this, in truth, changed my life.

I cannot tell any parent how to parent, but I can tell you that children who are constantly living in fear do not become all they are capable of. Because when that fear is removed, they are unsure of why they making certain choices. Before they did things based on if you would hit them or not. And when that fear is gone, they have no barometer to help them understand what they really believe about how to be in the world. And so, dear African immigrant parent, I will write to you again.

I hope this will be my first of many letters and I hope to hear from you. I know you are scared. The world is big and uncertain. But taking your anger out on your kids does not bring the certainty you are looking for. And when you do this, you miss out on the awesome opportunity to raise the next generation of leaders, artists and thinkers. Instead, you raise a generation of brilliant minds who are afraid to act on that brilliance for fear of disappointing you. And if I have learned anything all these years, it’s that choices based on the fear of someone else’s reaction usually keep you running from who you really are and all that you can become.

With warm regards,


daughter of Nigerian parents

Why I Believe We Must Tell Our Stories

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the stark realities of young women in Africa. As I look  through page after page of statistics on several blogs and websites, I think more about how important it is for me to tell my story over and over again, but it also made me want to share my thoughts on why telling your story is a must.

A few months ago my husband and I were in Brixton, discovering the smells and sounds that so uniquely belong to this London neighborhood. We had the pleasure of walking through Brixton Market, and given that I do love any and every vintage store I can find on my travels, I had to go the first one we found. It was there that I met the owner, clad in a linen sky blue suit with a British Caribbean accent of sorts. As I perused, he couldn’t help but ask me where we were from and what we were doing in London. And, I went on to tell him the truth. As I spoke about our work in web development, my background as a writer, my first book publication and my love of vintage, he paused long enough to look down at his feet, look up, peer into my face with intense curiosity and proclaim: you have to tell this story so a young girl in Mozambique can believe she can be you!

And when he said this, it was as if he had just decided that this is what I would do. I have been telling my story for years now. When I first published my book of poetry, Flowers Blooming Against A Bruised Gray Sky, I was deeply motivated by the challenges that young women around the world face. I was also compelled by my own experiences in college, where I met my mentor, who would later help me see what was possible in my life.

That shop owner was right, but I was a bit confused by what he said because I believed that I had already been telling my story. I also had forgotten that regardless of how many followers I have on Twitter or friends on Facebook, the relevance of my story to a young African girl balancing the weight of motherhood and hunger by age 15 truly does matter. For that young girl, the popularity contest has everything to do with finding role models who have her hair and eyes, something familiar. I had already published a book, drawing images with lines of poetry that spoke to what it was like to be young, Nigerian, immigrant and female in a household that was rocked by my father’s violence and my mother’s silence. I wrote the poems, told the stories, read them aloud at poetry readings and shared my experiences with anyone who wanted to know. But today, I was reminded that telling our stories is something we must do over and over again because we never know who we reach by doing so, and our stories are always changing in ways that can inspire others.

And so, I am a Nigerian born American writer who did not grow up unable to find food and pregnant at age 15, but I did grow up knowing more than any young girl should know about violence. And, on the other side of my history is my story today.  This is the story of a young woman writer, poet, blogger and co-founder who believes that anything is possible for her life and that in the midst of fear and all the things that get in the way of young women figuring out what they’re capable of today, there are those of us who do get that opportunity. I believe that when we come out on the other side, we have an amazing opportunity and responsibility to shine a light on all that we have become so others can see themselves clearly.


The Lack of Women as Founders

I recently attended a startup founders event with my husband where about 200 people were in attendance. I remember quite a few things about that night, but nothing struck me more than when a presenter asked the women in the audience to participate. Well, she did not really “ask” us, but if you were a woman in the room who wanted to know more about other women in the room who were like you, then you raised your hands when she asked the questions.

Her presentation was about the lack of women in the tech business, especially as founders and owners. As I said, there were about 200 people in the room when she asked how many of those people were women. I remember about 6 hands going up. Then she asked how many of us were women involved in start up business, and about 4 women raised their hands. And finally, she asked how many of us were founders in the companies we were part of. There were two women with their hands raised, and I was one of them. I kept my hand up for so long I did not realize that she was no longer asking questions. There were 2 women in that room that kept our hands raised.

That night I realized that I was not only interested in my project on behalf of me, my husband and our greater vision. I am also deeply invested in what we are doing on behalf of women. What if the most important part of being an entrepreneur is showing up, and raising your hand.  I want to be accounted for, don’t you? And I am even more invested on behalf of women of color, particularly African women. We all need models in our lives who can show us what’s possible for our futures. I’d like to be one of those people, especially because so many have done the same for me.

About Thriving Girl

When I was 10 years old, I walked into a bookstore and saw no books with African female authors.  This was in Boston, Massachusetts and I was the 10 year old daughter of Nigerian immigrants and wanted to understand who I was and who I could become.

Before leaving the bookstore, I promised myself that I would one day have a book in a bookstore so other African girls could read it and find something that resonated with them, and hopefully something that was useful as well.

You see, I was born in Nigeria, raised in the United States but so clearly had one foot in each culture. There was never any kind of blueprint that signified what was to become of me and what the possibility was for my life.  As many first generation immigrants know, we are making that history now.

As a girl, I knew the chaos of violence in my home and in my body.  My parents represented everything I wanted to be and everything I did not want to be at the same time.  As I got older, I realized how capable I was after I left my parents home.

And so, I believe in passing along what I’ve learned. Thriving Girl is about advice, support and a conversation from women to girls. I’ve been there and I know that there are things I would have liked someone to tell me when I was a girl and I want to share them with girls around the world.

Investing in a girl takes sharing what you know with her, and that’s not much to ask of us if we are to enable the next generation of global women to become all of who they are capable of being.



The Meaning of Luck

I’ve always believed that there’s no such thing as luck. Well, kind of. I guess the truth of what I am saying is that for me luck is not something that one just happens to stumble upon due to good fortune or some unspoken heavenly alliance with the universe. In my opinion, even eating enough servings of vegetables, drinking 6-8 glasses of water and flossing daily (instead of finding the must have cookie drawer) does not get get you there. For me, luck is a delicate combination of readiness and opportunity. It’s about being ready when an opportunity presents itself to you.

I believe we are ready! When I say “we”, I am speaking of my husband and I. Since January, we have been working to get our startup off the ground and running. And now, after getting out of town for the summer to retreat and actually do our best to pour all we’ve got into this venture, I do believe that we are just beginning to understand what readiness means. For us, it’s meant relocating for the summer to clear our heads, take in a different culture and simply shift focus from our wonderful family back home, so we can strategize and move forward. Readiness has also meant laying next to him at night with our fingers carefully enlaced, hearing nothing but the night air and the slow but steady hum of the necessary but noisy summer fan and simply drifting off to sleep with tomorrow’s ideas drifting off to sleep with us.

It’s meant the first year of our marriage being front and center, intentional and very important. We’re writers, web folks, User Experience Designers, poets, dreamers, believers, receivers, wine lovers, food fanatics and simply devoutly passionate about changing the world one word, one sentence, one blog post, one piece of code, one website, one design and one big spoonful of readiness at a time. This week we have been given the opportunity to pitch our startup idea to international investors. And, this is an amazing opportunity and I do believe we are getting so close to being ready. And please do wish us luck because we’ve worked so hard and are ready for luck to meet us.

Becoming a Courageous Bride

Dear Thriving Bride,

As most of my readers know, my parents did not come to my wedding.  To sum up the reason: They were not capable of doing so in a way that supported my happiness.  And so, they were not present.  The thing many of you don’t know is I have not heard from them for many months now, and there was not even a “congrats” after the wedding.  These are my parents, and they are who they are. You’ve all seen me struggle with the emotions leading up to my wedding, and then slowly come to resolve many of the pressing issues that came along with the emotional roller coaster of family unavailability, death, and anything else you could throw in there.

And the winning wedding dress is......the strapless, ivory, silk gown!

Courageous brides can be very hot brides as well!

photo courtesy Amici Wedding Photography

But, I am here and happy and married to the man I love.  I am writing to you (whomever you are) because I want to keep sharing my thoughts and experiences and I want you to understand that at the end of the day, creating and sustaining the wedding of your dreams (and not the expectations of others) takes a lot of courage.

I am hoping that you can hear me say this without flinching at the idea that courage might be something you may or may not be able to muster for your big day.  But, I need to let you in on something I have not told you yet.  In all honesty, there were days when I was choosing a venue, or viewing the flower arrangements or going for a run and all I could do was stop and cry.  I did not feel courageous or brave.  I simply felt tired.  I simply felt that despite the love and support of my Chosen Family, my parents inability to show up would not only signal a very clear separation in our futures with each other, but it was also as if by not being there, they were in essence “letting me go” to start my new life.

I am writing all of this because I want you to know that I found courage in knowing this: At the end of the day, I had to ask myself what I could be okay with in the end.  The thing about me is that I can’t stand regret, but I can accept rejection.  If I want a job and the employer turns me down, I always feel proud of myself for trying and I don’t have to go to bed at night wondering what would have happened if I applied to the job.  It’s like the words “no” are not as awful (for me) as the words “I regret not doing this or that.”

There are days when you will not feel courageous, especially because sometimes you can’t feel that way on your own.  Sometimes, you need the support and encouragement of others to do so.  And it is when you find the courage within yourself that you can say “no” and “yes” and mean both without regret, guilt or shame that often happens with weddings.

I believe the joining of two lives no longer needs to be something we “get through”, like a root canal or a morning gym class we despise yet know we must do.  I want to bring the joy back to the wedding planning and experiencing process.  So, I am writing about my joyful wedding in the face of many challenging circumstances, and I will continue to write about it.

So, my parents have not contacted me and I have not contacted them. The truth is, I don’t want to go through the usual yelling, screaming and accusations.  I love constructive criticism, but I do not tolerate verbal or emotional abuse in my life, even if it is coming from my parents. I am doing  the best I can to make peace with this within myself.  It is not always easy, but I know that if I had to do it over again, I would still choose to create a meaningful wedding with my partner that embodied our vision of how we wanted to honor our commitment to each other rather than agree to my parents demand that we change everything according to how they wanted the wedding to be.

And I am also enjoying the new family that includes a wonderful and supportive step-mother, niece, nephew, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, step-son, and my wonderful husband PJ.  There are also many cousins, aunts and uncles in the mix as well.  I find myself remembering how important it is to have courage even now.  Wherever you are on your journey, I do believe that you are capable of mustering the courage and determination you need to create the wedding day you want.

Next Post: Top 10 Tips for Becoming a Courageous Bride!  Want to receive updates when I post next?  Please sign up here  to receive email notifications for this blog and my new blog, Thriving Wife: Cultivating a Conscious Marriage.  Do you have a question to ask me? Please fill out the “Ask A Thriving Bride Question” on the Thriving Bride homepage.

What’s the secret to finding a life-long partner?

Today is my two month wedding anniversary.  I am very excited because I can tell you that each day I am more inspired to love fiercely, forgive easily, express my range of emotions often and marvel at the opportunity that this life has given me.  In honor (and celebration) of today, I will be answering a question that came in through the  “Ask A Thriving Bride Question” link on my bridal blog.  If you have something you want to ask or say, you can write to me about weddings, marriage, family dynamics, etc.  It really doesn’t matter.  I just want to keep this dialogue going, and see if our collective energies can help create more sustainable partnerships, weddings and families.  In recognition of how your support and connection to what I am saying inspires me, today’s post will answer a recent question I received:

Dear Thriving Bride,

My question is a simple one: what’s the secret to finding a life-long partner?

Dear Thriving Reader,

Thanks for asking.  Your question is simple, but the answer really forced me to think a lot about my own experience and open up and share my own doubts and insecurities as I built my relationship with my now husband.  But, I do hope this story about my honeymoon and our relationship will help answer your question. I can’t say it’s “the” secret, but I can say it was “my” experience and it worked.

During my honeymoon, I spent a lot of time looking at the ocean because it represented a certain kind of calm.  There were also many occasions when I got to watch watch my husband rock back and forth in a hammock and clutch a book to his chest as his sun glasses slid off his face and the breeze whisked him away to a long needed nap. This is the poetry I have been writing these days. These are the words of deep thankfulness and rich experiences with my beloved.

Saying our vows at our wonderful wedding! Photo by Michael Amici

Saying our vows at our wonderful wedding! Photo by Michael Amici

I think being a Thriving Wife is about taking the time to realize (and act accordingly) that, husband, sweetheart and every other name I could come up with for him is also now my beloved. Let me explain because it is different and I am experiencing just how unique it is.

When I met PJ, he was my friend and then he became my boyfriend and then he was my fiance and now he is my husband. If you aren’t really into titles and names, then you don’t have to care what I call him, but I definitely care. As I mentioned in my bridal blog, there are countless engaged couples that do not get married for one reason or another. And guess what? We did! Every time when a friend asked how we were doing with everything leading up to the wedding, I would always say “We still want to marry each other.” For me, this was important because there is so much stress that goes along with weddings and many couples do choose to end the relationship before they say “I do.”

And so now, we have crossed that bridge, signed all the right dotted lines, committed our lives to each other (and to each other’s communities) and there was no way we could have done all of this without becoming each other’s “beloved.”

Basically, PJ is my husband and my beloved. The process we have gone through to get to this point and the ways we have chosen to deal with the challenges along the way makes him my beloved and him mine. You see, being beloved is based on giving another person the opportunity to truly love you for who you really are so that you can ” be loved” by that person. I believe it is often hard for couples to make it to the altar because one person is not willing (consciously or not) to become beloved. Let’s not kid around here, it ain’t easy.

When I met PJ, I was not ready for him to see all of who I was. Again, to become his beloved I needed to “be loved” by him for who I truly was, which meant I needed to let him see who I truly was. Here’s where it stops being so fun. We all talk about love and finding someone who really loves us, but are we ready to reveal ourselves not knowing what the other side of things holds for us? We can reveal and get hurt and we can reveal and get love. It is up to us.

Once I was willing to be fully loved for who I was (scars and all), then PJ had the opportunity to see me clearly and decide to love me. And when he did, I had the opportunity to see that here was someone who was willing to take me straight off the human store rack and take me to the counter “as is.” Don’t get me wrong, I know that I have a lot to offer someone who is willing to see it, but we all doubt ourselves and unchecked self-doubt can lead us to hide behind it so much that we don’t see the possibilities staring us in the face.

I’ve said this before, but I want to reiterate that I am not a therapist of any kind but I do have a story to tell and I am writing all of this down in order to help myself and if I can help you, then that’s even more fabulous.

In truth, I also hope Oprah reads it.

At my wedding, a good friend asked me what my secret was when it came to seeing, loving and marrying Peter. I hope she is reading this because I’d like her to know that the secret is this: be ready and willing to become a special someone’s beloved and vice versa.  This may all seem pretty simple, but it takes some work. Are you ready?

Note: I am not advocating that you jump into a relationship and reveal everything about yourself to someone who has made it clear that he just wants to have a few beers and take you to his condo on the beach during your vacation in some coconut scented island. Sorry to break it to you, BUT HE IS MOST LIKELY NOT YOUR BELOVED. I might be wrong, and if I am and you do fall madly in love an end up returning to that beach for many anniversaries to come, DO SHARE YOUR STORY WITH ME.


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