Please note: This interview has been edited for increased clarity and readability. Nissi Ogulu’s views are still fully represented.
Nissi Ogulu is a multi-faceted individual - a singer-songwriter, performing artist, visual artist, entrepreneur and founder of an animated film company, Creele Studios. Since 2016, Nissi has made impressive achievements in all these areas, including a solo art exhibition in London and being awarded at the Cannes Independent International Film Festival in France.
Nissi Ogulu graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in mechanical engineering. Always having been exposed to a diverse range of hobbies from a young age, the arts was something Nissi actively partook in alongside her tertiary education, achieved through hard work and a diligent mindset. Being a full-time student meant that Nissi’s weekend schedule was occupied with visits to the studio and preparing for exhibitions.
Nissi’s TEDx talk for the Alumni salon, ‘Redefining your path’, touches on themes of fear and self-discovery, all pointing towards the goal of success. Nissi goes on to emphasise the importance of holding onto a future vision to guide you through stressful moments that success often comes with. Clear goals coupled with finding a personal strategy is what Nissi thinks is the key to being able to deliver the results you want.
What inspired your TEDx talk at the Alumni Salon?
Possibly just telling my story in a way that will make more sense to people as much as possible and creating a topic that I think can encompass what my life is about, which is redefining your path at every point in time as you go along.
You mention your multifaceted passions, such as music, animation, and other business ventures. How do you go about working on all these passions whilst simultaneously keeping your goals in mind?
Having a good team, first and foremost, having discipline, knowing how to schedule your time as much as possible, and loving what you do predominantly. I think that's the key thing because nothing is going to motivate you to perform more than that.
Would you say that was in a linear path, loving what you do? Have there ever been moments where work can become stressful?
Of course, all the time. I think when you transition from passion into a career, there will always be moments or things that you don't like, but it's just about trying to hold on to your purpose, why you want to do what it is that you are doing and focusing on that.
You also talked about how you were hit with a sense of impossibility when facing a fast-approaching deadline for an exhibition. Could you tell us more about this experience?
I had to make 15 paintings, and I'm not talking small sizes, in two weeks - not a small feat, I guess. But I think you just ask yourself a lot of questions and try to evaluate what you can deliver. For me, it is very important to be able to deliver - that is the most important thing. So, it's making sure that I am mentally prepared to do whatever it takes to get things done. During that process, in the beginning, you ask yourself questions, and then you come up with ways to tackle those questions and embark on the journey of whatever the project is you want to tackle.
How long was the period where you questioned your abilities before you buckled down and decided to submit these paintings?
One hour? 30 minutes? I don't really waste time thinking about these sorts of things. I don't question myself much. It's just more about creating a strategy that works. I think my head moves into solution mode very quickly. It's about going from point A to point B, as opposed to dwelling on things that you cannot necessarily control. At least when it comes to doing projects. There are other things I spend more time thinking about, but I don't really waste time when it comes to getting things done.
Would you say your strategy is orderly in the sense that you tick off a list?
Sometimes yes, other times it's a bit less rigid. But I will say there is always some form of strategy, whether that be strict or not, because things change, and I stay very open to being dynamic. Anything can happen, you just have to roll with it. That's life.
How did you take the step from studying mechanical engineering at Warwick to pursuing a career in the arts?
I was always doing everything. So, throughout my entire life, I have always done art, and I have always loved music. I just so happened to be good at science, hence mechanical engineering. I was always fascinated with how things work. For me, that was a nice path to be able to create products by myself. So, while I was at Warwick, I was going to the studio every weekend to paint. I was preparing for an exhibition. So, it was never a stop-start. They have all been happening at the same time.
Would you say managing many different passions was tough for you?
I think it is the mindset I had at the time and probably still have today - I don't really dwell on how I feel in terms of fatigue. I try to keep my mind on just making sure I do it. People say mind over matter, and I took that a bit too literally in my earlier days. Now, I am learning how to balance my life a bit more, but back then it was just about work.
Your new EP ‘Unboxed’ has presumably led to a lot of change in your life. What is your way of dealing with change?
Deal with it, simple answer. If you don't like it, change it back. I think I wouldn't say ‘Unboxed’ has really caused any change. It has just been a stepping stone into other avenues, which I guess you can look at as change but it is natural growth in my opinion. So, I look at changes as natural growth. You are not always prepared for growth, but it is going to happen regardless, so you just have to roll with it.
What would be your life motto?
I think my biggest motto in life is to be yourself. It is also about learning how to balance and understanding what kind of life you want to live. I think that is the fundamental thing for every one of us as human beings. When you get to the point where you've discovered yourself enough to understand how you want this experience of your time on earth to be, you will be better prepared for what you want to do. And you will have a better ability and power to determine whether you are willing to compromise on what you know.
You also talked about embracing failure and using it as a course to create something better. Can you tell us a time in your life when failure spurred you to succeed?
I don't really like the word ‘failure’. It sounds so final. I think it is just a new opportunity. But for me, a time where I guess you can categorise as a ‘failure’, was when I was very young and I did an audition for a talent show. I guess I was very nervous at the time because I got on stage and I was slurring my words. So, before they even announced the results, I just left because I thought there was no chance for me. That went down in my books as a non-victory. I think it just told me to never be that way again. Since then, I have never been nervous about anything in my life.
You emphasised the importance of embracing your true self. Can you describe what your unboxing process was like and how it enabled you to live a life that is uniquely yours?
I think it is just a question of time. If you allow yourself to truly embrace who you are, it can be sort of frightening in a way, because who you are might not conform to societal norms. But I think if you allow yourself to really just focus on what you want to be, who you want to be, and how you want to be, it's very freeing. For me, it was just about embracing that and going through that process for myself and coming out on the other side, discovering that these are the things that we like to do. Finally, think about how to remain authentic.
Teamwork as you said earlier, was clearly something you value in achieving success. Which other people in your life have given you this insight?
From my point of view, I think I found myself understanding how businesses work. No one person does any business by themselves. In terms of people that are monumental in my life, everything that I'm doing has a structure of some sort attached to it. There is a group of people that sort of have to tie in and work together. Because there is a common thread, which is me, right? Even if I am applying myself in different ways, we all have to sort of think about what are the best ways to pull the best out of this particular person. I do feel like I would not be able to function at my optimum if I didn't have that. And then also knowing how to delegate right - you may be good at something but you're not the best person at it. So, be honest with yourself and trust others who specialise in different things and you can just oversee it. It will be better suited for the end goal. I think a lot of people are struggling with that because you want to be the one that's known for doing it too. However, you need to relinquish control sometimes.
Transcribed and edited by Esther Park.
The views and opinions presented in this interview belong to Nissi Ogulu — not Esther Park, nor TEDxWarwick.
If you have any questions concerning the interview, or opinions expressed, do feel free to comment in the comments section or email firstname.lastname@example.org.