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Follow Your Actions To Find Purpose

I remember listening to Talib Kweli’s fifth solo album called Prisoner of Conscious in 2013 and how one phrase became a mantra.

Photo by Patrick Foreon Unsplash

As the album built up to the 5th track — High Life — and the sonic energy burst out of my speakers with intoxicating rhythms, groovy baselines, and spurts of saxophone and vocal samples, I was immediately sucked into the verbal sparring between Talib Kweli and Rubix as they traded lyrics on the first verse.

I had to pause and rewind when I heard the line around the 0:57 time mark:

“Put Passion into Action”

For some reason, at that point in my life — a young engineer living in Austin, Texas that spent most of my working and waking hours optimizing manufacturing processes in North America and Europe — those words really resonated with me.

I was at a stage in my career where I was seeking more fulfillment beyond the immediate benefits of my job — the consistent income, the status, the validation of being good at my job.

In search for more fulfillment, I had heard “experts” say things like “just follow your passion and you’ll live a more fulfilled life” but the question was how do I find what I’m passionate about?

At that point, it seemed like I was interested in so many different things.

So whenever I listened to that album, I would eagerly wait for those four words: “Put Passion into Action” and I’ll get so hype and repeat it over and over as though I was trying to re-enforce the idea in my mind.

Put passion into action
Mashing on the gas where them others they be maxing
Accelerate, generate, power with my pen and pape’
Stimulate, you simulate, you do what I incinerate

[Talib Kweli]
We do it for the dinner plates, musical we innovate
You imitate, your theory full of holes and so we ventilate
Damn it, never gonna say they love what we doing on stage
Even if they don’t one quote and the hate just integrates
– Lyrics from High Life

I wrote the acronym — #PPIA — on post-it notes at my desk. I was even thinking about making t-shirts with PPIA on them.

But that didn’t necessarily change the fact that I had to zone in on my “passions” to put into action.

Finding One’s Interests

There are different ways and recommendations that have been offered up by experts, gurus, and coaches, about how to find purpose and passion.

None of them truly resonated with my as the framework of finding purpose at the intersectionality of the following three questions for introspection:

  • What are you interested in?
  • What are you good at?
  • What does the world need more of?

The last question in the above diagram: “What can you get paid for?” Is very important if you are planning on aligning your purpose with income generation.

It’s the first question (the top circle in the venn diagram) that was on my mind and I got some answers from publishing my first book — PRESS PLAY.

Following Your Curiosity

It was pure curiosity that got me to publish PRESS PLAY, and it all started with music.

I was in the process of putting together a beat mixtape, which led me down a path to write a fictional story that in turn led me down another path to sign up for a writing workshop, which led to the creation of the book.

Let’s take a few steps back — actually a few years back.

I started producing music consistently in 2013 — around the same time I was listening to that Talib Kweli album. I have always had an interest in music — playing the keyboard as a child, making beats and compilations on my laptop in college.

But it wasn’t until 2013, when I watched a video of a Nigerian producer — Jesse Jagz — making beats on a similar keyboard that I had in my apartment in Austin, Texas — the acclaimed live music capital of the world — that I really started producing music consistently.

There was something about watching someone who looked like me with a similar background, doing something he loved, that empowered me that evening.

I got to work. Making beats and posting them on SoundCloud. I did this consistently enough as I continued my engineering job, while I transitioned to business school, and the two years while I got my MBA.

The Struggle Years of Fiction

After three years of making beats and putting out a few mixtapes on SoundCloud, I decided to make a new mixtape.

It was in the year 2016; my classmates and I had just dissipated from the “Stanford Farm”.

We were back in the real world. I wanted to use some of the intentionality I learned in making products in making my next album. So, I decided to write a short fictional story with the plan of using it as the theme for the new concept album. The problem was that I didn’t know what story to write about and I didn’t even know the process of writing.

To make my task easy, I decided I would write a story about a guy trying to write a story and just borrow from experiences from my process of writing the story. What was supposed to be a short story to be written in a week took me down a rabbit hole of writing a fictional story for almost three years.

Mark Applebaum, who I took classes with at Stanford and interviewed for my book, discusses his process of following his interests during his TED Talk Titled “Mad Scientist of Music”:

“But is it music? I decided ultimately that this is the wrong question. That this is not the important question. The important question is ‘Is it interesting?’ And I follow this question, not worrying about ‘Is it music?’ and not worrying about the thing that I’m making. I allow my creativity to push me in directions that are simply interesting to me, and I don’t worry about the likeness of the result to some notion, some paradigm of what music composition is supposed to be, and that has urged me to take on a whole bunch of different roles.”

I revised the draft of my fictional story while making music to match the storyline created and developing my business.

The fictional story was developing as a story set in the year 2049 of a young professional trying to break away from the unseen shackles of working at the biggest technology corporation to follow his quest to write an “unformed” story.

How the story ends for my fictional character was a work in progress.

I went on a journey that involved working with a friend and her teammates to create the graphics for the book. This quest took me into the library archives of one of the largest newspapers in Nigeria, The Punch.

We had created a lot of content to release our book. I just had to finish the story.

It was 2019. I struggled to get the words on paper, even after several revisions of the draft.

I told a friend about my struggles. A day later, he sent me a link to sign up for a writing workshop, Creator’s Institute, led by Eric Koester.

The Switch-up

During my initial consultation with Eric, I apparently talked a lot about music, my business, driving change in communities, and the impact musicians have had on me.

He suggested, “Why don’t you write a book about the impact that music has in driving social change in our communities?”

I thought, “Great, this will help me finish my fictional book.”

Eric said, “No, this will be a non-fiction book; go out and interview actual musicians and get their opinion on how music can drive change.”

I was initially conflicted. Am I hopping from one thing to another? I thought to myself.

Editing. Revisions. New stories. Photo by Steve Johnsonon Unsplash

When will I ever finish?

I knew it was a good opportunity to learn from experts who had done this before. I reframed the challenge in my mind. The problem I had at the moment was a lack of confidence in getting the story out.

“How do I get that confidence?” I asked myself. “Well, learn from people experienced at crafting stories and publishing books.”

This was my new quest. I would come back to the fictional book later and then finish my album after that. I just had to find musicians to interview.

Over an 8-month period, I interviewed some of my favorite musicians, learned the process of writing engaging stories, developed a sense of the various steps required to publishing a book — book layout, cover design, community building, and getting my story out there into the world.

The purpose was hidden within the steps of the journey itself.

Zig-Zagging To The Path

When I decided to make that mixtape in 2016 and came up with the concept of writing a story about a guy trying to write a story, I had no clue I would be writing the manuscript of an actual published book just a few years later.

It was not a linear thought process. I went from making music, to writing a fictional story, to returning back to music, before getting on this quest to publishing PRESS PLAY.

I zig-zagged my way to a reality that I cooked up in my mind. I manifested my own path. The process reinforces the importance of our thoughts. What we think of ourselves can be what we become.

Somewhere along that path in 2018, as I did another “soul-searching” exercise — me and my Moleskin notepad — to clarify my goals with my business, my writing, and music, I wrote something about “documenting Africa’s way” as some form of mission statement.

Almost a year afterward as I did the research for PRESS PLAY, I thought about how music could be applied in the education of the youthful African population. I thought about how music and storytelling can be used effectively to tell nuanced stories about Africa — documenting history and educating the youth — as a soundtrack to the next movement.

A new age in which Africa contributes its fair share of knowledge to this new sped-up accumulation of global knowledge.

This is a mission I chose to start with here as I put the book together: introducing people to a modern perspective of Africa and its diaspora through music.

I connected these disparate ideas and events as I went along on my journey.

Power of thoughts, the journey, and manifestation

Through making music, I learned that even when your mission is not yet clear, default to taking action.

Take that next step.

Tinker with your idea. Play around with it. Make it real and tangible. It is during those little unnoticeable feats of action that the mission itself becomes visible.

Music allowed me to embrace the obscure journey that got me here. It all started with an intention to make something and explore. Once the intention is truly pure, what flows out will also be true.

My process all started with a concept album I wanted to create. It all started with the process of making and starting something. I made music to write a story, and that journey took me on the path to write a book — story — about music.

The process of creation came full circle.

The spark that got me here is a sense of empowerment — a belief that I can turn my ideas into reality, that concepts in my mind are worth being explored and expressed into tangible forms even when the end goal is not completely defined or clear from the beginning.

My make-shift studio in my bedreoom in Austin, Texas (2014)

This creative confidence has taken some years of practice, and music has been the gateway for me. I wanted to share what this world of play taught me through my book.

Looking back at that moment when I heard those words “Put Passion into Action”, I was possibly looking at the series of tasks in the wrong order.

Instead of “finding my passions” and then “taking action”. It was actually “taking action” that led to discovering and unearthing “certain interests and passions”.

We are all equppied to take action while focusing on the process because the journey is more important than the destination and we end up find our interests along the path.

Who is Nifemi?

Hey I’m Nifemi of NapoRepublic

I help busy people fit in a creative practice to bring to bring order to their reality and help them live a more meaningful life through writing and reflection.

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