E26 The Unlock Moment: Adwoa Akoto – Purpose, Authenticity, Impact – Discovering Your Path
In this episode I meet Adwoa Akoto, British-Ghanaian actor, writer, model and entrepreneur who appeared in HBO/BBC’s hit series ‘I May Destroy You’. She talks about her unusual route from economics and finance into acting and how her experience working with NGOs shaped her desire to create impact in this world. Reflecting on the conversation, she says, “I didn’t even realise a lot of the answers to the questions that you’re asking me, I’ve never really thought about in so much detail. So this has been really enlightening for myself as well.” Listen to the power of silence in allowing the brain to do the thinking it needs to do – an essential element of discovering your own moments of remarkable clarity. Adwoa is an inspiration to young actors and entrepreneurs, especially those of hybrid nationality like herself, and this episode is an object lesson in how you can discover clarity in your path ahead if you just create the right environment for great thinking.
Gary Crotaz 0:02
My name’s Dr. Gary Crotaz. And I’m a coach and author of The IDEA Mindset, a book about how to figure out what you want, and how to get it. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity when you suddenly know the right path ahead. When I’m in conversation with my coaching clients, these are the breakthroughs that are so profound that they remember vividly where they were, who they were with, what they were thinking when their Unlock Moment happened. In this podcast, I’ll be meeting and learning about people who have accomplished great things, or brought about significant change in their life, and you’ll be meeting them with me. We’ll be finding out what inspired them, how they got through the hard times, and what they learned along the way that they can share with you. Thank you for joining me on this podcast to hear all about another Unlock Moment. Hello dear listener, and welcome to another episode of The Unlock Moment podcast. Today I am delighted to welcome Adwoa Akoto to the podcast. Adwoa is a British-Ghanaian actor, writer, model and entrepreneur. You may have seen her in 2020’s breakout TV show, I May Destroy You for HBO and BBC, a comedy drama exploring the question of sexual consent in contemporary life. And she’s got some fascinating projects in the works as well, which I’m sure we’ll hear a bit about. I was really interested to feature Adwoa on The Unlock Moment podcast as her path into acting was pretty unconventional. She studied economics and finance at university. And she’s maintained a parallel career in the business world of skincare and wellness as she’s pursued her passion for acting. Her skincare brand Dwira bridges decades of Ghanaian traditions, skincare and wellness rituals with British Good Manufacturing Practice standards to offer the best of both worlds. I can’t wait to hear more about what drives her and how she balances her priorities as she targets success and fulfilment in her career. And of course, the moment of remarkable clarity, where she figured out the right path ahead. Adwoa, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to The Unlock Moment.
Adwoa Akoto 2:17
Ah, it’s my pleasure to be here.
Gary Crotaz 2:20
Thank you so much for joining. So start out with telling us a little bit about your story, a bit about your upbringing.
Adwoa Akoto 2:26
Oh right! Oh, so I am British-Ghanaian. I was born in the UK and I lived here for a few of my formative years. I want to say until about seven. Me and my family, we debate this all the time. But I did move to Ghana for about three, four years, again another debate. I came back to the UK in time to start year seven. So that’s our secondary school. We have very strong accents!
Gary Crotaz 2:54
And what kind of child were you?
Adwoa Akoto 2:57
Oh, wow! You know, I’ve always been creative. I’ve always kind of been… I used to write a lot. And I used to write books. And my mum always says, you know, Oh, my God, I should have published a book. Yeah, you should. But I remember no one would read my books, because I am from a very traditional African background, which I’m sure a lot of people can relate to. And it was always about studying to be a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, it was never really about fiction, like, you know, it was all make believe what I was doing. So it wasn’t something that my parents wanted to encourage, not because they… I guess just because they didn’t know that was a viable path of a career way for me. So they just wanted me to focus on what could make me successful. Which they all thought I’d be a lawyer because I guess I loved to debate. I was a child that always asked, Why? And in an African household again, you just get told, you don’t ask and I’m always like, But why, but why? And like, I remember my dad used to say, he had a saying, Children should be seen and not heard. And you could hear me! So yeah, I was that child that you couldn’t really… I wasn’t the quiet child in the corner. I was definitely the one that took control. I was definitely the one that was, you know, I was like the bossy big sister, the cousin that told you what to do. I was that kind of child. So yeah.
Gary Crotaz 4:24
And where did the bug for acting start for you?
Adwoa Akoto 4:27
Right from a kid. You know, I think… when I think of my earliest childhood memories, and when my cousins or my siblings you know… my earliest childhood memories were dancing, you know, dancing competitions, dancing shows, films, or plays I should say, plays, gymnastics, all with me at the helm orchestrating it. Like everyone knew where to stand. It was me. I’m telling you, you’re standing here, you’re doing this, and everyone’s just going along for the ride. I actually remember vividly my sister being like, I don’t want to play! I’m like, You have to play! Oh God, I sound so militant! But, those are my earliest childhood memories. And actually, those are the earliest childhood memories for a lot of my family as well, like when we, when we talk about being together, it’s one of my projects. So I don’t remember a time that I wasn’t creating,
Gary Crotaz 5:21
We’ll come and talk about some of your strengths later, you’re one of the people that we’ve worked together before, on strengths. And one of your top five strengths, which is in the population a very uncommon strength, but is something called Command, which is this natural comfort with being the person that steps forward and says, This is everybody should be doing. It’s exactly what you describe as a young child, it’s quite interesting how young some people are when those strengths start to show up. So how did you balance that kind of, the creative spirit and the kind of family dynamic of, you know, doctor or lawyer or engineer, those kind of routes?
Adwoa Akoto 6:02
Oh, I think I… so like, from a very young age I’ve had a lot of responsibility. Like my mum called me the second mum, because I’m the oldest girl. And even though I’m the second-born, I often felt like the oldest because I had an older brother. And he also listened to me a lot. So it often felt like I was in charge of them a lot. And it’s weird, because I think when you have that responsibility, I almost thought of them as my children, right? Like my brother, my sister. So I almost kind of… I don’t think I put my needs on the backburner. But as I grew, I started to think, you know, the kind of background I come from, I can’t afford to not have, you know, I can’t afford to, to kind of take a risk with my life. And I think when you’re young and you’re kind of trying to figure it out, everything is very black and white and there’s no grey area. And for me, I was like, I always wanted to be the best. So I knew I was, I was quite good academically as well. So I was just like, you know, I and everyone told me I was going to be a lawyer, because I could debate really well. And I could really present an argument, if we had to convince mum and dad to do something, if we had to… It was Adwoa, send Adwoa in, and I would go in and on the spot I would make things up, which again is actually performance. I remember I’d stand there and think I was like a politician or lawyer and I, and I’d really like even gesticulate, like I had my whole body language. I don’t even know the content of what I was saying. But I know whatever passion I gave to them was so… but they’d laugh! So yeah I guess, like, I started to subscribe to this notion that I was going to be a lawyer. And I started to pick subjects and started to really gear my career path to being a lawyer. And I remember I was still acting because I loved it. And my school actually funded for me, they gave, I was part of the scholarship, I think it was a Hackney Young Actors Club, I can’t remember the exact name, but it took part at the Hackney Empire, which is, like a huge theatre in East London. And I got to go there every week and perform and act. And yeah, so for me, that was like a really nice outlet to have, it didn’t feel like I was giving it up. But in the same breath, I was still in school, and I was learning towards being a lawyer. And I just felt it was both performance and some, you know, like that… use language and like, I get to speak and not be scared to speak. And in my mind I was going to be a barrister. So I was like, well, when I’m representing people in court, I need to know how to present myself, I need to know how to do this. So it kind of married, like married together in my mind. I didn’t make a definitive choice, because I didn’t think I had to at that point.
Gary Crotaz 8:55
So you went to university and you studied economics and finance. And what happened when you came out of university? What happened with your career?
Adwoa Akoto 9:03
So just as a side note to university actually, because I’m talking about being a lawyer, and I went to do economics and finance, but I was such a… it’s weird, I wasn’t a rebellious child but I really wanted to live life on my own terms. But I remember when I got into college, I started to do, like, history and law kind of subjects and think, I don’t want to do law any more. I don’t want to be a lawyer. And then my dad was like, Well, why don’t you try being a doctor? So then I dropped all my subjects. Yeah, it was within a month of starting, and I didm because I was doing five A levels. And I did all science subjects, which I absolutely hated. I hated that even more, but I couldn’t drop it at that point. So I had to go through with it. And they weren’t my strong suit. And it was the one of the worst decisions I think, because I didn’t do well in like two of them but, and I had drama as one of the subjects just as a sidenote, but so going into uni I knew I couldn’t try and pursue the drama path that was very clear to me still, I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I didn’t want to be a doctor. What was the next best option? And I knew if I wasn’t an actor, like I always knew I wanted to be a businesswoman. You know, my mum in her early days was a businesswoman. And I just loved like the whole kind of lifestyle of it. And her like just being a businesswoman. So I thought, I’m going to pursue finance, because I learned that a lot of accountants were natural CEOs, or they went on to start their own businesses, they understood finance. So I decided to study economics and finance.
Gary Crotaz 10:26
And you came through that. And you went into into business after after you graduated?
Adwoa Akoto 10:30
No, no, oh my goodness. So I, oh God again, I was working, I got a job as young as I could, I think 14 years old, I was doing like the paper round or something. So I’ve always worked from the age of about 14. And right before I went to uni, at university, I got a job in a bank, which at the time I was super young to get a job at the bank, and no one around me had got it. So I was like, Oh, my God, this is amazing. So after uni, I kind of went into that full time, whilst exploring other options. And I think it was really a stalling tactic, because I really shouldn’t have and I was pursuing acting, but not really pursuing that. I think I was lost. I was very lost that early kind of days after uni. And then I kind of, I had to like, with the pressure of like, family, I just had to make a decision. And I went into accounting, which I decided in uni I wouldn’t do and, but I ended up doing and yeah, spent a few years just kind of feeling very, like I moved a lot as well, like I thought it was the company, I went like to smaller companies, I tried different firms, and it became apparent to me that it wasn’t for me.
Gary Crotaz 11:45
How did you know?
Adwoa Akoto 11:45
I hated going to work. And I think that’s such a strong word to use, but nothing that inspired me on a daily, I felt, and a lot of people had kind of said, Oh, this is what it’s like after university. This is what adulthood is like. So I was just like, this adulting, like this is such a dry life! Like we and I think… not even I think, I know that in my heart I always knew, like life was meant to be more than this. And I very quickly said to myself, I’m not a nine to five person. I’m not a nine to five person. This doesn’t work for me. So actually, this is a story that I forget most of the time, and I shouldn’t because it’s such a huge, huge kind of part of my life. The next job I went… so I decided to leave the industry of accounting and didn’t know what I wanted to do. But just knew I needed to make good money. And it couldn’t get in the way of my like, I couldn’t have a nine to five job. And also I had to, it had to make me feel good. That was so huge in terms of like, not just feel good for myself, but feel like I was making an impact on the world. And I found a job that I thought was like amazing because it was for an NGO, it was a night, I mean, they had different roles, but I applied for the night job which I remember going into the interview, they were so shocked that I’d applied for like the night role. It was manic and it was new, and it was so innovative. And there was just so much scope to put your own mark on it. Because no one knew what they were doing. So we were almost like making it up. And I was one of the first cohort, I think maybe the like second intake. So it was quite exciting. It was new, it was intense. But that is where I spent at least like two, three years.
Gary Crotaz 13:30
And what were you actually doing there?
Adwoa Akoto 13:31
I was managing, well I wasn’t managing, I was like an A&E reconnection worker. So we were working to like rehouse people who had… like it was housing. So I guess if you had, like it was emergency housing. So it wasn’t like, you know, you’ve been homeless for like two weeks. It was first time homeless people. And you had nowhere to go. And it was like a very quick response. And we had to try and get you rehoused in like 72 hours. That was our target.
Gary Crotaz 13:31
It feels like a huge contrast from what you described as a very dry world of banking and accounting, but you know, reasonably well paid and so on. And suddenly you’re thrust into this world of the NGO where you’re doing something sort of deeply impactful, deeply important to people. How did it feel transitioning from one to the other?
Adwoa Akoto 14:15
It was drama. Do you know, I remember, I think at the time, I wasn’t acting, but that was a stage because I met people from all walks of life, and I’m talking from, like, really kind of your trust fund kids who like had been cut off by their parents to people who had no status in the country and had to leave. And I think, for me, I didn’t have to really start to adapt my communication skills and learn how to deal with different people of different ages of different backgrounds. I was thrust in the deep end, it was so exciting. I think the first few years for me were so exciting because I was making such a huge change. Like I remember people would come back and give me gifts or cry, like I made, I want to say friends, but I couldn’t keep in contact with them. But I made connections that will stay with me for a lifetime in the sense of, I don’t hear from those people, but how they made me feel or how I made, how they told me I helped them or made them feel, I will never forget that, ever, you know. So I felt impactful. And for a few years, I think because I felt impactful, and because I was making a change. And also I had my days, so I didn’t feel like I was giving up my life. But what I didn’t realise was I was giving up my energy. So I just didn’t have the same energy to put into pursuing what I wanted to pursue. And then when I did start to pursue what I wanted to pursue, it was so hard because I would literally come off a 12 hour shift, I’d finish at like 8:30am, drive home, take a shower, sleep for maybe an hour or two. And then I might have an audition at 10am or maybe like 12 or something, you know. It was tough because we, at a time we weren’t doing self-tapes, you had to go into the room and, you know, do that whole kind of spiel. So I started to see the friction of, I’ve got the acting bug, it’s come back again. And I’ve got this job that I really love and I’m enjoying. But it was also getting to a point where I was burning out, a lot of things had changed so I was delivering a lot more bad news because of government regulations, it meant we just couldn’t and didn’t have the funding to help as much as we could. And I remember feeling like an impostor in a sense of, I would befriend these people. And they were telling me what their wants and needs were. And I wouldn’t know, I wouldn’t know that we couldn’t give them what they wanted. And at the time, it was all about encouraging them to take the offer that we were going to present to them. And I did not want to do that.
Gary Crotaz 16:47
It’s so interesting hearing the way that you tell this story. And it’s one of the reasons that I was so keen to get you on to talk about the journey you’ve been on. Because this connection with purpose and authenticity is so important to you. I know that’s true. It’s something that I write a lot about and it’s part of my thinking around The IDEA Mindset, the A of IDEA is Authenticity, and hearing those three phases. So the grey, dull, but profitable world of banking and accountancy, the inspiring and meaningful and impactful first phase of your time at the NGO. And then this transition to where a drive for something that is passionate and meaningful for you at some point driven by the intensity of the work, the nature of the messages you’re having to give, that kind of thing, starts to impact you personally? It’s a very common flow for people where they’re pursuing something that is really important to them. But it’s difficult sometimes to keep those barriers and those boundaries up. And did you feel that, that it was hard to separate the work from…?
Adwoa Akoto 18:00
Oh, yeah, I had to, like I had a ritual when I got home of how to wash away the work because physically, I remember at the time understanding why, I’d read at one point psychologists have psychologists. What? That doesn’t even make sense, you know, I was a lot younger. And then after, like, at this job, I started to understand why. Because you really are… like people really are offloading their problems onto you. And it’s… that period made me the most grateful I’d ever been in my life because I realised my problems in comparison, were nothing. I think when you talk about like barriers, for me, it became, it was, it was strong, because I started to feel like, Okay, I’m advancing. And, you know, and like I said, it was still quite new. And even though like I’d been there about three years, it was still quite a new ish. Like a lot of people didn’t know about it. And I would make suggestions, and without going into too many details, which I felt were really good and were really helpful. And because I was being promoted, I could have a bit more of a direct kind of my influence. But direct feedback from the top. And you know, being in these rooms where we discuss it. And I, I felt like the structure was too rigid, and I didn’t feel like the structure was adaptable. And I think at that point, for me, I realised I can’t make the change here that I wanted to, or that I feel that I want to and actually I’m going to work and doing things I don’t want to do and saying things to people I don’t want to say and having to deliver them offers. And I started to do this thing, right? Well, I’ve left now and I said, Well, you should look around you have options. You’re not supposed… we… that’s not our job, but I started to do that. So I was, I… that meant I wouldn’t hit target. We started to have these really strong targets as well. So I just… it felt a lot like banking to me actually. When we started to talk about targets, but now it felt like banking with real people’s lives, you know, like, yeah. And I knew, for me that, you know, I wouldn’t be here for much longer.
Gary Crotaz 20:15
And I hope the listener can tune into this narrative of the shift in how it feels to be doing what you’re doing. And it’s easy and difficult to say to people listen to your gut, because in a way, everybody knows what that means, and in a way it’s actually pretty difficult to really understand what you mean by that. But you know, what you’re feeling is this sense of, there’s a shift, what felt good and positive and productive and impactful before, those dynamics are starting to shift now. So bring me into this Unlock Moment for you. So what was happening for you when you reached this point of remarkable clarity as to the path ahead?
Adwoa Akoto 21:03
I managed to move into like another NGO, like felt more impactful, but I wasn’t there for long, because I think at that point, I’d already like, I was kind of, I’d gone in, and I was thinking, if this is the same spiel we have to do, I’m out – because now I was actually out there, like I would literally go out on the streets, I was able to see exactly like, whereas before I was in an office, and I was actually able to go and do outreach work and actually be outside, it was kind of both, I was in the office as well. But I also had, you know, time where I’d actually go out and kind of see what was going on and like be on the ground, you know, grassroots, so to speak. But I think at that point, I kind of knew it wasn’t about the work anymore. It was about me feeling like I wasn’t maximising the impact I could have here. So I took a step back. And I was really thinking about my life. And it took a while to get here. But the kind of I guess the purpose element came into play. And it was like, What is my purpose, like in life? What is my purpose? Because I so obviously want to impact these people. But I want to be an actor. How does that even correlate? And I remember, it came to me, and I was like, Well, you know, like, if I just follow the path that I want to do and follow my gut, I can be a lot more influential, I can actually change the narrative, I can start my own NGO if I wanted to. But by following my own path, I get to decide how I impact people and how I can help out people without the rigid structure of someone else’s corporation. That was like the first point where I knew for me, ownership was where it was at, it was about being able and having the freedom and flexibility to do and live life on my own terms. And acting, and entrepreneurship, which I’d always loved, gave me that outlet. So I didn’t know why I continued to shy away from it.
Gary Crotaz 22:55
So it was realising that the purpose was something about being able to have impact, but the route through which you could have that impact had a broader range of options than you’d been considering?
Adwoa Akoto 23:07
I think more so just knowing that following my dreams, and my gut would make me the most impactful than anything else I’ve done. You know, like, for me, it was, I’d listened to everyone else my whole life on how I should live my life. I listened to my parents, I’d listened to input from friends and religious leaders, I’d listened to work colleagues, I’ve always known in my heart this did not align with my spirit. But I’m thinking I’m too young to make these decisions. And then I look around and I’m like, well, whose life do I want? I want my own life. And I got to a stage where I was so fed up by life, like my life, I felt like I’d just fallen into my life. I didn’t choose this life. And I was living it. And I did not like it. And I’m like, Well, why don’t I change the narrative and start doing what I actually want to do?
Gary Crotaz 23:54
I really like that.
Adwoa Akoto 23:55
Yeah, I mean, and it was a quote that came to me. And I was like, Whoa. As actors, especially, like, you know, we all want to, we always want to do things. And we’re like, Oh, but we’re getting older. And I think it’s so funny because I was, I can’t remember where I was, but I saw this quote. And the quote was something along the lines of, I’m not worried about your next 10 years, which I was worried about my next 10 years, but the quote was like, I’m not worried about your next 10 years. I’m worried about your last 10 years. When you’re 80 or 90 and you’re on your deathbed or you’re talking to people, you’re talking to your family about your life, or you’re reflecting on your life. What does it read? What does it say? I don’t know, it clicked for me. I was like, everything in between is just the journey. To me it became it became real, like I was like, whoa, whoa, like, it’s the fun of just knowing that being a part of that journey is what… that’s where you’re going to get the most of your life experiences. That’s where you live. That’s where life, you’re life-ing. I like to use this word life-ing which isn’t a real word. But for me, I will like, it’s about the life-ing, like, why am I sitting on… because what was the alternative, was climbing up the corporate ladder or the management ladder and having a family and having children and having a white picket fence, and it sounds lovely, but it was never the life that I wanted. You know, I still want a family and all those things, but I knew it couldn’t be in a neatly tied box and, you know, like, nice little ribbon, mine was always going to be different, it was always going to be a bit more rogue, it was always going to be a bit more adventurous. And I was like, well, let’s do it. Let’s start this adventure.
Gary Crotaz 25:34
So your Unlock Moment was this clarity around taking ownership of the path ahead for you. And you keep using this word, impact.
Adwoa Akoto 25:43
Gary Crotaz 25:44
Unpack that for me. Impact on who?
Adwoa Akoto 25:51
Do you know I never even realised I’ve used the word impact so much until you mentioned it. And you’re right. I’ve probably mentioned it a few times. When I think of impact, I think of the world actually, I think of the world and you know, I was going to say people, but no, it’s actually the world because, and it’s something I’ve been reflecting on a lot this last two months, because I’ve been doing a lot of self-work and a lot of getting to know myself which CliftonStrengths helped with, but I’ve been thinking of, you know, like, I’m reading The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma. And there’s a line in there that one of the characters says, and like, who would cry when you die? They talk about this notion of becoming 1% better every day, which I love. Because my mind is, I never start at like, zero. Like we always look at people who are doing things that we want, and we compare ourselves to them. And it’s, we’re comparing our beginning to their end, which is ludicrous. Like why do we do that? Because what it does is it sets these unrealistic expectations. And when you don’t get it straight away, for myself, I’d like scarper away from whatever it was that I was trying to achieve. And actually, when I think of breaking these huge goals, which your IDEA Mindset also goes into, into small actionable goals, or you know, tasks, it now becomes a lot more real and solid. And I guess for me, it was like, Okay, so he’s talking about becoming 1% better. So who would cry when you die? And I realised I’m, at some point, I realised I’m just living to live. Like, I… what is my life? You know, yeah, maybe I bring joy to the people in my immediate circle. But I didn’t feel like I knew my purpose at the time, I didn’t feel like I was making any impact, I didn’t think I was changing or making the world a better place than it was when I got here. And for me, I think humans probably all think their like purpose is different. But I know I have this urge. And I know I have this in me that I need to leave the world in a better place than when I got here.
Gary Crotaz 27:52
How do you describe your why?
Adwoa Akoto 27:53
My why is giving a part of me to you. You know, like giving a part of me to you that changes you in a way that is positive, or leaving a part of me in this world that changes it in a way that is positive. I like to think singularly just because I think we impact people more or well, like we make more of an impact when we think of one thing we want to impact as opposed to I want to do this for the world. Sometimes you don’t realise creating one thing or like just focusing on the singular actually does impact the world in some way, shape or form.
Gary Crotaz 28:27
Well that’s interesting.
Adwoa Akoto 28:28
Yeah, no, that, I mean that’s something I also had to like, kind of dial back. Because when you have my kind of… like, even like, you know, I’ve got Activator, and I was listening to the… kind of notice we love starting things. We love starting so many things, we think on the grand scale.
Gary Crotaz 28:47
So we talked about before the journey through your career, of discovering a sense of purpose and connecting with this authenticity and impact. And even after you said, I didn’t realise I said it very much, you keep saying it! And then when I said to you, what do you mean by impact, impact for who? You thought about it very carefully and then you said, impact on the world, which is admirable and massive as a goal. And then actually, you came to a place where you said, But I recognise that sometimes I need to focus on the one thing to really make something happen. For a lot of people. I’ve worked with quite a lot of people where they are naturally high performers, they are ambitious, they are often competitive, or they’re maximizers, they’re looking to make things world-class. And it’s quite easy sometimes to get kind of lost in a desire to achieve something so huge that you end up not actually getting cut-through. So if you were to say, if you could do just one thing in terms of having impact, if you could look back on your life in that sort of last 10 years and think, Here’s something where I really made a difference. What would you be proud to have impacted?
Adwoa Akoto 30:11
Ooh [pause] creating stories I’d say.
Gary Crotaz 30:13
Adwoa Akoto 30:16
For who? [pause] That’s an interesting one, I think. I want to create stories that I [pause] I’ve grown up seeing, you know, I want to create stories that I can relate to. I want to create stories that make myself and people like me feel seen. I think of, like often I speak about this, and there’s like a niche gap where I’m British-Ghanaian. And I love that there’s a lot more African and diverse stories being told. I still feel like we could push that narrative, like I always say to people, and I say, you know, I don’t think yet they’ve seen me represented. I come from two different continents. And I know like, some people like, Oh, you have to choose if you’re African, like, you have to choose if you’re British. I’ve just spent the last six months of last year in Ghana, on my own without my family, like, you know, it’s where my family are from, but I’ve never been there without my family. And it was such an eye-opening experience filled with beautiful experiences, and also a lot of frustration. And you know, I’m not the only person who has kind of made that move back. And I think that was the beautiful part of it, it was like a melting pot of different cultures in the sense of there was African Americans, European Ghanians, you know like, there was so many different cultures that had come back home and either had moved home or visiting or kind of just like, maybe there for a few months. And so I got to, like, connect with a lot of different people. And we definitely have our own world, in the sense of, a lot of people didn’t completely feel like they belonged to like, for instance, I don’t feel like I’m completely British. But also there are parts in Ghana where you don’t feel like you’re completely Ghanaian. Because they remind you that actually, you know, you are other and that might also come from a place of privilege, because you do have a slight privilege sometimes, you know, when you… and I say sometimes, because there are a lot more like Ghanaians who are also very privileged. But then the masses who aren’t see you as this girl that’s come from this world, and you have a bit of a privilege there, right? So I remember thinking, Well, where exactly do I belong? And I’ve had this conversation with people, you really kind of have to create that home for yourself, like you really do. But when I was there, a lot of the stories that inspired me, I realised, was this world of belonging to multiple countries or multiple homes, which I think a lot of people could probably relate to more so than others. That I don’t really see. And I think we are increasingly becoming a more international… you know, people don’t live in just one place, or very rarely, like, you know, live in one place, I speak to so many people who actually are bicoastal, or tricoastal or, you know, kind of navigate to where they might live a few years here and then decide they don’t want to live here and move. You know, we live in that world a lot more now these days, you know, we have a lot of… a huge remote working, the digital nomad generation that travel the world and live life on their own terms. And I love that. And I think for me, I was like, I just want to really see people like myself who have that hybrid nationality be represented a lot more. So then I started to get a lot of inspiration for stories that bridge that gap. I guess when I say I’m creating, it’s for me to… It really is to allow people to understand my world, and by extension, our world, anyone else who connects with that same world.
Gary Crotaz 34:08
If you were going back into a school in London, and you were sitting down with a group of maybe 12 year old or 14 year old girls of British-Ghanaian heritage and talking to them about their future and what you’ve learned on your journey, what would you say to them?
Adwoa Akoto 34:22
Ooh I love this question. I absolutely love it. Just before I go into what I would say, I’ll tell you why I love it. So I’m an actress. And a lot of people talk about coming into the arts, coming into the arts as therapy. I remember thinking that in my early days, and then really not liking it because I’m like, Well, if it’s therapy, it means you’re running away from your actual life. And I felt like I was, I was playing pretend and lots of people were playing pretend to run away from their lives. And a teacher I had, she was just like, it’s just fun. Like it’s just fun. And when it comes down to the nitty gritty, it should just be fun. But one thing that acting did for me that changed me, and it’s done a lot of things for me, what changed me fundamentally as a person was, I was trying to book roles by playing someone else, and I never booked those roles. And the more I learned about my craft, and the more I became a better actress, I realised, and it is the notion of acting essentially, everyone and their nana will tell you this, all the casting directors, all the directors, the producers, everyone who’s in the industry will tell you, the actors that book are so authentically themselves, they bring themselves to every situation, the audition, the set, they are so themselves, because you know what, you are so unique. The attributes that you try and hide, the attributes you don’t like, the attributes that make you you can never be anyone else. And that’s the beauty of each and every one of us. So when I just started to lean into me, and not, What would a casting director want, what would the director want, not only was I having the time of my life, just having fun, I started to book work. And I’ve started to apply that principle to all areas of my life. So I guess when I go into these schools, what I’m saying to these young girls is, or boys, or young people is, be you, but be authentically you. You know, really, really focus on finding out who you are as a person, because that is the most joyful experience, my God, I’ve been playing a part so, for so long, I didn’t even know who I was or what I wanted anymore. And I have joy now, learning why I react a certain way to things, or why certain things trigger me, or why certain things make me really happy, or why I am drawn to certain things. And the more I learn about myself, and that’s why I love The IDEA Mindset so much, it was the CliftonStrengths profile, I had so many aha moments that made me think I’m leaning away from these attributes. And I’m not leaning into my strengths and thus my greatness. Because when you lean into your strengths, that is what’s going to get you from point A to point Z, you know, that’s what’s going to take you where you want to go. So I guess yeah, it’s just about telling these young people you already kind of have what, you know what you have in you. And I want to be very clear that I’m not saying you shouldn’t improve. Because there were things that I didn’t have that were holding me back or are holding me back from having the career that I want. And I’ve highlighted those things, and I’m working towards those things. But you really have to lean into being authentically, authentically you. It is the crutch of your life. Honestly, the minute you start learning who you are, and leaning into it, your life will absolutely change and for the best as well.
Gary Crotaz 37:55
And the moment where you really figured that out was when?
Adwoa Akoto 38:01
Ooh, when did I figure that out? [long pause] You know, it’s one of those messages you hear over and over again. And I started to realise a lot of things that I’m having my aha moments are not brand new. I’ve always heard them before, but it just didn’t click. Because maybe I wasn’t in the right mental space or physical space or whatever space, emotional space. [pause] When is the moment I really figured it out? I want to say when I was, it was during the pandemic, for sure. It was definitely during a pandemic. But yeah, yeah. You know what it was? It was the pandemic. And there was a point where, in my mind, I was like, the world is probably going to end. Oh, my goodness, this is it for us. And I remember thinking to myself, Thank God I quit my job a year ago, because for the last year I’ve been living the life of my dreams. I realised I had chosen the life I lived in the last year. And it wasn’t an easy year by the way, because, you know, I, it was the first time in my life I didn’t have consistent money coming through. I was having to fund myself with my house fund. The money I’d saved for a house. So it wasn’t an easy time period for me. My God was it fun?! Was it adventurous? It was exhilarating! And I realised at that point I have been living authentically me. And that’s what I love. So it was definitely I think at a point where it felt like the world could end which sounds really drastic, but really and truly we’ve all just lived through one of life’s probably most, most life changing eras really. I think this will go down in history. But it was when I guess, and this sounds so dire, I don’t like saying death. But it was when I felt like I was being faced with death and I wasn’t scared to die. And I think just to put that in context, I used to be so fearful of death. Like I always used to think I do not want to die before my time, because I do not want to die before I’ve left my legacy or my impact … that word again! And I felt like, at that point I was on my journey to where I needed to go. And even if I did go, I was going doing what I loved.
Gary Crotaz 40:32
This is why I love podcasting. This part of the conversation is why I love podcasting. Because if we were doing an interview, we were doing a media interview, someone feels like they need to ask you another question to fill in those gaps. In The IDEA Mindset, I have this phrase that’s something like, you have to give your brain space and time to do the thinking that it needs to do. And sometimes to find these remarkable moments of clarity, one of which you’ve just described, you just need to take the time to stop and think – and what I loved about that moment that you just had was, you didn’t know the answer to the question I just asked you. And you really had to think about it and explore. And when you found it, you realised how impactful a thing it was. And as a lesson to people listening, not about this particular topic, it’s very personal to you, you know, this is not other people’s challenge necessarily and other people’s question. But being comfortable to have that moment of silence, and to genuinely do the thinking and just wait until it comes. That’s how you find clarity. I have this little quote where I say to people, you can’t think to a deadline, by which I mean, if I tell you that you’ve got to figure it out by four o’clock on Friday afternoon, well you’re going to come to the best answer you can by four o’clock on Friday afternoon. Sometimes all you got to do is give it the time it takes. And when you give it the time, the conclusion you’re going to come to is so much more powerful a conclusion. And I’m absolutely fascinated by hearing you go through that journey just in the conversation we’ve had, around what impact really means, who you really want to be telling your story to, what you’re really going to be proud of in the long term. And it just helps you have that clarity and focus.
Adwoa Akoto 42:26
It does! I didn’t even realise a lot of the answers to the questions that you’re asking me, I’ve never really thought about in so much detail. So this has been really kind of enlightening for myself as well.
Gary Crotaz 42:40
So sit here early in summer of 2022. What’s coming up for you? What are you excited about over the next six to twelve months?
Adwoa Akoto 42:48
So much! No, I’m playing … well, I’m not playing but yeah. I have a few projects coming out, which is really exciting. Some of which I can’t mention. I have two TV dramas coming out on Sky. I’ve got a feature film, one of the, one is a horror and I play the lead in that, which is really, really cool. And I have another feature film, a musical feature film coming out. I’ve also filmed a comedy TV series in that, it’s probably going to come out early next year. And I’m working on creating, which I’m so, so excited about. I’m represented as a writer now as well. So I’m going to be delving into that a hell of a lot more. And I’m really excited for you to like see that aspect of me that I haven’t really shared a lot of before. So yeah. And also, my African skincare wellness brand, we are rebranding and expanding in a huge way. So we have skincare products, but we’re going to be moving into food supplements and also wellness and digital courses. So that’s exciting, even in-person community courses. So I’m really, really excited to kind of meet some of our customers in real life and any creatives or any like other people, like minded people out there as well, like in real life, it would be really cool because as I move in my life, I’ve I realised how much wellness and self-care and kind of preserving myself is so important to me, and it allows me to do my best work. And I’ve always kept those two aspects separate. But I will be merging those a lot more. So now even on my personal platform, I’ll be sharing a hell of a lot more of my current journey, my current routines and the things I put in place to make me have the best, most optimal life that I can have for myself.
Gary Crotaz 44:37
Fantastic. And where can people find out more about you?
Adwoa Akoto 44:39
So my website is currently under construction, but you can find me on social media. So across Instagram or Twitter, it’s @AdwoaAkoto_
Gary Crotaz 44:53
Fantastic. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity when you suddenly know the right path ahead. For actor, writer and businesswoman Adwoa Akoto, it was when she figured out that she valued happiness over success when facing into a high profile role, and intentionally chose a different path that helped her build a life of her choosing, driven by a desire to live an authentic life. She’s such an inspiration to young people. And I’m so pleased she’s come in to share her story today. Adwoa, thank you so much for joining me today on The Unlock Moment.
Adwoa Akoto 45:26
Thank you so much for having me. This was honestly such a great conversation. And I love, I love everything that you’re doing and sharing these stories because they’re so needed and we so need to like understand how we get to where we get to via our strengths, via our life stories. And yeah, continue to share these amazing stories. I listened to a few and they blew me away.
Gary Crotaz 45:50
Thank you so much! This has been The Unlock Moment, a podcast with me, Dr. Gary Crotaz. Thank you for listening in. You can find out more about how to figure out what you want and how to get it in my book, The IDEA Mindset, available in physical book, ebook and audiobook format. Follow me on Instagram, and subscribe to this podcast to get notified about future episodes. Join me again soon!