Not many women are comfortable declaring that they consider themselves a multihyphenate or multipotentialite, if you prefer. Chimdi Neliaku is definitely not one of them. She practices law, works as a policy researcher and analyst, consults as Public Relations practitioner and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) professional, and somehow finds time to make change as a government affairs specialist and youth leadership development expert.
We sat with Chimdi for MCN’s Work Life to discuss how she deploys her skills to solve complex problems in the public sector, private sector and civil society, and why she feels more women should explore multiple careers.
Hi Chimdi, if you were to describe what you do as a multi-hypenate in one minute, how would you sell yourself to someone meeting you for the first time?
I am a lawyer by training with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from Baze University, Abuja and a Masters of Law (LLM) degree in International Commercial Law from the University of Salford, UK. I have also successfully undertaken a Contract Law Course at the Harvard Law School.
I am a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants and a member of the Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators (ICMC), Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Institute of Entrepreneurs, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK), and Institute of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Registrars.
In the public sector, I serve as a Policy Researcher and Analyst in the Office for Strategic Preparedness & Resilience (OSPRE), Office of the Vice President. I also serve as the Programme Manager of the Legislative Mentorship Initiative, Office of the Speaker, House of Representatives and Senior Legal Consultant in the Office of the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Judiciary. In the private sector, I lead the Government Affairs unit of CAPPS Consult and the Public Affairs unit of Rightangle PR as a Partner in both firms. In the development space, I serve as Programmes Director of the Leadership Advancement Foundation (LEAF), where I manage the Foundation’s programmes such as the National Youth Leadership Conference (NYLC), Nigerian Prize for Leadership (NPL), Leadership Ambassadors Programme, etc. I was recently elected Curator of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community, Abuja Hub after serving as the Vice Curator.
When I am not working or learning, I enjoy traveling, having fun with family and friends, or watching a good movie.
With a resume like that, I have to ask, what did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be a lot of things at various stages of my childhood. As I grew older and prepared to go to university, I became unsure of what I wanted to study because I struggled with deciding on which of my several interests I wanted to pursue.
For context, I had been business savvy since I was a toddler to the point that people said I could sell ice to the Inuits. So, I contemplated studying Economics or Business Administration. I was also quite interested in culinary arts and hospitality management – and had undergone several trainings to learn professional baking and culinary techniques, including at one of the best culinary schools in the world – Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) in New York.
After running a successful bakery and culinary school in my early teen years, I considered studying culinary arts and hospitality management. I was also passionate about education because I had a passion for child and youth development, and I had seen first hand how educational systems sometimes crushed young people. I felt I could make a difference here and contemplated studying Education. The list goes on but I will stop here. I eventually studied law because I felt it would give me the breadth to pursue everything else I was interested in at the right time.
What career path are you in you now?
Interestingly, the one profession I never thought I would belong to was the legal profession but somehow, when I had graduated from High School and was unclear of which of my passions to pursue, it suddenly became clear to me that law was the perfect choice. The knowledge of law armed me with the analytical skills, critical thinking and other transferable skills that have strategically positioned me to pursue my purpose and passions.
How long have you been practicing law?
I have been on this cumulative path for over a decade.
What about the projects you are currently involved with, how did you get your foot in the door?
I got into the fields I am in today by leveraging strategic networks, creating opportunities for myself, and exploring existing opportunities to express my passions to find fulfillment. In my journey, I have always been intentional about leaning on God to lead me in the right direction to fulfill my purpose.
What’s a typical day in your work life like?
As a multipotentialite, each day is usually different but similar in some way. My day usually involves me wearing different professional hats, as I navigate the tasks of the day across my various professional commitments. As such, the days are usually very long.
What’s the culture like for women in your field?
What do you value the most about being a mulitpotentiate?
I particularly love the work I do because at the center of everything I do is impact. On different scales and in different ways, my work develops people, solves complex problems and influences policy at the highest levels of government.
What is your least favourite part of having so many professional obligations?
One of the most challenging parts of my career path is the constant balancing act to enable me successfully juggle all my commitments and deliver excellence on all of them. While it is challenging, the fact that I enjoy the work I do makes it not just bearable but quite rewarding.
As a woman who works at the intersection of several distinct career paths, what have you noticed about how women are treated in the work place?
While there are slight differences between the challenges of women in the different fields, a few things are consistent. As a woman and particularly a young woman in these professions, people often consciously or unconsciously undermine and underestimate your capacity to deliver excellence. While we have champions in these professions, many people act from this place of bias and are only won over after demonstrating consistent excellence, tenacity and doggedness.
Is there any way being a woman in your field gives you an advantage over your co-workers?
None immediately comes to mind, but as a woman, and particularly a young woman who wants to succeed in these fields, one is usually required to work twice as hard to be respected and taken seriously. While this is not an advantage, perhaps it pushes you to do better and be better in everything.
Do you believe in work buddies?
I believe in partnerships and relationships and I try to be intentional about nurturing and investing in them. While I have not been intentional about the need for “work buddies”, I have naturally found people whose values, work ethic and ethos align with mine and we naturally became buddies and have remained so even after either of us left the establishment we met in.
What’s your stance on ‘work spouses?’
Hahaha! I believe that once managed properly with agreed boundaries and mutual objectives, they can be beneficial for both parties.
Can you give us a tip you swear by for successfully managing a work/life balance?
As a multihyphenate who enjoys the work I do, I have to be intentional about striking a healthy work-life balance. While this is something I am still trying to figure out, one life experience that has helped me intentionally strive for this balance was when a close friend of mine was terribly sick and hospitalized as a result of prolonged levels of stress.
The doctors explained that there is a clear connection between the stress hormone – cortisol and hypertension, and higher blood sugar levels, particularly in people with type 2 diabetes. Watching my usually energetic friend on the hospital bed after a close brush with death, unable to do all the impactful work that she was passionate about, was a clear warning to take work-life balance and health more seriously. Since then, I have been more intentional about it.
Sometimes, this can look like turning down briefs when the timelines will place undue stress on me, or shutting down work activities and meetings after a particular time, or going on periodic holidays to destress, refocus and re-center. Most importantly, it is about living an essentialist life, where I primarily say yes to things that are absolutely important and say no to things that do not feed into my purpose.
Do you have any advice for younger women who want to do what you do?
Follow your own path! Sometimes, society will try to tell you what your path should look like but ensure you stay true to the path that is unique to you. The only path to fulfillment is being you and doing what you were created to do. Find it and do it. Make meaningful contributions to your society and be good to people.
For the emerging multipotentialites, it is completely fine to find fulfilment and expression in many things. Find a way to consolidate them so they all tie into a larger goal and purpose.
Finally, remember that it pays to take the road less traveled.