A big part of our dream for TAP comes from a desire to encourage, inspire, and celebrate people and organizations who are tapping into their potential. We decided to create the TAP Spotlight, a monthly focus on individuals or companies that are using their gifts, talents, and resources to make a difference.
Afua, the spotlight’s on you!
Doctor or Engineer.
That was it. These were the only two options I had for my career trajectory after graduating from high school.
It wasn’t because that is all that was available at my university of choice, it was because those were the only options my parents gave me. I grew up in a family where that was all you could become, or else you were a failure.
For a long time, I resented my parents for this very restricted take on success. Today, I understand their perspective and the life experiences that shaped how they guided their children to ensure they would grow up to be self-sufficient adults.
We came to Canada when I was young, landing in Toronto with big dreams of continuing a good life along the same trajectory our family had embarked upon. My father was a University Professor of Engineering, my mother had taken a break from her teaching career to raise her children.
When he applied to universities, my father was told that he was “overqualified” to be a professor. I know you’re wondering what else people do with a PhD, but don’t try to make sense of it. That was the trend at the time for rejecting Black candidates. Yes, we’re talking about Canada. And after over 30 years in this country, I can tell you it still happens today. Now, they just tell people that they “aren’t a fit” or “don’t have Canadian experience”.
When my parents obliged their children to become doctors or engineers, it wasn’t because they were closed-minded or uneducated, it was because they were trying to secure our future. That we would be guaranteed jobs. That we could one day provide for ourselves and our families and not have to jump through all the hoops they had to in order to survive.
That’s how my journey started. I “chose” engineering because I hated blood. I earned a full academic scholarship (top grades were also non-negotiable) to McGill University and that meant leaving home at 17 to move to a new city where I had no family or connections. It should come as no surprise that I didn’t looooove my program. It was the encouragement of my friends that kept me going, and the fear of disappointing my parents that kept me performing.
After I completed my degree 4 years later, reality hit me that I would have to work in this field that I wasn’t passionate about. So I took another two years to earn a graduate minor in pharmacology. My logic, was that if I had to be a chemical engineer, at least I would specialize in a field that was clean. I wasn’t a fan of getting dirty either.
When I finally had to face the real world of work, it shouldn’t be shocking that I dreaded what I was doing. But I was shocked … and shook! I had a job that my friends were envious of, working for a multinational pharmaceutical company, with a great salary, incredible benefits, and it was so clean, that we had sticky mats to remove the dust from the soles of our shoes!
It wasn’t until a stranger had introduced me to the world of entrepreneurship that I was awakened to the fact that work didn’t have to be a dreadful chore you did just for money. That although risky, you could earn a living doing something that actually brought you joy. That you could take care of yourself AND your purpose.
While working as an engineer, I joined a direct sales company as an independent distributor and used that part-time business to learn about sales, personal development and confidence. Until one day, I had the courage to leave my secure, seemingly glamorous job, to start my entrepreneurial journey full-time.
But we all know that life isn’t a straight line. I didn’t just become a huge success after that. I started a tech company with a couple friends that didn’t make it past the start-up phase. I worked various jobs to pay bills while looking for the next opportunity and eventually, I found myself back in direct sales, but this time corporately, thinking that it was wise to find a “real” secure job since I was adulting now. The old paradigms of stability and respectability creeped back in. And for many years after that, I happily tuned down my voice and purpose so that I could integrate the environments I had chosen.
Deep down, I knew it wasn’t sustainable. I knew that eventually, the fully concentrated version of Afua would bust out and that there would be a point of no return.
That happened in May of 2020. On May 18th, we lost our home after a five-alarm fire that started in our neighbour’s home. Exactly one week later, the world witnessed the most inhumane murder of George Floyd. These two events were not connected. What linked them, was my heightened awareness of our humanity. How my family only lost material possessions in a tragic event, while a man lost his life simply for existing in the body of a human covered in dark skin. It made me reflect on my life and critically look at how I was living my values. And perhaps more importantly, the message I was passing on to my children by accepting a watered-down version of me.
There I was, coaching people on how to lead, how to be the change, how to use their talents and resources to make progress, while I was waiting for someone else to recognize that my cause and purpose was valuable. I couldn’t accept that duality any longer.
Entrepreneurial Afua made a come-back that year. I knew that to have the freedom to express what was important to me and my legacy and to be truly loyal to my purpose, I had to build a business. I had to build a business that not only served people for profit, but that would allow me to influence the change I knew our world needed to see; without bureaucracy, without office politics and without retribution for challenging the status quo.
It was in sharing my future plans that a friend of mine proposed the idea of starting a recruiting firm with him and his business partner. Our vision was to provide top notch service and professionalism at a time where companies were not just saying that their people were valuable, but they were feeling it. There was a war on talent going on, and we knew that we could improve workplaces by matching them with qualified, diverse talent through the perspectives of 3 people who were exactly that … qualified and diverse.
Like most entrepreneurs, I don’t do just one thing. I also launched a speaking business at the same time and have used this as a platform to develop leaders, to bring awareness to issues affecting BIPOC professionals and to mentor some of the most brilliant people in their professional careers.
My purpose is to empower people to live their life according to their values, and not their circumstances. The ability to match candidates to employers who recognize their value, while shining the light of our common humanity is a dream I didn’t know could exist. I had only two options when I started. Today, my options cannot be counted. I love it here!
General Manager, Dolmen Recrutement
Afua journeys through the human experience with her immediate family in Montreal, and extended family spread across 4 continents. She is a lover of memes, food that comes in mini-form, and beaches (pronounced anyway youlike). Afua’s super-power is her ability to listen. A promoter of single-tasking and simplifying life, she uses the stories she’s lived and heard to weave new fabrics of humanity that bring diverse threads together.