Four Lessons From Lupita
There’s been considerable buzz about Lupita Nyong’o’s first official visit to Kenya since becoming a global star.
I joined three other mums from the MumsVillage community in attending the ‘Afternoon with Lupita’ mentorship event last year that focused on the arts. We were keen to get tips on how to nurture creativity and the arts with our children and she did not disappoint. The KICC amphitheatre was packed with students from her alma maters (including Loreto Convent Msongari, our shared alma mater) and key members of the arts fraternity led by Joy Mboya. Lupita focused her talk on the importance of the arts in education and society at large while sharing new insights of her personal journey. I’m sharing four of the many lessons learned today that I hope you’ll find as useful as I did if you’re a parent interested in cultivating creativity in your kids:
1) Embrace What You Don’t Understand
Lupita displayed a passion for acting from a very early age and her mother hadn’t had much exposure to the arts. Instead of shrugging it off as a phase or pushing her daughter in a different (and quite uncertain) direction, she started reading up on the acting industry. I’m doubly impressed that she did this decades before we had easy access to information from the likes of Google. By becoming more informed, she shared ideas with Lupita and these actions of support without deep understanding left a profound effect on the validation of her daughter’s dreams.
2) Help Your Kids Take Charge of Their Destinies
Lupita shared several anecdotes of how active she was in creating opportunities and not waiting for them to be directly presented. Her high school had a limited number of plays each year so she decided to create new avenues to act more regularly by infusing performance art during the student-led school assemblies. This had not existed previously but she saw an opportunity to liven up things for everyone and give herself an outlet to be on stage more regularly. This particular story struck a chord with me because too often I hear people complain about the lack of opportunity and how others have it easier. I think it is incredibly important that my children appreciate what they have. And they must be proactive in creating what they want and not living within the constraints of perceived limitations. This is especially important for creative children who will be confronted with a longer list of limitations than others.
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3) Cultivate Strong Community
I am sure most parents would agree that cohesive communities are essential for human connection and the underpinning of strong societies. A distinction Lupita made a few times was separating your ‘close community’ from community at large. It’s your close community that has the most influence on you and the choices you make. As a parent, this distinction has opened my eyes to the importance of being mindful of the people around my child (ren). Over time this close circle will be the people in a stronger position to either validate or destroy dreams. It also reminds me that we all can consciously build this community and not leave it to chance. My daughter has shown an innate interest in dance and music from when she was about 5 months. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t hold a beat so the challenge for me is to enlist both time and ideas from musical members of my family and friends on ways that I can nurture this in her.
4) Distinguishing Between Internal and External Validation
Regarding her Oscar Award, Lupita reflected on how it’s an external symbol of appreciation for her work in 12 Years A Slave – but that the work is what matters. Her film choices since then are about what will be challenging and true to her. What I draw from this as a parent is the importance in cultivating strong internal validation for my children. I know this will be hard in a time of increasing symbols of external validation. With Kindergartens having graduations now, I am daunted by the sheer number of awards my children will have collected before they even get to University. This is an important reminder that I find a way to integrate these symbols of achievement with a healthy perspective that they are just that and co-exist with the more important inner self-belief. As a Harvard and Stanford graduate, this will be harder in practice than in theory!
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As a new mum with one and another on the way, I’m just beginning my journey of motherhood. These are all lessons I intend to keep in mind as my children’s personalities and preferences evolve.