#CareerConversations: ”We have to be strategic in how we approach work and make sure that the direction we’re going is where we want to go”~ Arit Okpo- TV Host, Documentary Filmmaker and Host, CNN Africa Changemakers

On our career series this week, TV presenter, journalist, documentary filmmaker, voice-over talent and producer, Arit Okpo sits with us to discuss what she has learned so far on her career journey. Be inspired!

Can you briefly describe yourself and what you do?

Who I am – I am a child of grace, foodie, student of life, explorer and lover.

What I do – I am a TV host and docu filmmaker. I currently host CNN African Voices Changemakers

Great! How did you start out in your career, and how long have you been in the ‘corporate world?’

I’ve been working since 2005 – I worked in Education and Public relations before getting into the media world in 2013.

I started out as an Associate Producer for a documentary film maker and moved into full time media work as a Producer and Presenter at EbonyLife TV.

What is your number one hack for dealing with difficult colleagues/bosses?

Difficult bosses – Hmmm – learn them. Learn their needs, learn how they operate and how to navigate within that, and then do your best to find another job before they completely destroy your self esteem

Difficult colleagues – Decide on your boundaries, ensure that there is someone you can report to, refuse to tolerate their behavior or be drawn into reacting, don’t allow them walk all over you

2 things you do when you are having a bad day?

I sleep and I journal

When you are creatively stuck, you…?

Take a break; I put the work aside and do other things. If I can, I schedule a self care day – lunch or something. After some time, my mind will return to the work on its own, often with a solution or a new perspective.

2 tips for navigating office politics?

1. Understand that you do not have to choose a side. Assess the situation for yourself, decide on a perspective, identify who the key players are and then as much as possible, refuse to be drawn into choosing a faction unless you absolutely have to.
2. Refuse to become a tool. That colleague who now has sweet gist about that other colleague? Not here for it. That boss who calls you in so that they can spy on the other boss? Please Sir/Ma, I’m not on seat. Office politics thrives on networks that can operate in very harmful ways, make sure that whatever role is assigned to you is something that you have consciously chosen.

What’s your take on cliques or “you can’t sit with us groups” at work? How does one navigate such?

If someone thinks that you can’t sit with them, don’t sit with them. There are too many issues to deal with and not enough hours in the average day to then take on the added labour of breaking yourself to win the approval of a person/group of people who have decided that you have to do so to earn access – this is not secondary school. If the clique is influential in some way to your success, learn how to engage without subjugating yourself.

My overall stance with interpersonal engagements is – decide from the onset what you want to do and why you are in that environment and then ensure that your engagements either support your objectives or do not cause you undue distress. Be intentional.

Of course, we’re going to talk about mentorship – what’s your view on it? Important or nah?

Mentors are important, but we have turned them into this thing that everyone absolutely has to have – often without clarity or intention. Sometimes we seek mentors without knowing what we need them to do for us or why we have chosen them at all – there is a difference between a role model, a mentor and a coach.

My mentor doesn’t have to be the biggest TV host in the world simply because I work in TV. You must check your needs and identify someone who has skills in that area. So in my case, I might study people whose interview style I admire or people who are able to turn their career into a brand.

You don’t have to meet a mentor physically – you can learn without ever engaging. And if you can’t find a mentor that aligns with your specific need, do the work yourself.

Two things – what have been your best and worst career decision – and what did you learn from each respectively?

I don’t have a worst career decision per se because honestly everything has been a learning process for me. One thing I wish I could have done was stand up to a boss who was very abusive, but I wasn’t as strong and self confident then as I am now.

In the same light, I don’t have a best career decision, but I am proud of the fact that everytime I got the opportunity to grow in a field that wasn’t “on my track”, I took it and enjoyed the incredible rewards. I was given the opportunity to do voiceovers while I was at Ebonylife – I took the chance and learned. A few years later, my voiceover skills led CNN to me. Because I grow by exploring my interests and taking chances, I am always discovering new and delightful things that I can do.

Do you have a “side-hustle” and what’s your view on having other interests outside of work?

Well I’m a freelancer, so my career is a collection of hustles so to speak.

And of course you must have interests outside work – at least so that you have hobbies and don’t become a boring person. But yes, explore things that interest you and give you joy; some will stay hobbies, some might become side hustles and some might become a new career path.

How do you advise girls facing harassment in any form, from their superiors at work to handle it?

Is there a superior officer you can report to? Then please do so. But investigate carefully before you do so that you don’t report to someone with an interest in protecting the oppressor.

As soon as it starts, start collecting evidence – record phonecalls, record conversations etc.

Start looking for another job, because it doesn’t stop.

If you feel that you can, threaten to expose the offender – let them know that you have evidence and that if they don’t stop or if they harass you in other ways, you will expose them.

Find a supportive network – other women who will affirm you and provide advice – find a lawyer, find an advocate and let them advise you on next steps.

3 greatest career lessons you have learnt on your journey?

1) Expand your understanding of learning. In the first 10 years of my career, for every single job I did, I started with no experience and learned on the job. I realized that while the formats of the jobs were different, the skills were the same. So I focused on transferring my skills and then adding career specific practical learning.
2) Keep your eyes open for lateral growth and new opportunities. Sometimes promotion isn’t from point 1 to Point 2, it can be from one 1A to 1B and then to 3B. A friend of mine who works at an NGO recently discovered a gap in her field for inclusiveness and access for disabled people. She got certification, applied for a job and got it.
3) You must continuously self audit to make sure that you are still aligned with your goals. As we progress, our goals will change. Don’t be afraid to check where you are against where you want to go, and adjust your path accordingly. We have to be strategic in how we approach work and make sure that the direction we’re going is where we want to go.
A bonus one – Don’t be afraid to start over. In my 14 years of paid employment, I have worked as a School Administrator and an Associate in a Marketing firm and now as a Producer/Presenter/Event Host/VO Talent/DocuFilm Maker and Growing Creative Director. About 3 years ago, I realized I was done with the 9 – 5 work pattern and ready to move into a more flexible way of working. My priorities had changed from reaching the “top of my field” to excelling within a way of working that was more attuned to my lifestyle. I made the shift and I’m now beginning to reap the benefits of a way of life that gives me space to work and play

About Arit Okpo

Arit Okpo is a TV presenter, journalist, documentary filmmaker, voice-over talent and producer. She has produced and presented content for EbonyLife TV, a television channel hosted on the DSTV platform and broadcasting across Sub Saharan Africa and parts of the UAE, UK and the Caribbean. She is the Host of CNN’s African Voices Changemakers and is the host for web talk show Untold Facts, produced by The Initiative for Equal Rights.

During her time at EbonyLife TV, Arit produced and presented the current affairs show The Crunch and Nigerian politics show Naija Politics. She hosted Destinations Africa – a travel show which explored Mauritius and Ethiopia for travel agency Wakanow and EbonyLife TV. She also delighted viewers with her easy and relatable recipes as a presenter on the cooking show Chefrican.

Arit served as EbonyLife TV’s Senior Correspondent to the Nigerian Presidential Villa and has interviewed members of the current and past administrations. She was host for Knorr Taste Quest Season 5 – a reality cooking competition for culinary hopefuls looking to make an impact on the Nigerian cooking scene. As host for Untold Facts, Arit explores and discusses the perspectives and experiences of LGBT people in Nigeria. On CNN African Voices Changemakers, she celebrates Africans making a difference in their communities.

Arit worked with the CNN team on Richard Quest’s visit to Nigeria for Quest Business Traveller. She interviewed Grammy nominee Seun Kuti as part of the United Nations African Allies Series and was the voice talent for Swallow – a documentary on food security in Nigeria produced by the Yar Adua Foundation.

Arit has hosted corporate events within and outside Nigeria and is an experienced panel moderator. She creates pieces that encourage discussions on a wide range of topics and is committed to telling stories from a human, nuanced and powerful perspective.

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