Kemi Nekvapil is one of Australia’s leading and best-known coaches, having supported the careers of numerous executives and female entrepreneurs and penned multiple books.
So how did she get to the top?
Nekvapil’s path has been anything but straightforward or linear, as she explains on the first episode of our new podcast series, Moments That Make Us. Rather, it’s one that’s been navigated in ways that have taken her from opportunity to opportunity, country to country — and provided experiences that she brings into her writing and how she works with and supports other women.
Born and educated in England, with five sets of foster parents, Kemi says the experience of “always moving” while growing up, has helped her take dramatic career leaps.
But the first career started after her last foster mother, Sue, asked her what she wanted to do.
“Nobody ever asked me that before, to actually give me a choice. And I gave her a list of like 9 things that I wanted to do. I said, “I want to be a baker, I want to be a chef. I want to work with children. I want to be a fashion designer. I want to be an actor.”
Kemi initially trained as a baker, before switching to cheffing and working as a chef. Later she went to drama school, got an agent and worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, before going back to work in kitchens again. She moved to Thailand to work at an International Resort, met her husband and then moved to Australia.
“I do want to make it clear that, not all of those things happened at once and I do believe in part of owning my narrative is that, part of not having that stable grounding has given me this idea that we can move, and things can move and change and it’s okay.
She knows a lot about relationships, including the idea that they are “for a Season, a Reason or a Lifetime”, and she’s learnt to be present in the relationships she’s in, knowing that through life relationships can shift and change.
“I’m not sure who that phase, but I found it very helpful… I think because we will let go of people, and people well let go of us. Once we accept that, it makes for a more nourishing experience of life and relationships.
“I have learned that blood is not necessarily thicker than water in terms of family, and that you can create family anywhere you go. I think as adults, it’s incredibly important that we do create relationships that ignite and empower us.” She adds she feels blessed to still have relationships with her last foster mother, as well as her first foster mother and her birth mother. She says that all of the mothers she has had have contributed to her in different ways.
Kemi says that we’re always “fusing together our identity”, noting that she now sees herself, “not as a black woman, or note as a middle-class woman, but as Kemi. I am 47 now, and it has taken me many, many years to get to that point.”
“We have to be constantly creating ourselves,” she says.
“That’s what growth is and it’s actually a core value of mind. I’m also an endurance runner, and I have this idea that the woman that starts on the start line is not the same person that’s going to cross the finish line, 42 kilometers, 100 kilometers later. Because I’m open to the experiences along the way but again that changed me with every step, and that’s a good metaphor for life if we’re willing to do this work of personal growth, which is not about dancing through the meadows with daisies, through our teeth skipping gaily.”
Given the work she does around coaching, Kemi is also mindful of the positivity movement, noting she’s careful to work with clients in the space they are in emotionally — and that may not always be about establishing and chasing goals.
“So for me, we have to be very careful of positivity. I would rather that someone is present, that’s the other P. That someone is present and being able to own their feelings because as we know now that it [the positivity movement] can go a bit too far the other way.”
Shivani added a third ‘P’ to the conversation: perfectionism, asking Kemi how we can also move away from that idea of “hustling for our worth” as Dr Brene Brown would put it.
“I think that is what it is, isn’t it? I think it is as Brene says, this idea of hustling for our worth. So I spent so many years doing that, and now I have no intention of doing that. I do feel blessed in that I have never ever suffered from perfectionism. I have had a sense of not feeling worthy, but I think as a creator, I’m a writer, I create, I’m really happy to do the best I can. That’s always been my focus. I don’t have a harsh in a critic, maybe because the criticism that I’ve had outside of me, in regard to race growing up, meant that I actually created a kind inner voice for myself. I’m not sure, but I’m kind to myself.”
Kemi adds that she feels lucky now, possibly because she’s at a midlife point where she’s beyond wanting to spend time proving her worth to anyone.
Kemi’s latest book touches on vulnerability and fear, and unpacks the word ‘power’ and what it means.
“I know for so many women even just the concept of the word power is so alienating because we have a sense of what power is and that form of power is playing out in the world right now with devastating consequences,” she says.
“This idea that power is a finite resource and that I must have it and if I have it you can’t have it and I’ll do whatever I can to make sure that you don’t have it. I know that as women, we have had an internal power for eons. It’s why we were burned at the stake. It’s why there are certain tools that are used in war to make sure that women feel powerless and it shows that we have this innate power.
Kemi quotes Alice Walker at the start of the book, who once noted that the biggest mistake that people make about power is thinking they don’t have any.”
“The word power, I’ve broken down into an acronym which is presence, ownership, wisdom, equality, and responsibility,” Kemi explains.
“I can practically guarantee … that somewhere in that hard decision was either, you having to be present to what was working or not working in your life, you having to take ownership of your story, in some way or another, having to tap into your innate wisdom, knowing that you are equal enough to the people around you to make that ask or leave that person, or leave that situation and that you decided to take full responsibility of your life, which means, when we can step into any of those principles, we are already stepping into a form of power.”
Listen to all of this and more from Kemi on the first episode of Moments That Make Us, a new podcast from Women’s Agenda, made possible thanks to the support of Stella Insurance. Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
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