This is a continuation of the Meet the Badasses series, where each post will have a Q&A with the featured badass with topics covering business, entrepreneur, professional and personal growth, female empowerment and life.
It is rare to come across someone who completely embodies the meaning of their name and Joy Ofodu is one of them. From the moment you meet her, she has this aurora of happiness and confidence that leaves a memorable mark, leaving you wanting more.
A first-born child from Nigerian immigrants, Ofodu is heading into her last semester as a proud undergraduate of University of Southern California (USC). Promptly after graduation, she is going to start her career at Instagram, serving as their Teen Trends Producer. What she has been able to do with her time at USC is astonishing to say the least. With her many extracurriculars on campus to interning at Lucasfilm and Instagram, you sometimes wonder how does she do it all? What is her secret recipe for success?
That’s where I began our wide-range conversation with Ofodu. She also talked about the importance of self-brand, being not afraid to speak up, lifting others up, and how we need to make more marvelous mistakes.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
You are extremely involved on campus. With your time at USC, you are currently an Annenberg Admission Ambassador, writer and photographer for Trojan 360, managing Summer Internships+ Page on Facebook, an active member of African American Cinema Society, personal side hustle with photography jobs, and school. What is your productivity secret?
I get that a lot. [Laughs.] I don’t think there is a secret to productivity. There are a few lessons I’ve learned over the years. A possible solution is to not be involved with things that will demand conflicting time from you. For example, if you know you have four clubs you’re interested in, but they all meet on Wednesday, it might be time to re-evaluate.
If you’re digitally savvy, that is another blessing since you can be everywhere at once. Those tools allow me to be, or appear present in those social spheres or lives even when I am not actually there. I have taken a lot of my business digitally, whether it is marketing or my photo business, different screenings going on with my club, answering questions for admits online, all of that can happen concurrently.
When I think of your brand, you literally exude joy, confidence, smartness, and awesome photography skills. Can you talk about how you started your own marketing with your brand and how has that evolved today?
I realized the importance of creating and maintaining my brand spring of freshman year. It became apparent to me that I was doing so many cool things and having these amazing professional experiences. I wanted to keep them in one place and be able to visually chart my growth as well. That is when I launched my website, From Joy to the World. I spent a year testing it to see if it can help me book, get interviews, and it absolutely did. I invested in the website about a year after launching it. Since then, I have been getting regular traffic, viewership, subscribers, which has been absolutely crazy. I love sharing my work as there is a certain gratification I get by plotting something out and seeing it come to fruition, digitally or in-person.
We are always in the danger of dismissing great things, like our hobbies, to pastime. If you love it and someone is making money from it, you can make money from it too.
What is your advice to college students who want to brand themselves?
My primary piece of advice would be, if you are stalling on launching your brand, because it seems insurmountable, break everything down to actionable items. That’s what keeps a lot of us from our goals. First, get a general thematic idea of where you want to go. Then start to say, “Ok, I’m going to create a logo. I’m going to sign up for WordPress or Wix. I’m going to purchase cards on Vistaprint. I’m going to create handles for myself across all social media and change my profile picture.” Once you get down to the actual tactic, it seems a lot more doable. Your fonts, colors, symbols, and gifs even, they all become stables of your brand that people will recognize. Make sure to keep things cohesive as it’s easier for the human brain.
Being digitally savvy is an important skill to have these days and you’re very plugged in to the social media world, especially Twitter since we’ve had some conversations there. Do you ever feel the need to unplug?
All the time! It’s healthy. It’s necessary. You have to be able to unplug and I feel that pressure all the time. For me, it sometimes has to be dramatic. I will have to delete apps because I know if it’s there, even when I log out, I will put my info and log in.
I deleted Snapchat for a week and half since I realized the most social eavesdropping we do is on Snapchat. Not everyone feels that, but I certainly do against my own better judgement sometimes. During this time, I was to focus on other things, like finals. I have since reinstalled as I’m not as busy. However, if you find any app that is tugging on your confidence or demanding too much attention from you that is keeping you from creating greater things, just get rid of it.
You’re upcoming full-time job out of graduation is with Instagram and will be continuing your summer 2017 internship work that you did with them, which focused on Teen World community. Why attracted you to this specific community?
I guess you can say it found me. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but just not realizing it. I often study consumer behavior, psychology, and decision making on top of the material I am learning in school. I’ve been engaged with the online community since I was young. I was on everything: Neopets, Maple Story, Club Penguin, and Maid Marian for example. I never thought anyone could make a career out of that. I just dismissed it as a hobby. We are always in the danger of dismissing great things, like our hobbies, to pastime. If you love it and someone is making money from it, you can make money from it too. Teens are the future so this is a great next step for me.
I know you are super passionate about entertainment too. What’s going to happen with that as you start with Instagram?
To think about my own personal experience, I always loved entertainment. I wanted to be an actress and transitioned to doing social media management, then marketing for a studio, Lucasfilm. That was incredible, but comparing my experiences to tech and entertainment, tech is where I can make a big impact right now. It has the more pressing opportunity. Entertainment will be there and and it is still growing and changing. I haven’t fallen out of love with it, but with every industry now, it needs major reform first.
Speaking of all these controversies happening in these two industries (tech and entertainment), I’ve seen that you are not afraid to speak up about it and call out people. Can you talk about your audacity to do so, even when it is an institution like USC?
I think it’s important even when you are benefitting from institutions to be critical of them, whether it’s financial or workplace. In this environment today, people are conflating critique with being ungrateful from all types of people. I can love the thing and not want to let it go, yet still critique it in an attempt to understand it better.
When it comes speaking to USC administration, that was a long, exhausting process. I thought I could speed it up by asking people what they think. It was important for me to take things with a grain of salt and try to weed out the anger, hurt, and frustration to see what people are really questioning.
Then, I would think about how can I pose that inquiry in a way that won’t be easily rejected. I prefer not to attack people in general as it is just a waste of time. When people are critiquing, your brain automatically goes into defense mode. Being a strong communicator and advocate for others involves understanding the person you’re presenting to, how will they react based on the tone of your voice, and how loaded your question is.
Growing up, you were always energetic, confident, and not afraid to speak your thought. Has that ever caused you to question why are you like this? Why am I not like the other people?
I guess you can say in part that the way I was raised has inspired me to be confident. I’ve always been loud and proud. At the same time, I was a competitive person and I would compare myself to other girls too. Accepting who I am and having my level of confidence today took me a long time. What college has taught me is that you can’t share as freely in the adult world as not everyone needs to know about your intentions and passions.
You have to make a lot of marvelous mistakes and learn from that.
How do you define success?
Seeing something that you want, preparing yourself for it, going to get it, then the final part of success, which I am experiencing more and more these days, which is turning around and telling other people who want that same thing, how can they get it for themselves. You got to turn around and help as there is too much wealth. If I was to go go go and never answer my hundreds of LinkedIn connection requests or messages, I’m not sure I can call myself successful. I would have succeeded for myself only. There are moments where you have to be selfish too, and that is something I’m still learning. In general though, if I can help you and it’s within my power, I’ll do it.
When was the moment you realized you should help and lift up people?
I think I’ve been doing it for a long time, at least since 8th grade. [Laughs.] I love people! My passion for giving back has been in the longtime in the making. It just looks different now. If you want to relate it to college, I think freshmen year was the time. On topics I was blogging about, I would get responses from administrators, students, seniors, asking, “How did you do that? I’m graduating, help!” I was equally humbled and empowered by that.
What has been your biggest failure and how did you overcome it?
The biggest failure for me is to have this general mindset that I know exactly what is supposed to happen for me and trying to force things to happen that don’t need to happen. There are too many open doors to just think that one door is the right one for you. There have been a number of opportunities that I would wait on, ponder over, and cry about that didn’t occur. Now looking back, I am so glad they didn’t because they allowed me to be right where I am.
What I learned from this camp that I taught at, Galileo, they called it marvelous mistakes. You have to make a lot of marvelous mistakes and learn from that.
With girls especially, we tend to internalize our questions more than boys. Women are taught to do no wrong, and ask no questions. Men are taught to get their questions answered. Both genders need to find a balance for this.