Kojo Baffoe on Conscious Living
Don’t let your life happen by accident. Kojo Baffoe shares his experiences and insights on conscious living. Join us.
Frank Kojo Baffoe Jnr, known as Kojo Baffoe, is a Father, Husband, Brother, Writer, Speaker, Content Architect, Poet, Entrepreneur, Television Producer, Radio Talk Show Host & Magazine Editor (Literally. I can’t exhaust it all)
Mr Baffoe hosts Life with Kojo on KayaFm. In the magazine space, he was the Founding Editor of Blaque, edited Destiny Man for 4 years and currently edits The Afropolitan. A holder of a Bachelor of Commerce with majors in Economics, Marketing and Business Administration, Kojo Baffoe is the Director of Kwaya Holdings, a consulting and investments company with interests in the publishing, media, entertainment, fashion and related spaces.
At the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), Kojo Baffoe was poet laureate, published two poetry collections and been published in poetry collections in the US, Brazil and Europe.
Kojo Baffoe is of Ghanaian and German heritage, was raised in Lesotho and calls Johannesburg, South Africa home.
In this day and age of vastness and speed of change in technology and economies, conscious living has never been more important for the way we relate as human beings and the way we engage with the world around us. Kojo Baffoe, a man of many talents and interests, joined me in the Tree House Suite at the Fairlawns to share his views and experiences on conscious living.
When did conscious living become a thing for you and why is it so important in the Exponential Age that is upon us?
A couple of years ago I read Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Workweek, it changed my life just in terms of thinking about how we structure and design our lives. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the book or subsequent writings from others that I’ve read on the topic, but as a starting premise, just the idea that we can design our lives resonated with me. Now you can Google “lifestyle design”, there are multiple sites, it’s a thing, there are people and spaces cropping up talking about being a lot more conscious, looking at the world more broadly and being a bit more deliberate in terms of how we live our lives. So, the idea that we can design our lives definitely changed how I approached things. At one point for instance, particularly during my stint at Destiny Man, I became aware that I was living a parallel life to my family. I was travelling overseas every other month doing press trips and launches, and back here in Johannesburg, there were events at least twice a week in the evenings. On the weekend, it was a case of, I’m home but I’m not home because of deadlines. My daughter was three at the time and my son was seven, and I realized that I was not present. I believe in the idea of presence over presents, so I made that decision to leave my job and it was a conscious decision.
Living consciously is an ongoing process because life is complicated, but I keep going back to what I want and what drives me.
In terms of the Age that we’re living in, there’s just so much information, there’s so much noise and it can become overwhelming, so you need to live consciously to stay sane. There’s now all this focus on mindfulness because it’s very easy to live untethered. With social media and our phones, we’re literally living in the ether, living in the past or living in the future, but we’re never quite fully connected to this particular moment, we’re never fully here. So, in this age we’re living in, you can literally exist between those spaces and never really be present. There’s so much power in being in the moment and being deliberate. Recently, I was listening to Eckhart Tolle’s audiobook, The Power of Now, and he says, with all this overwhelm, ask yourself, do you have any problem right now, like in this moment? So right now, you and I are sitting here having a conversation. I don’t have any problem in this moment, so why stress about anything? So that practice literally means you’re living in a series of now’s and it’s hard and sometimes things happen that I’m not thrilled about but at least for most of the time, I get to apply my mind to the things that I need to do and I’m able to be more effective at it.
It all seems New Agey and these things may seem out there, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Give it a shot. Even with prayer, regardless of your religion, that is a different form of manifestation, because as you pray, you’re focusing on that one particular thing and you’re opening yourself up to being able to receive it. How we navigate this increasingly complex world is important and it’s recognizing that everything is energy so it’s about how we interact with that energy and how we use it to our advantage and disadvantage. I’m still finding my way through it all.
One of the talks that you do is titled, “Don’t Let Your Life Happen By Accident”, what has delivering the talk meant to you over the years in terms of your own reflective process?
Werksmans Attorneys had a mentorship programme for students and I was invited to speak to a group of them here at the Fairlawns. I titled the talk, “Don’t Let Your Life Happen By Accident”. The reason why I named it that, at the time I liked the way that sounded. I’m not sure that the talk even speaks to that, but my starting point was, when I look at my life and I look at all the different things I’ve done, it actually looks like it happened by accident. But with hindsight, you are able to sit and ask, what are the fundamental lessons that I’ve learned out of that process? And that’s where the real work is. So, you can go through things, but the real work is in asking, what have I gained from that so that I don’t necessarily do that again.
The cliched line, “everything happens for a reason”, really holds true, I do believe that we are where we are and doing what we’re supposed to be doing. When it’s hard, you sit and go, ja but do I deserve to be here? I have a friend who likes quoting Steve Jobs, and to paraphrase, he says, you can only connect the dots backwards. When you look forward you don’t necessarily know the steps along the way but looking back, you can see how it’s all connected. That’s what I’ve found in my life.
I can now sit back and go, okay that makes sense because this other thing happened. When I walked into Destiny Man magazine, at the end of my first week, I went, oh that’s why I worked in so many different places. Because I was now working in a business and lifestyle magazine and you’re covering a broad range of topics. As an Editor I’m not necessarily an expert on stuff, but I need to be able to engage with articles, engage with content and engage with society with enough of a grasp of each subject to be able to go, it has a space, it makes sense to do that or it doesn’t make sense to do that.
So, sitting there on my own and reflecting on the environment I was raised in and the family businesses my Father started, and I helped run, for example, we had a newspaper, we had an insurance brokerage company, we had a management consulting company and we had an IT company. I also had a shop selling hair products and cosmetics through University. By the time I came to Joburg I had my own IT company, I worked for a cousin’s furniture company, I worked with a fashion designer, I consulted for the Post Office on public franchising and then I worked at an acting agency as a booker. So, with all those things, then going into a place like Destiny Man, and that’s when I was doing a lot of poetry, people were going, how does a poet become Editor of a magazine? Because in this society I was seen as this guy who just does poetry, meanwhile I’d majored in Economics, Marketing and Business Administration and done all these other things, so that first week, looking at all the content, it all made sense because I could connect the dots backwards.
There’s a need in society to box people in and it’s a neurological thing, our brains are powerful but lazy in the sense that they work according to maps and patterns to process information, how do you deal with people trying to figure you out or box you in? And how do you deal with The Question, “what do you do?”
I don’t even know how to answer that question, and it’s funny because I had a conversation with someone this week who really felt the need to place me somewhere and I couldn’t give her the answers to place me. It is something that people do and in a city like Joburg, when you meet, it’s standard. Five minutes into a conversation, people ask, so what do you do? Sometimes it’s just genuine interest but there’s also cities like this where there’s status attached to certain things and people are trying to place you, not just from an understanding-you-perspective, but to place you where you fit into the general scheme of things in society. There’s a guy who always used to say to me, Kojo you defy stereotype, and then on top of that ke buoa Sesotho. In South Africa, a person with my complexion is not supposed to speak the language that I speak, I don’t speak Afrikaans, I speak Sesotho because I was raised in Maseru.
I guess it comes from my father and the environment he raised me in, so I’ve never been in a space where I could say, this is what I do in this particular field. When I was at Destiny Man for those 4 years I could say I am the Editor and it ended there. Dion Chang used to talk about the slashie, you know, we’re living in the time of the slashie, the “I’m a Lawyer slash DJ slash Life Coach slash Painter” thing. The younger generation are more like that. The first time I heard Dion Chang talk about the slashie, a friend of mine from a PR Agency whispered to me, “You’re the original slashie”. So, I’ve gotten over the randomness of my life, I always say, I’m fascinated by the randomness of my life. I could be sitting here with you having this conversation and the next day I could be on a plane on my way to Scotland for a poetry festival.
I’m interested in different things because that’s just how I was taught to view the world. I went to Machabeng College in the 80s when there were like 50 different nationalities in the school. I was brought up by a Father who had a broader understanding of the world. Growing up, I’d get home and my Father would be sitting with Chris Hani and Ntate Chris Mohapi in the garden talking politics and economics. There were rows upon rows of books on every genre imaginable in the house, from Nancy Drew to Reader’s Digest to Alex Haley to Malcom X to Chinua Achebe to Economics and Legal textbooks, it was all there. I didn’t read books because of how they were positioned in society, you know, because it was an African classic or it meant I was woke or made me a more insightful human being. I would just go into my Father’s study and say, I feel like reading something, yeah, this looks interesting, this looks like it’ll entertain me. It was a highly stimulating environment. Maybe because I don’t have that filter of, this is who I am, and this is where I fit into the world, when things come in front of me, I decide based on how I feel at that moment and what I need in that moment. And that’s just how I operate. I am open to those kinds of things and as a result, those kinds of things come to me, whereas some people may be more fixed.
Being a journalist, poet, content architect, entrepreneur and all these other things, how do you consciously marshal all your gifts, knowledge and skills to serve you? How do you use your gifts and talents purposefully?
My main focus is on the lifestyle that I am looking to build for myself and my family and yes, some things are a means to an end. People look at me editing magazines and they say, oh that’s so cool, you’re doing your passion. Listen, the thing is, if I don’t write my children don’t eat, it’s my job and I don’t necessarily have to say, oh I’m so passionate about this thing, the key thing is, does it serve a purpose? As long as I don’t hate it, I’m fine with doing it. I sometimes fluctuate on the question of passion though. A couple of years ago, 3 or 4 years ago, I used to say, passion is overrated, but I think it’s also because of how and when we use ideas of passion and I think that’s part of my problem with it. We tend to use that descriptor with media and entertainment, you know, it’s always the cool sexy stuff which is a lot of work that people don’t even realize. In the magazine space, it’s high pressure and it’s constant because deadlines are fixed, so I bridled against this whole thing that something like writing for a living is all about passion. People have this very romantic view of writing, that if you write for a living you must be living a particular lifestyle, but the reality is, there’s no money in writing and it’s your job and it becomes hard.
I’m only really trying to get back into writing poetry now because at some stage poetry became one of my careers and I stopped enjoying it. So, I was passionate about it when I was just doing it for me. The minute I start saying, I want to perform, then I’m thinking of providing a service, then I can’t look at it purely as a passion project.
So, when we build our lives, when we design our lives, there are different components to our lives, and people talk about work/life balance, but I look at it as work-family-self because work is part of life, when you say work/life you’re separating the two. So, for me it’s about work, it’s about my family and it’s about myself. Sometimes it leans in one direction more than the other because in one instance you may be particularly busy and then you’re touching on family but not doing anything for yourself. Sometimes you’re doing more for self, other times it’s more for family and sometimes it’s more about work.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I am truly passionate about the lifestyle that I am building for my children. I’m raising them to be able to have certain opportunities and for them to be able to experience certain things; that I’m passionate about. It’s being able to ensure that my children can go to school and learn and when they come out, it doesn’t matter what they decide they want to do with their lives, they can do whatever they want. I was fortunate to have started travelling at a very young age and I saw the world and that influenced how I think, how I understand the world and how I view myself and the things that I do, and I want that for my children, that drives me, that’s what I’m passionate about.
The writing I do is for a purpose, it’s not a hobby, I’ve gone past hobby, and therefore it’s my work and it becomes a weight, I sometimes get tension headaches, it becomes this cross that I walk with until I’ve delivered all my articles to meet a deadline. Yes, I started writing because I love writing, but because a portion of it is my work, I couldn’t say I’m necessarily passionate about it.
So, the narrative that passion is not work and passion is easy is not one that I agree with because of this idea that being a creative means passion equals work so therefore work is not hard, and work is wonderful because it’s tied to passion, you’re on this constant passion high.
It’s like the entrepreneurship versus employee idea, not everybody is made for entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship is hard. Too many people are selling the wrong idea of entrepreneurship because the people who talk about entrepreneurship are the people who have already made millions and the definition of success in entrepreneurship is on the money. I’ve been in entrepreneurship since I was 12 years old, that’s 34 years of my life. I haven’t necessarily made millions, but I’ve had fulfilling moments in it, it fulfills me in other ways and I’m still here, I’m still operating. And say tomorrow I make my millions, that’s not the objective, the objective is lifestyle, the objective is my family. So, if somebody is in a 9 to 5 job, and it gives them what they need to be able to do the things they enjoy in the evenings and on weekends that they are passionate about, for example taking pictures, they don’t have to make a living from taking pictures. If they work a job that enables them to buy the camera that they want, to buy the lens that they want, and go to the spaces they want to take pictures, it doesn’t always have to translate into, I need to make a living out of this.