Let’s talk about excellence.
From the moment you begin speaking with Lola Tomorrow, her energy is tangible. Born to Nigerian parents, Lola grew up with a gentle nudge toward a career in medicine or engineering, but her first foray into the STEM field wasn’t the vibe she was looking for. In college, Lola started event planning and fell in love with the work of bringing people together.
Finding her power and passion in the curation of experiences and events, Lola had the opportunity to assist with the event planning for the national Parent Teachers Association and this is when she made her first connection to the White House.
As Lola pulled the event together, fabric steamer on her hip, she recalls a specific moment where her commitment to excellence grabbed the attention of White House staff. Michelle Obama was about to make her Let’s Move announcement and the press was in attendance.
As Lola looked around, she noticed that one of the table coverings were noticeably wrinkled so she did what any boss would do -- she crawled onto stage to steam the table, as Secret Service and the Chief of Staff looked on with equal parts concern and appreciation. It was this moment -- this willingness to do anything to ensure a beautiful and seamless event, that gave Lola the opportunity to travel the world with the First Lady and do what she loved.
Amidst world travel, however, she knew that there was more. Her prayer became “why am I here?” and her focus was directed to those whom she could serve and uplift. It was this passion that prompted Lola’s return to her home of Chicago to found iGlow mentoring.
Ultimately, what started as something small grew to a mentoring program developed to serve over 5000 girls in the Chicago area.
I had the chance to chat with the good sis Lola -- mentor, event planner, and thought leader -- about her journey, the lessons, and her advice for those of us who come behind her.
(responses edited for length and clarity)
Tell me about your start with the iGlow mentoring program and what you learned from it?
iGlow humbled me and allowed me to grow up. At one point, I was running purely on passion. I worked with young girls and saw that the students with average performance were not average because they wanted to be, but because no one was really encouraging them to go higher. This idea of “higher” motivated me to give everything to iGlow but giving “everything” meant that eventually I was homeless and then bankrupt.
As I was pouring into these young women, I initially bought into the stereotype that in order for entrepreneurs to be successful, we have to sacrifice everything. That is not wisdom. The only way to rise is not to give up family, health, and necessities – but being around good and Godly counsel. I am a giver, but I had to learn discipline in my giving.
To be successful does not mean you have to sacrifice all.
What was it like working as an aide to our Forever First Lady, Michelle Obama, and what can we learn from your time working with and within the White House?
After undergrad, I went into seminary and thought I was called to be a minister. I was actually there for 6 months but I didn’t feel that was the final stop and I continued thinking and dreaming about what was next. I started event planning and joined the First Lady’s team but even while traveling with the First Lady, I felt a call to ministry in the sense that I wanted to help those in my community, particularly young women. I saw some amazing things while working for the First Lady, I even did an event at Beyonce and Jay-Z’s penthouse in New York but I kept feeling a sense of direction that was pointing me to do more.
What I learned from the First Lady and what I’ve taken with me in my career was this: be yourself. People show up differently in these internet streets, but she didn’t. She didn’t have to “claim” to be a mentor, she taught me by what she did and didn’t say. Even when she was flying to multiple cities in a day, she would still be adamant about getting home by 5:30 to have dinner with her kids. She is passionate about what matters and as an ambitious woman, she showed me that I can be passionate about impacting this world and helping those in need, but still prioritize family and our moments together.
Any takeaways from the First Lady about branding and business?
Live what you talk about.
Stop for the people whose names you did not know. Know your brand and core values — be what you talk about in public and behind closed doors.
Embrace the concept of not knowing everything — you don’t have to be great at everything. Bring a team around you because that’s important – having people whose opinions and expertise you can trust, instead of feeling pressured to do it all solo.
What have your hard lessons been, about the business and/or being successful?
Trying to do it in my own way!
With the pandemic moving so many of us to virtual events, how has your job changed?
Before the pandemic, events were in person and I was coordinating high-level, corporate events with anywhere from 2,500 to 75K attendees. Before the pandemic hit, I was focused on large scale events and although the pandemic changed everything, I wasn’t worried. Once you’ve seen enough, you operate in peace and develop a silent strength when it comes to business.
What advice do you have for those who are looking to do this work?
I thought a day would come where things were just easier to do. A day when I didn’t doubt myself as much, or at all. What I learned is that’s not real. The truth of the matter is every entrepreneur has to accept that at every new season, you have to be willing to do it afraid. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
I remember I was working backstage at an event, and I saw this performer have a moment where she was all nerves. That moment stuck with me because I assumed that once you reach a certain level, you don’t doubt yourself anymore. That’s just not true. In this business, I’ve seen and learned that the same courage that it takes to take the leap, is the courage you’ll need to stay in the game.
What has been your Mogul Moment?
A year ago, I had the opportunity to bring 21 teen girls to Paris on an all-expense paid trip. Doing something of that magnitude really showed me that if I ever went back to corporate America, I would have a different concept of my value. Hosting that experience for these young girls allowed me to see how much I could do, how much I can bring to any organization, and most importantly — it confirmed the belief I carried all along that I had the potential to make a difference.