Catch Her If You Can: Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmMarch 13, 2018
There is no denying it, Lola Akinmade Åkerström is a powerhouse of productivity.
Between her work with National Geographic, owning and running multimedia and travel consulting firm Geotravel Media and acting as the editor in chief of Slow Travel Stockholm (in addition to a host of other projects, a family, and traveling the world), Åkerström certainly keeps busy. She’s also the author of the 2017 book “Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well.”
How does she do it? And how does a Nigerian-born woman find herself laying down roots in Sweden?
Åkerström’s journey is a fascinatingly unconventional one.
Lagos, Nigeria was home for Åkerström until age 15, when she relocated to study in the United States. Focusing on information systems, she graduated from the University of Maryland at 19. Her hard work and intelligence won her a spot to study computer science at Oxford University, but a lack of funding prevented her from attending.
A career as a GIS programmer and system architect proved lucrative, yet unfulfilling, for the wanderlust-filled dreamer. Itching to divulge her passion for writing and photography, Åkerström stretched her vacation days to travel the world and developed an impressive portfolio along the way.
The birth of her company, Geotraveler media, fostered an online home for her web design and social media work, and 2009 brought a now-or-never change in the trajectory of Åkerström’s life and career path. Relocating to Sweden with her husband and working as a full-time freelancer, business-owner and photojournalist meant fully abandoning her comfort zone. She left her full-time job of 10 years and took a leap of faith. Years of determination paid off big time when National Geographic took notice of her work, and the springboard effect began.
Travel is in Åkerström’s blood – her father is a geologist, her grandfather was in the shipping business and her family is currently spread across four continents. Deep down, she knew she was born to explore. However, like many of us, the pressure to settle for a life of stability loomed overhead. Things changed once she began exploring and following her passions.
“I do believe we all have an innate curiosity to explore the world,” Åkerström said. “But that innate curiosity is always threatened by fear and the unknown. As one of my inspirations, Barbara Hillary [the first African-American woman to trek to both the North and South Poles while in her 70s] told me: ‘The last thing you want to do is have a heart attack and the last face you see be that colleague you don’t like at a job you slaved away at.’ I know it sounds morbid, but it really did get me thinking about breaking the status quo and living my best life, instead of what society says I should be doing.”
As it turns out, being a multi-faceted-creative-photojournalist-mother-and-business-owner takes a lot of energy.
Åkerström’s book “Lagom” highlights the ways that this Swedish principle can be a useful tool in our daily lives. Lagom is a Swedish word meaning just the right amount, or not too little, not too much, just right. However, the author insists that the word is much more nuanced than that.
“At its core, Lagom aims to reduce stress in our lives,” Åkerström said. “Having lived in very different cultures for extended periods of time, I’ve observed that some cultures prioritize fighting stress first so they can be productive. Other cultures fight through stress while trying to be productive. Some cultures ‘accumulate’ to camouflage the stress. Other cultures ‘reduce’ to relieve the stress.
“The Lagom mindset naturally dislikes stress and so, it does its best to reduce it. For example, getting rid of things less is more), work-life (balance), relationships (trust) or situations (harmony in society) that bring unnecessary stress. Having too much or too little causes stress, so lagom tries to find its balance between both.”
Essentially, a balanced life is achievable, once we identify and manage our stressors.
Incorporating lagom in her own busy life has been essential to Åkerström’s personal and professional success.
Citing Oprah Winfrey as a source of inspiration, she insists that she’s still a work in progress “…still failing everyday and using the next day to start afresh. If you go into it doing it for the money right away, you’re bound to burn out quicker than if you are actually deeply passionate about what you’re doing. Prioritizing self-care is important for anyone pursuing their dreams. To know when to delegate and take a break and to also be kind to yourself.”
Åkerström’s story reminds us to dream big, work hard and forge our own unique path. Her passion for living a full, balanced life will continue to spark positive change for years to come.