Nakia Stovell-Thomas on Sharing Your Intent With the Universe

4 months ago   •   8 min read

By Nakia Stovell-Thomas

I always tell people, “When you figure out what you want, ask for it.” Put it out into the universe. Tell everyone about your intentions. Then take the steps you need to take to get there. People will say things like, “Oh, wow, you’re lucky!” but really luck has nothing to do with it. It’s more like, “Oh, wow, you’re intentional!”

The first time I figured out what I wanted, I was 14. My Aunts were these fabulous women who traveled the world for work. I just thought that was the bee’s knees. Everywhere they went, they brought back amazing gifts and even more amazing stories. I absolutely idolized them.

One year, my Aunt took me to the Bahamas for a long weekend. And I remember coming back from that trip saying, “I want to do this every year!” As soon as I got to college I saved my money and went on a vacation every single year, including backpacking through Europe when I was 21. I’ve now been to 42 countries!

What I couldn’t have possibly realized then is that my love for travel would be the driving force that helped me grow my career and my family.

Ask for what you want.

I was 26 years old working in marketing for Bloomberg in New York, my first job fresh out of college, and I was restless. New York is amazing, and it was a coveted position at a great company, but I wanted to go see more of the world. Somehow I got it into my head that I should go to law school so I could earn more money to fuel my travel. When I attempted to resign, though, my boss wouldn’t let me. He was like, we think you’re really great, what can we do to encourage you to stay? I knew what I wanted—to travel—so I asked for it. I told him I’d love to work in one of the global offices in another country. Turns out there was a woman going on maternity leave in the Hong Kong office where one of my mentors was positioned. Within a month, I was on a plane to Hong Kong. I traveled throughout Southeast Asia for work, parlaying many of those trips into fun excursions. After three amazing, and exhausting, years I was really burnt out and ready to go back to New York.

But when I applied for my old job, they told me I wasn’t qualified. It just made no sense to me at all. It was my first real taste of corporate politics and it was just so disappointing. There had been some ruffled feathers when I got the post in Hong Kong because I was so young. It’s important to know what you want, but also what you don’t want. I didn’t want to work in an environment where my colleagues resented that I’d had the opportunity for a global post more than they valued the skills that experience could bring to the team. It was time to move on.

I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason. And though it wasn’t clear to me then, taking the step to leave that job—which felt like a big step backward at the time—was actually the biggest step forward.

Be flexible.

So I gave my notice, moved my stuff into storage in the United States, and decided to take a couple of months to travel through Africa because I hadn’t been there. One of the easiest ways to secure travel in Africa is through a volunteer placement. I don’t even remember how I found it, but I found this “baby house” called Cradle Love on a volunteer list, had a phone conversation with the woman who started it, and she was like, “Come on down, we’ll pick you up the airport in Arusha, Tanzania when you get here.”

The most rewarding work I've ever done in my life, and the best quality of life I ever had, was during the time I lived in Tanzania. I had very little money, but I had room and board, so I needed very little. My job was taking care of babies who had been abandoned or surrendered. They were anywhere from newborn to three years old. There were babies with HIV and tuberculosis, and some babies whose mothers had to make the heartbreaking choice to send them to the baby home because they did not have sufficient milk supply to feed them and couldn’t afford formula. The hope was that the baby home could take care of the babies until they were weaned.

The most rewarding work I've ever done in my life, and the best quality of life I ever had, was during the time I lived in Tanzania.  I had very little money, but I had room and board, so I needed very little.

There was a 5-month old baby there and I just...immediately connected with her. I cared about them all, but I was just drawn to her. She came to the baby home as one of two twin baby girls born to a mother living deep in the bush. Widowed by her husband shortly after she gave birth to her first child, the woman had become the property of her father-in-law and brother-in-law after her husband’s death. She was very poor both in terms of money and status. She knew that if she kept both of her daughters, one or both of them would die. So she told the director of the baby home to choose one baby to take. The director chose Nembris. It meant “Grace.” The idea was that once the baby was weaned from formula, she could be reunited with her mother.

As a volunteer, I would bring Nembris back to the village for visits. And that's how I came to know the baby's birth mother and learn about the Maasai culture. They don’t usually let people in. Girls, especially, are seen as a commodity. But this situation was unique. I’m a problem-solver and I wanted so much to help this woman solve the problem of being separated from her child. We talked about getting her microfinancing to bring the baby home. There was a sense of urgency because I would be leaving soon when my visa expired, and the baby would be moving on from the baby house since she’d be eating solid foods.

Finally, I offered to take the baby. And she looked at me like she had been waiting for me to say those words, and said, “Okay, I'll talk to the village.”

Don’t give up.

In that moment, I knew that the love of travel my Aunts had inspired in me, having the courage to ask for what I wanted at Bloomberg, and then having the courage to leave, all of it had led me to this place. I had envisioned creating a life that mirrored the elegance of the lives my Aunts led—jet-setting, luxurious, and fun. And yet, I traveled halfway around the world to figure out that what I wanted was to help this mother who was in the most impossible situation you could imagine. I wanted to help raise this beautiful baby. I wanted to be a mother myself, and put down roots. I asked for what I wanted. I put it out into the universe. I told everyone about my intentions. Then I took the steps I needed to take to get there, which meant going back to New York when my visa expired, working to save up money so I could come back, and trusting that the baby’s mother was pleading our case with the village elders.

I asked for what I wanted. I put it out into the universe. I told everyone about my intentions. Then I took the steps I needed to take to get there...

After I left Africa, I took a temp job back in New York as an executive assistant and worked and saved, worked and saved. I kept a vision in my mind of sitting on a plane with my baby on my lap. I held onto that.

One night, I got together with a friend at her boyfriend’s condo. She and I were the youngest people there, and I was feeling completely out of my depth amidst all these CEOs, VPs, and stockbrokers. In the corner of the room, this regal woman was holding court. Turned out she had started a string of Black radio stations back in the day. She had an ease about her, completely unpretentious though clearly powerful and respected, and I was drawn in by her warmth. I had shared my intent with the universe. And, over the course of the evening, I shared my story with this woman. I told her that I was saving up money to return to Africa, that I was hoping the Maasai elders would decide in my favor, and even showed her pictures of the baby. She shared with me how in the radio station days, they used to take trips to Africa and that she knew the previous president of Tanzania. She told me how much she loved those trips and the country. It was a lovely, intense, conversation. An opportunity for two women at two completely different stages of their lives to connect.

Later, when I was making a quiet exit from the party, this matriarch takes me by the elbow and asks if she can talk to me for a moment. Mind you, at this point, I'm literally going back to Africa in like, three days. I’m stressing over how I’m going to raise enough funds, thinking about putting my things in storage, wondering if it’s too presumptuous to buy a crib for my apartment. I have all these things racing through my head when I notice she’s putting something in my hand. I looked down and saw that she had written me a check for $5,000. She was like, “Take care of that baby. Take care of that family.”

This is what it means for women to help each other. Because of this stranger’s generosity, one year later, I was sitting on a plane with my baby in my lap, just as I’d envisioned. After I got settled in, I sent a note to the woman I’d met one crazy night at a party and told her, thank you. Without that conversation, without that check, I would have lived an entire life without that beautiful baby.

My daughter is 16 now. I’ve since married my college sweetheart and together we also have a 3-year-old. I have an incredibly beautiful life because I wasn’t afraid to ask for what I wanted. And I encountered strong women along the way who wanted to build me up and support my dreams. I think that’s what I want most for my daughters—and other women—to hear is this: don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and don’t forget that we are all here to help each other.

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