LILLIAN AHENKAN (FLEXMAMI)
Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography courtesy of Lillian Ahenkan
Lillian Ahenkan (aka) FlexMami: DJ, presenter, writer, podcaster
FlexMami splits her time between DJ-ing, presenting for MTV, consulting, writing, podcasting, creating content for a host of beauty brands among others, sharing her manifesting wisdom – but leaves spaces for “just living.”
Steadfastly pursuing multiple projects and honing skills across the creative spectrum has served the almost 25-year-old well, but she admits in recent months she has learned to release the reins a little and turn away from focusing on goals.
“I'm letting opportunities come to me as opposed thinking that I need to have the answers.”
Goal-setting or planning our career path to the nth degree can often be to our own detriment, taking us in a directions that no longer suit us, or may not be our idea to begin with.
As FlexMami has learned, “For a long time, I placed a lot of emphasis on attaining goals that weren't really a priority to me – like making a certain amount of money, working with a certain type of company, or chasing a feeling of success. Then I thought, ‘For what, darling? For a paycheque?’ I got the paycheque and I didn't even feel good about myself. I was achieving things but at the sacrifice of interpersonal relationships, my own mental health, my esteem.”
Often the best creative opportunities appear in the periphery. “I could never have anticipated the life I have now or the income streams I have, so to set such clear goals that dictate my path is only to my detriment.”
FlexMami’s day to day reflects this openness, and it’s refreshing to hear she thrives in the unstructured. “I'm not very good at routine. That's the reason why I didn't finish university and stopped working in an office – I don't like structured environments.”
Rather than productivity being the measure of whether a day has been well spent, FlexMami shows us that it’s about knowing how to work smarter, not harder. “There have been times when I've been working my hardest and I've nothing to show for it, and there have been times when I've been listening to podcasts for 12 hours and sent one amazing email and that got me an amazing gig that keeps me alive for the next year. It's just one of those things where you have to be accountable for how you resource your practice, and understand that if it's working for you positively or negatively.”
FlexMami can fit a lot in a day, perhaps credit to embracing unconventional work hours – a comfort to the night owls among us, as well as a reminder for us all to find the way that works for you.
A day in the life
I can wake up at any time between eight and midday – it's irrelevant to me, because I do most of my work at night anyway.
My main concern is missing parcels and urgent emails that come in the morning. My doorbell rings incessantly, and I hate leaving the house to do errands so if I miss a package it really puts a spanner in the works.
When I’m up I’ll check my emails, which is annoying, I should be meditating instead! After I check my email, I start to figure out what are my actual priorities.
Then I'm straight into the shower. I shower twice a day, in the morning and in the night. That's just how I do it. I’ll go put on makeup so I can film it and take a photo, post it up to Instagram and it's like I've crushed up my social media duties for the day. I might also submit the look to brands in the hopes of pitching myself or I might be creating content for an existing client.
Then from there I pretty much go sit on my couch all day. I might change back into my pyjamas or something with a full face of makeup. It means that if someone asks me to come into for a meeting or if a friend wants to do some work in a café together, then I'm prepared – if you stay ready, you don't have to get ready.
Most days, I don't have to leave the house. I'll have a shoot here and there, but they'll either be at night, or in the evening, or I'll have to travel interstate or overseas for them.
During the day I’ll be strategising ways I can make future income. I just keep sending out those emails, I keep making calls, I keep doing things that I have to do in the day time. That could be anything from going to MTV to work, going out to an office to write a proposal, sending parcels, anything I can do in the day.
I always tell people if you notice that my Instagram story doesn’t look like Morse code, then it’s probably because I’m actually doing proper work that I can’t just lunge through.
I'm so terrible with food. Out of all the things I can get excited about in life – clothes, makeup, personality archetyping and the apocalypse – for me food isn’t a passion point. Instead of trying to wrestle with eating better, I just eat what I know and I what I like.
I think I survive mostly on drinks – juices and soft drinks – because they just keep me going. And then maybe I'll have a bit of a grape. I’ve learned that if I eat something carb-heavy during the day then I will just lose all motivation. For me, I live and work off my fat reserves and pump it out, pump it out, pump out those emails!
Then when I can take a break because nobody's sending me a random email, I'll go ham and get Maccas. I'll probably get a large double cheeseburger meal and then have a slump after eating that.
While some people look to me as like this aspirational figure who's got it figured out, it's really not the case. I like people to know there are so many things I do not do well – I eat terribly, I don’t drink water. But then, I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t get sick?
My proper work day starts around 6pm. After traditional business hours is a great time to work – nobody really emails me or annoys me, so it’s time to start creating the content I need to create.
What I work on depends on my priority for that week – I don’t execute all of my income streams or all my verticals every week, it’s not really how it works. I might have a week where DJ-ing is what I’m doing and that’s the priority, so I make sure that I don’t have any beauty content due so I can just focus on one thing.
If I have beauty submissions due, that could mean in one night, I might do three faces of makeup, which takes roughly eight hours and that’s just literally putting on makeup and taking it off.
I’ll spend one or two nights making sure I have all the shots and then I’ll sit down and edit. Editing is the most tedious thing ever, because if for some reason you haven’t got the shot you wanted what are you meant to do? You guessed it, re-film.
If I’m doing proposals or I’m pitching and stuff, it’s literally me on my new sofa behind my computer. That’s an average day – it’s not actually putting on makeup, it’s not actually leaving my house to DJ, it’s sitting on my couch answering emails and creating documents in Photoshop and InDesign.
Sometimes I might do a shoot for my own social media content. What I’ve realised recently is that I’m an influencer last. I try to be really mindful about how much time I spend resourcing the creation of a single image in return for money. Because if I’m investing more than I’m getting out of it, even in terms of just emotional satisfaction, then it’s not really worth it for me.
Now that I don’t do clubs, DJ-ing doesn’t really impact my sleep schedule.
In general, I don't sleep unless I'm knackered – I don't just go to bed because it's midnight because I would just keep doing whatever I’m doing in bed.
I learned recently that I shouldn't have things that mirror work in my bedroom. I took my computer out, I took my desktop out, I took all the makeup stuff out. It's just literally a bed, a bedside table, a chair, a lamp, candles so that when I enter that space, it's literally sleep time and I will not try to mess around and be on Twitter or anything.
So I go to sleep when I physically cannot stay up anymore, which is usually like 4am. You hear how all the best business people wake up at 4am because you get a head start on the day – I think the same logic applies for going to bed at 4am.
I still have to start on the day by being up from midnight to four and getting it done. That way, when I do get up there will be emails in my inbox, as opposed to doing the emails at six in the morning and then having to wait for replies. That just sounds inefficient.
So I go to sleep when I need to go to sleep.
Behind the scenes
On the difference between getting it done and honouring your best self…
I’m trying not to do things at the expense of myself anymore. So I don't like to double-book, for instance. I don't want to do two DJ gigs that are four hours each in one day. I don't want to run to some meetings, or to here or there because it's just not me being my best self, it's me just getting it done.
While that was a good way to get to this point in my career, I feel like in order to sustain what I'm trying to create and build, it needs to be a little bit nuanced and I need to be a little bit more patient with the process.
While I have done a lot of things in a very short amount of time, I didn't have to. I could've waited an extra month, an extra two months. I didn't need to cancel that holiday and not go to that friend's birthday party or whatever.
On taking the leap into freelance…
I said to myself when I took the leap into freelancing that I wasn't going to sacrifice my lifestyle to do it. It was never going to be a hindrance to the life that I built. I think as soon as I was able to live alone, and buy the things that I wanted, and live a life of excess in the way that I was comfortable doing, it's like, "I can't go back from this.”
I’ve been really particular about my income streams and making the most of them – for instance with DJ-ing I don't need to do 30 hours of that anymore because I've gotten to a point where I can do less and get paid more. Now I’m at a point where that work is what I rely on to get everything paid and everything outside of that is just the cherry on top. It's what allows me to save and take sporadic holidays, and eventually buy that farm I want.
On learning to refine your decision making process…
My decision making process recently has been asking, “Do I actually want to do this? Yes or no? Okay, yes. Am I doing it for branding? Am I doing it for the right alignment? Am I doing it because I'm passionate about it? Choose one."
Then from there, "Is this worth the time that it's going to take? Is this conducive to meeting X, Y, and Z? Is this an audience I'm trying to target?" Then with those things in mind, "Do you actually want to do it?" Often, it's like, "No." Sometimes it's like, "You know what? Maybe not, but I've got time." Other times, it's like, "You know what? I need the money for X."
I'm trying to make the most of a really unique situation here and also keep in mind that it's fleeting. I'm going to enjoy it for what it is as well as prioritise the things that are important to me, like making sure that I'm being understood, and heard, and seen, and acknowledged.
On the benefits of learning to do everything…
I am not very good at delegating, and I learned that very early on from working in an office where I was managing people and just refusing to acknowledge that other people have skills.
That aside, I also want to be able to understand things so I know what my expectations should be and appreciate what is happening.
There are so many hours in the day, so I don't necessarily understand why you would want to outsource before learning the skill yourself. It actually makes you quite expendable – people now know I have the capability. For instance, being a successful DJ really has little to do with presenting but it amplifies my career, so I get paid more to present.
I don't get bogged down by the frustrations of learning the skill – if I encounter a minor issue trying to figure out how to edit and stuff, I'm thinking about how learning this will help me get this job and that's what I’m working towards.
We've grown up in an age where we're constantly curating and producing content that scaling our skills up slightly isn't as hard as people would like it to be. It's all excuses really. I feel like for the most part, hesitation or the insecurity comes from not trying. If you haven't tried it, it must be hard. The moment you put pen to paper or get the software and give it a whirl, you realise it's not that hard. Put you brain to work!
On the perception of busyness and the reality of downtime…
I don't want to paint this picture where I am constantly on and getting it and being busy, but I do think changing my perception on my lifestyle has made me feel less busy.
The things that pay my bills are also things that I find relaxing. I might be on YouTube for six hours just watching random videos, but that feeds into my practice because I need to understand what's being spoken about and understanding the platform and who's doing well.
So my downtime would be a lot of podcast listening and Netflix-ing. I really indulge in that – I won’t be shamed for taking the time I need to just do nothing. I can happily spend a day listening to podcast for like 12 hours just on and off – I could do anything, but this is what I want to be doing. It's just amazing. I don't feel bad about it.
I think that me two years ago would have been like, "No. That's a bad use of time. I could have done this and that and this and that,” but I now realise I need the balance. Acknowledge your cravings – act on them or don't, but deal with them. I don’t like to drag things out, I just like to own it, so when I listen to podcast for 12-hours, I'm going to own it.
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