What an honor and a joy it is to be privy to the personal stories of my former students. Hearing how they’ve turned struggles into successes gives me a comforting feeling in my chest, especially when they share how our experience together helped them to nurture the best version of themselves. In this episode, I reconnected with Chizi Duru, a blossoming social media entrepreneur who is on her way to creating a personal empire.
I first met Chizi in 2009, when she first stepped into my dance class. She was self-assured, had some spunk and loved to dance. So much so, that she took dance classes all four years, performing in our concerts as one of the “regulars.” In her senior year, she joined Thespians when she auditioned for our production of The Wiz, and she was cast as Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North, dazzling audiences dressed in a gorgeous gold gown, spreading her Nigerian magic and good humor across the stage.
After graduating in 2013, Chizi continued her studies at SUNY Albany, where she received her Bachelors of Science in Biology with a minor in Communications. Her intention, as a young Nigerian-American woman, was to go to medical school and be the uber-achiever of success that was expected in her family and culture. However, her definition of success took her on a very different path.
Success, as defined by Chizi
Today, Chizi is using the skills learned from her college communications minor, and is taking the social media universe by storm as a full-time content creator and YouTube personality, on-air host and talent, print model, wellness enthusiast and overall entrepreneur. She has followers: 573,000 on her YouTube channel to be exact, with millions upon millions of views of her videos covering family, hair and skin care, fashion, lifestyle and so much more. Not to mention the 200k on IG and 150k on Tiktok.
Who does that? Chizi does.
Chizi Duru knows who she is, what message she wants to convey, and brings her best self forward, showing the realities of life as a black woman with darker skin and 4C natural hair. Her mission is to create a space for women to love themselves authentically so they may step into their power. She has partnered with Fortune 500 brands and companies like Dove, Walmart, Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Pandora Jewelry, HBO Max in promoting that ideal.
The role of content creator/influencer/entrepreneur/media personality is not an easy one. Her path was never planned in advance; it all started in 2011 when she started to share her hair-care and life journey videos. It was a way for her to explore who she was, because she spent many of her early years disliking what she saw in the mirror. Her skin was too dark, her hair was too kinky-curly; she had trouble embracing the person she was. She knew that she wasn’t alone in those feelings, and as she continued to post videos, she discovered her passion for communicating and sharing her experience with the world. Initially, her view counts were low, likely friends and family supporting her. But, she persisted:
How I started and where I’m at now; nothing is matching up! There’s just no way I could have seen or predicted this happening but I did have a gut feeling. It was something I cared about, was passionate about.
It was such a driving force that in college, she started to have second thoughts about her career path. The pursuit of medical school did not satisfy her, and something kept nudging her towards the communications field. In the end, Chizi kept her heart open and followed it all the way. Her creative spirit is like a live wire, igniting those sparks of inspiration into a successful career. She shares her magic, as well as her concerns and thoughts about life with bare-faced transparency. Her authentic self is relatable, straight-forward, and empowers others to do the same. And to be honest, save for some maturity, who Chizi is at her core has not changed.
Chizi was a spunky, determined adolescent who was shy until you got to know her. She enjoyed the freedom of dreaming without barriers in her younger years. This was before the time when “reality” and fear set in and overthinking became the norm. She could believe in her dreams and act without question. She didn’t have to consider business objectives and marketing strategies or who her audience was for the things she was inspired to try.
Chizi looks back on herself as having been very wise with an ability to see beyond her years. The only problem was that she didn’t always heed the guidance of the people around her to help give those big dreams affirmation and direction. She also enjoyed having fun, but admitted that behind the fun, she had a very tough time in her first couple of years of high school. She found a comfort zone in the dance studio, and used it as an outlet to validate her desire for self-expression. In the middle of her busy school day, she could come to dance class, move and be free, turn off her academic brain for a time and reset herself.
While she learned a lot from her studio experience, she mentioned one specific moment that particularly impacted her in a very positive way. Apparently, she was having a bad day, and I must have taken notice and gave her a comforting hug.
That experience taught me so much, just how important it is to be kind to others. People go through things, you don’t know what they’re going through. Be aware of the people around you and what they could possibly be experiencing.
The simple act of a loving hug allowed her to be seen, which is something that most adolescents are desperate for.
One of the reasons I started my YouTube channel was because I didn’t feel ‘seen.’
Well Chizi, I’m telling your adolescent self that you are certainly seen today. Many people appreciate you.
I asked Chizi if she could think of any other lessons that she learned in the studio that she carries over to her adult experience. There’s one big idea that seems to encompass so much of her life:
Feel the fear, and do it anyway.
The process of overcoming her fear stemmed from both her Thespians and dance concert experiences. In her junior year, after two years of staying away, she finally summoned up the courage to audition for the musical. The audition song was a soprano vocal part, and Chizi was most definitely a low alto.
It was the most nerve-racking thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was terrible, I think I blacked out. What I got from it was that I still did it. That’s what gave me the courage to come back the next year.
Despite the fact that she didn’t make the cut in 11th grade, she came back as a senior and absolutely made the cut. She finally had her chance to dazzle audiences and shine like the sun; she was fabulous.
A word about imposter syndrome
As we talked about overcoming her fears, it made me remember something. I had done some research for Chizi’s interview and came across one of her videos called I Never Knew I Struggled With This. In it, she talks candidly (as she puts on her makeup) about dealing with “imposter syndrome,” the feeling that you have no business doing the thing you are doing. Imposter syndrome is felt by most people, I think, and it plagues us with fearful thoughts of someone “finding us out,” discovering that we aren’t who we think we are, or don’t deserve the position we have.
Imposter syndrome is a very real, insidious and repetitive thought pattern that particularly affects high-achieving individuals. I imagine there are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who quietly ruminate about feeling like a fraud. The more we talk about this, especially out loud with other people, the more the feeling is demystified and the opportunities become boundless. We can actively work to bolster our sense of self-worth by actively and vocally grappling with those feelings. Despite the nagging, Chizi finds it important to keep the momentum moving forward. She explains:
When you feel what you fear, and do it anyway, there’s so much beauty waiting on the other side. If you’re not feeling fear, you’re not living life.
There’s Chizi’s wisdom at work. How else could she have garnered so many followers who are complete strangers?
How has Chizi changed?
Since her high school days, Chizi has calmed down a bit and gotten a better handle on her emotions. Therapy has been an important part of her mental health journey. Chizi highly recommends it if you are going through some tough things, especially for adolescents, who often feel like the bad things that happen to them are the end of the world. Having the safe space of therapy was extremely helpful to her teenage self.
Chizi is also a lot more confident in who she is and the gifts she has to offer the world.
I’ve seen enough times, tried enough things, had enough experience where I’m like ‘okay, what I feel and who I am and how I looks is beautiful, valid, needed.’
She didn’t always feel that way, which was why she originally started her YouTube platform. She knew that other women felt the same way she did and the channel was a way to connect to them. When she started to post her content, an empire was conceived.
Chizi also grapples with different things now. First and foremost, her biggest challenge is in defining what success really means to her and acknowledging what she has already accomplished at 25.
I am a Nigerian girl, and achievement is just baseline. Even though I didn’t necessarily go the traditional route of going to medical school and achieving that with degrees, everything that I do in my life and career right now is still successful. I’ve achieved a lot.
The thing is, you can start to get into this cycle of always trying to achieve the next thing. Setting insane goals for yourself that I’ve now had to sit back and think ‘where are these goals coming from, and why do I feel I need to achieve all of this?’
Now, I’m trying to figure out what truly makes me happy, what I believe is impactful, and resting in that.
…for her her young self
Keep writing down my thoughts. In sixth grade, Chizi kept a personal journal. She continues that regular writing practice through today. It was a safe outlet for her to unload things and she has held on to all of her journals through the years. She loves to go back and read them to see where her head was, what she was thinking and feeling, and how she worked through it all. Reflecting back on these documents make her realize just how wise a young woman she was and how far she has come.
Seek God for yourself. Religion was always a part of Chizi’s upbringing, but she notes that when she was younger, it surrounded her, rather than being a central part of her own life. Her relationship with God now has come out of a need to surrender to something bigger than herself, to center herself through her life journey so she can keep going in a focused way. It is the grounding, guiding force that has helped her to follow her own path.
…for teenagers today
What teenagers tend to lose sight of is that the entire spectrum of their lives aren’t happening all at once when they are 17. Their eyes are just being opened to more adult experiences and that exposure can easily lead to poor decision-making. Chizi was emphatic when she said:
Do NOT do drugs.
She has seen the toll that they have taken on the people around her; lives destroyed or lost from following self-destructive choices. Her messaging for teens is very clear:
Life is a marathon. The things that you do now; you’re literally in your development years. So all of the things you are teaching your brain to do right now, how you cope, will follow you. If you don’t find healthy ways to cope with the things you’re going through right now, if you don’t build your discipline, your focus, your drive, and motivation – you would really be doing yourself a disservice. You need to use this time to develop that right now. Drugs are really going to mess with your mind; you need your mind to get through life.
She talked more at length about how teenagers are so afraid of “missing out” on something, how they feel compelled to go to parties, and entertain risky experiences. She has this to say:
You’re not missing out on as much as you think you are. Chill out. Really develop your skill for focusing and being disciplined because that is really what you’re going to need in life. Forget all the friends that tell you the opposite of what I’m saying. In ten years, you’re going to find those people in the exact same spot. The truth is, misery likes company. They’re not your friend.
Chizi speaks the truth. She has first-hand experience with enjoying the fruits of her values. When your life is set up, when you’ve made the money through the effort of your focus and discipline, the world opens up to you. Then, the real fun begins.
Chizi shares her favorite self-care
Being a busy entrepreneur, where her path is determined by a combination of her drive and the resulting offers the universe throws her way, Chizi’s life can get complicated and messy. Staying focused, organized, and always shifting your plans to maintain a successful business takes its toll. Here are four strategies that Chizi relies upon to help her stay centered, grounded, and moving forward:
#1 Reading the Bible and talking to God. This is how she starts her day. She started this practice just this year and she says it has been a game-changer. Prayer is her form of meditation, and it helps to level out her anxiety by giving her a great perspective for the day. You get to give your problems to your father; you can release that and go into the day knowing things are going to work out for my good – it’s going to be okay.
#2 Leaving my environment. So much of her work as a social media influencer is done at home. As much as she loves her home, when you spend that much time there, it’s time to get out and take a walk to shake off the work day.
#3 Working out. This is a huge one for Chizi. This takes care of getting her out of the house and gets her blood pumping and she loves the happy hormone boost that she gets from a good sweat session.
#4 Journaling. Again, this practice has been Chizi’s way of getting out anything and everything her brain is thinking about and leaving it there. It is so powerful, it is spiritual, and I 10/10 recommend everyone do it.
A little peek into Chizi “back in the day”
Watch the full interview on YouTube here!