Audacious ambition: I did not let ADHD stand in the way of my dreams and success
No matter how long we live in the concrete jungle, we still listen, in the pauses of the Nairobi rain, for the sounds of birds. They sing, defiantly, providing a velvet carpet to carry this tale of resolve and courage and conviction, a brisk determination to go after your dreams despite being an anxious little fella.
Somewhere between the rectangular stones sits Sylvia Wambui Muriithi, the founder of Mursly Digital Group, with an ominous look in her eyes, chasing down clients like a covetous alien in an apocalyptic sci-fi film.
Mursly is an impact consulting and leadership development enterprise committed to bridging the economic and knowledge gap in Africa. Mursly works with individuals and organisations to accelerate their social impact through knowledge training, impact consulting and leadership development, whilst also offering mentorship, coaching and consulting services. It is here that Sylvia is the head honcho, the impresario with fire in her belly and eyes sparkling with sheer grit.
Has she always been like this? So audacious? She rejects the very premise of the question. There is, she says, no other way of living life. “The people in my family are very audacious. We have the audacity to speak and to try and to go after what we want, with no apologies to anyone.”
Mursly, by the way, is a portmanteau of Muriithi, “my family name,” she explains, “which helps me pay homage to who I am as a person and where I come from — and Sylvia, which is my name.” What’s in a name? Well, if you are religious, then you must know calling upon the name of your Lord and Saviour holds power; if you are agnostic then you understand being called something different has power too. It’s the same reason why storms are named after people. And she should know something about storms. The 29-year-old has done her time in the trenches — spending six years as a marketing lead across local and international markets, managing multiple large tech brands while battling ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and anxiety.
So, what’s her typical day like? “My day-to-day includes planning our to-do list with my executive assistant and engaging with our community. We are a two-man ship with contractors that work with us.” It’s called teamwork; it’s as old as the hills yet as difficult as smoke. Mursly is majorly a social impact, digital marketing and virtual assistance agency. “We are a social impact organisation for young women entrepreneurs, from 18 to 45 years old, who are out here trying to build a business. We offer them knowledge on how to run a business and offer support through mentorship by people who have been there.” Incorporated in March 2023, Mursly currently has ten clients for social impact, and six on-and-off virtual assistant ones. “We are working with Village Capital (a venture capital firm) through their mentorship programme, among others. Witnessing the impact we have had on other entrepreneurs — about 30 women — is soul-satisfying.”
In less pluralistic societies, you might assume that, with all the civil rights, empowerment and women-led incubation programmes, we would be past all the gender boardroom politics, but in reality, you would be wrong. Has Sylvia ever experienced thinly veiled discrimination? “Actually, just a few minutes ago I was having this same conversation. As a woman, it is unwritten that you show up overly prepared because you will be scrutinised a little bit harder than other people. It is a crucible. At first I used to be offended, but with time I started seeing that maybe all you need is audacity.” It is with that same audacity that she would like to expand Mursly’s reach in Africa. “I’d love to host more programmes geared towards women entrepreneurs and be the spotlight that shines on every woman that has had the audacity to build a business. I’d love to engage with potential partners that have the same outlook as us, and we’d love to partner with people looking to unlock capital for women entrepreneurs. Capital is a really big thing when you are running a business. We need to make it accessible, especially grants and equities that do not come with not too much red tape.”
Running a business, she says, has shifted her mindset. “It has pulled me out as a human being; you can really suffer from imposter syndrome and it makes you question yourself: am I really doing this for passion or money? It has shaped who I am, it has changed the way I interact with other people, how I communicate and how I generally offer my thoughts and express myself.”
Business is brutal, even if it is wrapped in the shine of ‘freedom’ and ‘BYOBs — Be Your Own Boss’. If romance is common sense leaving your body, then business is reality knocking it back in. “Business is challenging,” observes Sylvia, “Especially when you are looking for capital.” There is also the aspect that people need knowledge. We may take it for granted because of accessibility, but are you speaking someone’s language? Are you able to convince other people and be part of their platform? Do you want to be a full-fledged, woman-driven enterprise or generally an entrepreneurial enterprise? People don’t always take women enterprises seriously. And most importantly, finding the right people that align with you. It is very easy to be transactional, but are we really impacting or are we just doing business?”
That’s a reality check for other entrepreneurs to cash in on, but did she always know she wanted to be in business? “Those of us from African homes were told to read and work hard to be in corporate. But mine is a good mix: I wanted to get into the C-suite with a seven-figure salary, but Mursly was not my first dabble into entrepreneurship waters. I sold confectionery, and you know how sales are hard. Every time I tried corporate it just didn’t last. Let’s simply say entrepreneurship chose me.” She invites me to hop off the rails with her, confessing that in her journey, she didn’t have any particular person she could identify as a mentor. “Back then, nobody even really spoke about mentorship that much. This journey is so lonely. How do people even survive and do this by themselves? I looked up to people like Caroline Mutoko, and seeing their journey helped me navigate my own course.”
Now a parent, she says her biggest struggle as a person is that old monster, the imposter syndrome and its cousin, ADHD. You can understand why. “It’s hard navigating a business when our mind is so active and alive, I need a routine to tame it,” she says. “I am a very anxious person and I can always feel it. It’s a lot to navigate through this, and it puts me off. I don’t really talk about it. The challenge is negotiating through your own personality. There are things I want to do that make me seem like I am out of my mind. I still feel like there is so much to do. Anxiety, impostor syndrome and ADHD? They are with me every single day.”
Her definition of success is generally witnessing the impact that she has made on just one person. “If I died today — touch wood — and there was a legacy that Sylvia actually shifted this, or impacted this, I would die in peace. That’s what keeps me moving. I love the money, and I want to buy a G-wagon, but that feeling of accomplishing and changing someone else’s life gives me a good night’s sleep.” Failure, she says, is staying stuck in the mud, until you start smelling of it. “I tell my eight-year-old son the definition of failure is not trying. There is a difference in ‘I failed to do it’, and ‘I failed while doing it’. It is important to experience that annoying thing; just don’t fail to try.”
As a woman entrepreneur, nay, scratch that, as an entrepreneur, what piece of advice should women ignore? “That they are defined by their wombs. Also, being married or having children are important, but they are not credentials. I can’t lead by: ‘My name is Sylvia and I am married’.”
Does she consider herself smart or lucky? “I am lucky. Being smart helps, but sometimes it’s luck.”
To put it another way, while everyone else drank the Kool-Aid, she knows what got her here, and what will take her to the next level. That through her digital footprints she is leaving cookies that seem to exclaim: a woman could speak without hedging her bets, without hemming and hawing, without making nice, without poeticisms, without sounding pleasant or sweet, without deference, and even without a doubt. Thus, if there was a billboard in the world that would best surmise her life, what would it say? “This girl right here is audacious.”
This article was first published in The Weekly Review, Issue 36.