"I said 'yes' to the temp job I hated [that] allowed me to perform comedy at night," she said. "I said 'yes' to taking over a stand-up show in New York City. I said 'yes' to a residency in a college production in Richmond, Virginia, that gave me two days to get there. I said 'yes' to being a writer in the writers' room for a TV show in L.A."
She explains that "there was a lot of hustle and there was a lot of setbacks," but she refused to give up. When the show she was writing for got cancelled, Orji started to think of ways to create her own opportunities. In 2016, she developed a series called "First Gen," based on her own life, about a Nigerian woman who drops out of medical school to pursue a career in comedy.
Though the series was never picked up by a network (Orji released the videos on YouTube) it was her work on "First Gen," she says, that served as her audition tape for "Insecure."
"It's what Issa [Rae] was able to see and turn to the producers and say, 'Give her a shot,'" she said. "I didn't have an agent, manager, anything. I had never acted. So this is HBO — Home Box Office — this is not, like, a small production. And this thing that I hunkered down and accomplished was what Issa was able to be like, 'Let's try her out!'"
Now, as she gears up for the show's fourth season, Orji says she's happy that she listened to that inner voice that kept pushing her to keep going.
"Inside all of us exists some kind of compass — whether it's divine or otherwise — but it's something desperately trying to navigate you and all of us to the life we know we were destined to live," she said. "I think the choice is pretty simple: Keep letting fear sidetrack you, or take what you've been given, maybe even told from God above, and say 'yes.'"
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!
Mindy Kaling reveals how she learned to be confident — and why it's key to success