When Sharlene and I met, we were both relieved to find someone who understood how influential being raised in an ‘immigrant’ community can be. When we decided on a family name, we chose Kerelejza to honor the spirit of her paternal grandmother (on her adopted side) whose legacy spoke to the power of survival. The Haitian, Polish, and Ukrainian stories our children hear speak to the people in our families that survived violence, poverty, and discrimination.
“No pressure.” I would mutter under my breath after hearing from family, “…you kids have so many opportunities we never had.” Education meant a job, a job meant security, and security was everything in their minds.
The pressure was overwhelming. My family wanted my brother and me to live the Cosby dream. He would be the doctor and I would be the lawyer. Fortunately, my older sibling wanted to be a doctor and was able to accomplish this goal (twice). At six, when our grandfather died of cancer, he decided he wanted to find a cure for cancer. Although the quest for a cure continues, his educational and work experience have been in clinic and laboratory settings in this field. I am so proud of him for living his dream.
I am not an attorney, though I enjoyed watching Judge Wapner on the People’s Court in the eighties. At eighteen I had a breakdown that eventually led to a very private and deep spiritual journey. In those five years, my life looked something like: panic attacks, undergraduate courses, therapy, and coming out of the closet. I met my future wife at the end of this time and my life has been pretty amazing and really quite beautiful.
I imagine like many people at this point in life, I continued to struggle with what I wanted to be when I grew up. Social Work was a great place to continue the journey. This profession has offered me a place to live the social justice instilled from my family, provide ‘service’ that speaks to my spirit, and an academic paradigm that challenges my overall development. Still, the messages of my youth continue. Up until five years ago, my mother was researching law school programs. Shhh…I secretly have as well. The truth is that I place more pressure on myself to be ‘something or someone’ of worth.
Three years ago I stopped beating myself up (it was a pretty ugly), and decided to use this energy for self-reflection. I started to journal, read books on mindfulness, and started meditating. More recently, I have been exercising, eating better foods, and spending a lot of time in nature (a truly sacred experience). Sounds good right? Well…
I still have moments of intense vulnerability. As I practice more experiences of ‘authenticity’, telling people in my life exactly what I believe or living my values, I experience anxiety ‘hangovers’ that can leave me physically exhausted. Fear, doubt, and insecurity can be a daily experience when I slip into a belief that I’m just not good enough. This is the point in which I bring myself back to self-reflection.
At some point, I created a large sign inside my closet that reads, ‘Live Inside Your Life.’ I cannot remember the exact experience that led me to this. I’m grateful for whatever it was, as it’s a mantra that’s ‘just right’. When I think about a painful moment, or consider what kind of job I should have, degree I should obtain, or person I should be more like; ‘Live Inside Your Life’ brings me to a place of calm and refocuses me on what I really want to be when I grow up. In a simple way I have discovered that I just want to be me and that is good enough.