From the ages of 5 to 22, we are indoctrinated through formalized education with this competitive ideology of success and how much we need it to thrive within this world. Growing up our idea of success is academic achievement. We are consumed and focused solely on our education (unless we choose not to do so and ruin our parents’ dreams). We spend our childhood and adolescence chasing after good grades with the hope of getting into an amazing school for free with an academic scholarships. Post college, we either sink or swim in this game of life. The game, who can earn the most money, buy the most things and live the “best” life. If we don’t catch ourselves, we can get lost in materialism, achievement, and professional success forgetting what is actually important to us- ourselves and our well-being. When you holistically neglect yourself, all other notions of life and what it means to be successful become tasteless. Life becomes unfulfilling. I know first-hand.
A year ago at this time I almost lost my life while studying abroad in Accra, Ghana. I was completing an internship through my alma mater- Lehigh University. It was my first time out of the continental United States for such an extended period of time (six weeks). My parents were nervous but I was excited to take on this new adventure. I had just finished an extremely stressful year at Lehigh juggling an internship, work study, full course load and of course the struggles of attending a Predominately White Institution (PWI) as a person of color (POC) and first generation college. This involved learning how to survive in a very apathetic atmosphere where self-interest trumped any idea of a collective community. This trip was supposed to be an exhilarating experience and reprieve from a toxic time frame. I was going to be in the motherland reconnecting with my roots, rocking the latest dashikis, navigating my way through Accra and living my life the way it was supposed to be.
All of those things definitely happened. I had an incredible and unforgettable experience with an amazing group of individuals. I felt so connected to myself, to a larger community. It was the first time I had ever felt a part of a greater whole. The connection to the community and sense of welcoming and acceptance was heartfelt. Fast forward to the last week. After a physically and psychologically draining day of touring the Elmina Slave Castle on Cape Coast, I was found in the bathroom unconscious. After being rushed to the hospital, it had been discovered that the cause was internal bleeding. I was flown to France for further treatment. During that time of reflection I realized how prone to stress I was. This was the worst thing that could have ever happened.
For so long I spent the essence of myself trying to please parents, teachers, professors, mentors and others by doing what I thought they wanted me to do. I neglected my wellness, to the point I was the one who suffered physically because of my lack of self-care. I could not believe it. I thought I was successful- a soon to be college senior, completing an international internship and having the experience of a life-time. I had been achieving the goals I set and accomplishing the potential I was always told I had. Instead, I failed one of the most important things I had- myself.
This failure of myself is one of my greatest failures that shaped me into who I am today. Negativity is deadly. Negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions can affect you in so many ways that it. For the first time I learned how to just LIVE. We are so used to being forced to strictly follow the rules and adhere to the “way” life is supposed to work. Go to school, get a degree, become smarter, get a job, and make money. Society expects us to dispense so much of ourselves just to live comfortably. We sacrifice personal fulfillment, balance and holistic growth and finding the true meaning of each and everyone of our lives. We become self-absorbed, rather than pursuing personal enlightenment that allows us to reconnect with humanity.
As scholars we are enrolled in the school of life. There are so many things going “wrong” in our journeys. Some of us may not know what our next step is and nothing may make sense to you. It definitely did not to me and probably still doesn’t. Keep going and enjoy every moment of this journey because it can be cut short at any moment. Embrace your imperfections and failures for making you who you are today and remain authentic to your values. I sit here one year later, a college graduate on the search for professional opportunities while working on my personal holistic development first and foremost. It is a daily grind of the mind, body and spirit but once you get into a rhythm and you are in check, it will eventually all come together. You just have to change yourself before you can think about changing the world.
Do not be afraid to show yourself some love. Meditate. Exercise. Nourish your body well. Breathe. Disconnect from the world. Read an actual book for the first time and stop using your phone for an hour a day. Spend time with those you love and cherish the journey. Do whatever it takes to achieve your balance and personal fulfillment because if you don’t, you can easily become trapped into this robotic lifestyle, conforming to the mold and sacrificing happiness to satisfy the expectations of others.