Our soul is the foundation of who we are. But, why do we often make ourselves an afterthought and instead seek validation outside of us? In this episode, Najwa Zebian discusses her latest book, Welcome Home: A Guide to Building a Home for Your Soul, and unravels years of learning about herself to find and build her place in this world—a home within. Najwa is a Lebanese-Canadian activist, speaker, educator, author, and host of the Stories of Soul podcast. She joins Whitney Lauritsen for an insightful conversation on how to be there for you. Listen in as they dive deep on topics such as racism, advocating for ourselves, the roots of people-pleasing, and more. Stay tuned for this eye-opening episode.
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How To Build A Home For Your Soul Within With Najwa Zebian
The Difference Between Knowing And Doing
We started speaking about the difference between knowing and doing, which I’m excited to dive into with you. Before we begin, would you please introduce yourself?
It is interesting with names before we get into the subject I mentioned. A few episodes back, there was a guest who had a much more complicated name. I would have pronounced it Najwa as well. I’m glad that my instinct was right. Names in general, especially more complex names I have been reflecting on, I often feel insecure. Even common names, I’m trying to think of an easy example here. There are names that I see written all of the time and feel familiar to me on the page, but saying them out loud is a personal thing for me that I tend to stumble.
I feel insecure because it is such an important way to honor somebody by properly pronouncing their name. I see it as a form of respect. It is a skill that every time I come up against, I want to practice more. I studied French growing up in high school and I know a lot of French. I can read it quite well and I still feel incredibly uncomfortable speaking it. It is this fear that I will get it wrong or sound stupid or silly. It is embarrassing.
It has kept me all these years, especially since high school, where I’m not practicing it every day like I used to. It has kept me from speaking a language that I love because I’m embarrassed and feel shame around it. I would love to dive into this a little bit more before we circle back to the other topic. With your name, is it common for people to mispronounce your name and feel insecure about it? What is that like for you?
It is common for people to mispronounce my name. I don’t know that it is common for them to feel embarrassed as a result. I find that as soon as I tell someone like, “This is how you pronounce my name. It is not Nashua or Noshua. It is Najwa,” usually, the reaction I get is, “That is so beautiful.” I rarely get like, “I’m so sorry.” The way that it is spelled is Najwa. If you have never been to a country where the spoken language is Arabic, because Najwa is an Arabic name, you wouldn’t know. How would you know?
I used to allow people to pronounce my name however they wanted to. I remember after moving to Canada at sixteen, my teachers would say Nashua or Noshua, and I would be fine by it. I started introducing myself that way because I thought, “That is how most people say it anyway. They are going to say it that way, so why not pronounce it this way?” When I started teaching, I was working with ESL students. It is English as a Second Language for those who don’t know.Your name is a big part of your identity. Click To Tweet
They would walk into the class and when I would see them saying their name not the way that it is pronounced, it would bother me. I did my Master’s in Multiliteracies and Multilingualism. I know from research that your name is a big part of your identity. I would remind them to say their name as it is and not shy away from it. There were some kids who changed their whole name because they wanted it to be pronounced properly.
In a way, it felt like they were erasing a part of their identity because they figured the world was not going to understand this part of my identity anyway. Once I started advocating for them and helping them understand like, “This is who you are. People should learn how to say your name. They can say your name,” it also increases your confidence to be able to say like, “This is who I am. It might be uncomfortable for you to learn how to say my name and maybe stumble a few times before you get it right, but I would like for you to say my name properly.”
I even had a couple of friends or colleagues in my Master’s program who were from China and their names were very hard to pronounce. I remember them giving me a completely different name, saying, “This is not my name, but you can call me this.” I’m like, “No, I want to learn your name.” I remember the level of appreciation I felt from them because I took the time to say their names properly. For me, that advocacy for others reminded me to do the same thing for myself.
Thank you so much for articulating that way and sharing your experience. This is what I mean. I also feel like it is likely a result of White privilege and being in America. It feels like, “I don’t have to learn how to say your name. It is excusable.” I can say, “I don’t know how to pronounce it and avoid it.” To your point, it is part of somebody’s identity, and it doesn’t feel fair for me to use excuses because it makes me uncomfortable. It is a form of honor for all the reasons that you expressed. It is my responsibility to work through the discomfort and practice that more often.
This is something that I have been reflecting on since I became more committed to learning about racism and all of these subtle ways in which I participated as a White person in racism simply through things like, “It is uncomfortable for me, so I’m not going to do it,” versus it is my responsibility to get uncomfortable, like the name of the show, because it is not about me. Your name is about you. My discomfort in pronouncing it is after something I have to own up to, not try to escape and put the burden on you to have to change your name or something.
The responsibility is reciprocal in this case because it is your responsibility to overcome that discomfort that you know you will experience by saying something that you have never said before or learning how to say something and saying like, “I’m going to make it part of my dictionary. This is how this name is said. Maybe this is a new sound. This is a new way to roll the R in someone’s name.”
I also think it is the responsibility of the person whose name is different from advocating for themselves without assuming 100% of the responsibility is on the person learning it. This is not just about names. It is also about cultural norms, religious norms, and whatever it is that you want the host community or the general community to know. It is your responsibility to speak up as well. I feel like it is an exchange.
It is also your responsibility to learn about this host community that you are a part of. I have been part of conversations where people say, “It is fully the responsibility of the host community, especially when it comes to conversations about White privilege.” I’m always thinking there is a responsibility on both. There has to be an exchange and a level of openness on both sides. It can’t just be one because I feel like that opens room for resentment and for doing things out of tolerance and not genuine respect for the other culture, religion, or identity.
I’m so glad that we were speaking about this because it is not something that has been addressed on this show in the way that you are expressing it. Thank you so much for that. It is very complicated. Because it feels uncomfortable, I have never even brought it up. I have in the sense that I expressed that I feel embarrassed because I have trouble pronouncing things and their aim specifically.
It also reminds me of a book I started listening to as an audiobook and reading as well by a former guest named Celeste Headlee. She came out with a book called Speaking of Race. One line in that book that stuck with me is how people want to talk about race when they feel like the other person is going to agree with them or they feel like it is going to be comfortable. That again sat with me. One of my aims in life is to not shy away from things that make me uncomfortable, but I do find myself doing it sometimes.
Sometimes we have to catch ourselves when we are going towards comfort, or we have these old habits. It would make sense growing up being younger and more ignorant or whatever stage you are in. You have practiced doing things like the name pronunciation issue as we were talking about here or perhaps on your side, trying to cater to others, which is part of it. You are either trying to make yourself or others feel more comfortable or both at the same time.
We got into these habits where we were seeking out comfortable situations. If it is uncomfortable, it is like, “I’m going to skirt away from it, so I don’t have to change.” When I heard that line in the book, I thought, “I want to seek out more uncomfortable conversations around race because how else am I going to learn otherwise?” Learning your perspectives on this is so refreshing because it gives me a new way of looking at the experience that you are having.Equity is the word we need to be using, which means giving a population what it needs. Click To Tweet
I think about it from the perspective of someone maybe who has racist thoughts, beliefs, or tendencies. If they are going to have a conversation about race, they want to speak to somebody who is not going to make them feel like they are in the wrong. It is not just from the perspective of the person who is trying to learn more, be more open-minded and understand the experiences of others. It is also from the perspective of those who have those beliefs that need to be changed.
Imagine the discomfort you feel when you are having a conversation with someone who, for example, makes a racist comment. How does that feel? Are you open to having a conversation with that person and maybe trying to change their perspective or understanding or use your empathy and their empathy to help change their mind? Are you going to say, “This person is completely close-minded. I’m not going to do this?” That is the conversation that matters and is going to make a difference. It is not just sitting in spaces where everyone agrees with you. They already believe what you believe.
For me, the discomfort that most of us want to stay away from is the discomfort we feel when we are speaking to someone who has a completely opposite polarized belief than the one that we have. We shut down. They shut down. Nothing changes. Somebody who is of a complete opposite belief about me about when it comes to race or the rights of those who are from marginalized communities, that person might want to sit in spaces where everyone agrees with them, “It is everything. It is the survival of the fittest.”
I’m coming at this from an educational background. I became a teacher. I’m doing my Doctorate in Education. I’m trying to do research on a marginalized population of students. Differentiation is such a big thing in the classroom in schools. For those reading, differentiation is you are looking at the needs of that specific student or the specific population of students. You can apply this to any part of society, not just in school, and say, “What do they need?”
When we talk about equality, we forget that equity is the actual word we need to be using, which is, “Give this population what it needs.” You don’t give everybody the same thing, but you might sit in a space where someone says, “Too bad, you have to pave your own path like I did 50 years ago.” You have to be willing to be uncomfortable in spaces where your whole belief system is going to be challenged because that is your opportunity to affect maybe a little tiny bit of change, and then someone else might affect a little tiny bit of change.
Like a person who has racist thoughts or beliefs, I will never say they are justified in what they think. I simply don’t believe that, but what if I tried to understand why that person believes what they believe so that maybe I could give them a different way of seeing things or a different perspective or experience? I feel like stories are so powerful. When somebody has a certain belief and you tell them a personal story that completely defies that belief, it is very hard for that person sitting across from you to look at you as a human that they have connected with at some level and deny that story.
Even if they do deny it, it is going to leave them with something because they believe what they are believing based on certain stories that they have seen, heard, or experienced themselves or someone they love who went through something. Now, you are adding to those stories. Maybe with time, they balance each other out. You just don’t know.
For me, that is where discomfort is so important, and it is real. I feel like when we talk about discomfort sometimes, any kind of discomfort that you feel is valid. For me, that deep discomfort where you are like, “I don’t want to be having this conversation. This irks me on so many levels,” you have to feel that to be able to effect change in the world. That is my commentary on that.
It is beautiful and I love your passion and clarity with this. It makes sense because you are talking about the teaching and educational background, but you are an activist, poet, and speaker as well. I can see how that is all part of the work that you do because, in what you shared, it is all coming out. You can see the activism element of this.
Also, when you are talking about storytelling, I’m thinking about poetry and how poetry is a form of storytelling, either in the short-form or long-form poetry. I’m curious how that developed for you because when I was growing up, I was in poetry clubs in high school. I laugh now because it is no longer resonating with me in the way that it did when I was in high school, but I was so into it. I would go to poetry slams and write things. I completely forgot about that until I started talking to you. I’m reflecting back on what it was like to write and read poetry so much.
In a way, with my language skills in high school, I was practicing another language all the time. Now, as an adult, I’m like, “I don’t need to do that. I’m not around a lot of French-speaking people, so I can lose that.” Similarly, poetry is not something that I personally spend a lot of time reading or writing. I’m curious what that journey has been like for you. Where did that start in your life? How has it evolved over time and contributed to your work as an educator, activist, and speaker?
My earliest recollections of being exposed to poetry are childhood experiences. My dad used to buy all kinds of books on history, poetry, and literature. One of the walls in our house was a bookshelf. The whole wall was full of books. I would sit there and pick a book. Even though my dad told me like, “These ones, you are not supposed to read because they are inappropriate in some ways,” I would still read them because I love the power that comes with words. I love the play on words and everything.You have to be willing to be uncomfortable in spaces where your whole belief system is challenged. Click To Tweet
When we would go places, my dad had the little tapes of music that you would play that was older Arabic music, and it is all poetry. I would listen to the emotion with the words and the depth of it. I don’t even know how to explain it to you. It was soul food for me. I didn’t even know what soul food was, but I felt like a full, whole being like I was being seen, heard, and understood. Over the years, I continued to read and enjoy the power of words when I moved to Canada at sixteen.
Long story short, my parents got married in Canada, had five kids, and then decided to move to Lebanon, where they are originally from. That is where I was born. I’m the only one in my family born and raised in Lebanon. My siblings and parents were much older. I lived a childhood that felt like a very lonely one and words were, again, I felt seen and heard. I started writing in a journal at thirteen. Those writings were, “This is how I’m feeling. These are the thoughts that are going through my mind because I never had a consistent sense of home.”
My parents were traveling back and forth between Lebanon and Canada. My siblings would leave the moment they hit eighteen or even less than that for some of them. There were always people leaving out of my life and I was living with whoever relative could take care of me. I always felt this ache to be loved and cared for and to feel like I was a priority to someone. I would look at those around me, like kids who were my age or my cousins, and see how nurtured they were emotional.
As a child, I couldn’t put those words to it, but I would see something that I wanted and then Welcome Home, which is my fourth book that came out. This is the first book where I write poetry and stories. It is more of memoir poetry and real-life strategies that you can use to build a home within. I shared that story in Welcome Home, where it was the moment that I would see someone my age or around my age to be loved, nurtured, or be held in some way or hugged.
If I saw them feeling significant by an adult in their life, I would have this ache in my heart that is like, “Why can’t I have that?” That is the word I could put to it. I couldn’t explain it, but I wanted that. I always felt like I didn’t deserve it because I never got it and I never knew what it felt like. I admired it from a distance and thought like, “Maybe this is how my life is.” The writing was my way to promise myself, “That is somewhere. It is in the future, but I will get it one day.”
When I moved to Canada at sixteen, I came here to visit my family, and then the war broke out in Lebanon, so I wasn’t able to go back. I was extremely grateful that I was able to be here and experience all the opportunities that I most likely would not have been able to experience in Lebanon. I was grateful for that, even though I was sixteen. At sixteen, you are not supposed to be the most mature version of yourself, but I was mature at sixteen. I could see that this was a great opportunity for me, but it didn’t feel like a choice. It felt like a forced choice.
There was a part of me that died on the inside because I felt like every time I would sit down and write in my journal, that pain awakened. I was validating it for myself, but I was also aware that there was nothing I could do to change it like, “Here I am in a country that I speak the language and my family is here, but it doesn’t feel like home to me.” Even Lebanon didn’t fully feel like home to me, but I knew the streets and language. My grandma is there and my friends in school.
Everything changed, so I didn’t want to write anymore. I stopped writing for seven years until I became a teacher. During those years, I was sadly numb. There was a deep sadness underneath that numbness. It was more like, “Do what you are told and you will get to a place where you will get that maybe one day. Who knows?”
I completely gave up my power over my life and followed what my parents, community, culture and religion said. I was such a good girl. I was perfect. I never caused trouble and raised my voice. I was the one quiet girl in every single group that there was out there and never made a statement in any way. On the very first day of my teaching career, the principal walked in. He had eight students with him from grade 2 to grade 8 and said, “These are your responsibility for the rest of the year. They arrived from Libya,” which was torn by war that year.
I will never forget exactly where we were standing in the school when he brought them to me and I remember the look in their eyes. It was the same look that I knew I had when I was sixteen and first arrived here like, “What am I doing here?” I had been to Canada before, but now it is like, “Now, I’m living here. What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. I don’t fit in here. Back home, I used to do so well in school. Everyone knew me. My grades were great and now I’m in this place where I have to fight for a place.”
I saw that look in their eyes and I wanted to fight for them. Something inside of me was like, “Tell these kids they belong here. They don’t need to fight for a seat at the table.” I started writing again to empower them, and that is what led me back to writing to heal my sixteen-year-old self. It took the form of short reflections, short poems, longer poems, longer reflections, and the rest is history. That is my journey with poetry. At the end of the day, it was with poetry and writing.
Sometimes, you read people’s writings. It is not just you can tell, but some people will say like, “My writing is a creative thing that is not necessarily based on my life.” Even if I’m not writing about my own experience at some point, I’m still fully harvesting a certain emotion I had or something that I deeply experienced and I’m trying to portray it. My words are always coming from a place of, “I know what this feels like. If I don’t know what it feels like, I know what it must feel like to go through something like that.”When you're seeking something outside of yourself, you're building your home outside of yourself. Click To Tweet
At the end of the day, any kind of emotion that you experience or thought or belief that you have about yourself all comes down to basic human emotions that we all experience. Think of the number of things that you could write about that, at the end of the day, come down to a feeling of exclusion of, “I don’t belong here.” Writing healed me. I can’t tell you that any kind of therapy helped me more than writing did. It is not that I’m telling people, “Don’t seek therapy if you need it.”
For me, in particular, giving myself a voice and giving myself the validation and understanding that I need and seeing, hearing, accepting, and being aware of myself, all of that was part of building that home within so that, that I was referring to earlier, is within me. It is nowhere outside of me. That is my journey with writing.
That is so beautiful. You have such a way with words. It is very healing to listen to you, from my perspective. You articulate yourself in such a remarkable way. What you are describing has been unfolding through so much of your life and this subject matter of belonging. Even when you talked about feeling excluded, it has me reflecting so much from my own perspectives and what I hear from other people, which is often this fear of self-expression.
Everything you articulated is very empowering and inspiring because it shows the power of that form of self-expression that maybe you don’t share with other people in the way that you do, or maybe you don’t start off by it. It could be your private journal or private poetry collection, which I did a lot when I was growing up. Now that you are articulating it, it helps me reflect back on why I was doing that. It was an outlet.
I have so many pieces of poetry that I have saved. Sometimes I have looked at it and thought, “I wrote so much.” A lot of it is embarrassing. Now, as an adult, it feels like, “This is cheesy.” At that time, it poured out of me. I wasn’t second-guessing it. Sometimes, I yearn for that experience again because, as an adult, it can go both ways or one way. I feel like, as an adult, I have gotten to know myself. I feel more of a sense of belonging, empowerment, and confidence.
Also, there is a side of me that doesn’t feel as confident and clear as I did as a teenager when I was doing all of that writing because back then, it was flowing. Now, I feel like I have stopped the flow because of exactly what I talked about at the very beginning. It is this fear of being judged and looking bad at something. It is a great example as a content creator. On the podcast, this happens to me too. I get in my head sometimes. I’m like, “I want to make a great podcast, but I’m afraid that it is going to be misinterpreted or it is not appealing.” I can get on and on in my head.
As a content creator in general, especially with video, there are so much insecurity there. I started a new project on TikTok, where I’m making new videos every day. It is so uncomfortable because every time I make a video, I think, “This isn’t good. Somebody is going to find something wrong with it. They are going to write a mean comment.” Sometimes that does happen. That process of allowing myself to do it anyways makes it easier the next time because it gets into that flow that I used to have that used to feel so effortless, but sometimes we have to force ourselves into it to get the results that you are speaking of.
That is what I’m taking away from listening to you is how important it is for self-expression because, a lot of times, it is coming out of a place of already feeling judged. It is like two levels, “I feel like I don’t belong. I feel excluded, judged, shamed, or whatever emotion is going on, but I’m not even going to allow myself to put that into a form of self-expression because I’m so deep within it already that I can’t even get started.”
The process of getting started, doing it privately and saying, “Let me express to myself what I’m feeling from the outside,” is healing within yourself. Maybe it starts to shine outwards because the more we get to the core of who we are and that deeper understanding, it becomes easier to go through life with more confidence and clarity. It is like a chicken before the egg process or acknowledging that it has to start somewhere and it doesn’t have to be perfect or right.
This also came up in Celeste Headlee’s book, Speaking of Race. She talks about, “You are never going to write something that pleases everybody. You are not going to say something right all the time. People will find these criticisms.” We live in this culture now. I’m curious about your observations about the cancel culture and the accountability culture.
The elements of that are so important, especially when it comes to things like racism, any form of bullying, and exclusivity like all of these issues that we have culturally, but it can get to an extreme sometimes. It is this idea that people have become afraid to speak, which apparently is the theme of this episode of this fear of doing it wrong or being criticized because we have this looming fear of cancel culture or being excluded from the group if we get it wrong. We want to fit in in a lot of ways.
Going back to something you mentioned about yourself being quiet, being good, and doing everything right, I can’t speak for everyone. For myself, I try to fit myself into this mold of like, “If I do it right, well and good, I will be accepted and feel loved. If that is not my full expression and truth, if I’m not allowing myself to stumble through some of this, it is not the type of love and validation that I need. It is not deep.”Cancel culture scares us because we want to feel included. Click To Tweet
It very likely is a trauma response when you are exhibiting those people-pleasing behaviors so that you could get, deserve or earn their love in some way, and so many of us do that. I talked about this in Welcome Home as well. Building a home in another person could take the form of seeking their validation that you deserve love. That process of seeking that validation, love, acceptance, or, “You are on the right track. I’m pleased with you. Therefore, you are okay.” It is that feeling of not wanting to disappoint someone or wanting to live up to someone else’s expectations.
All of those are forms of building your home outside of you because home is emotional safety. It is the place where you feel like you could be fully and wholly yourself and you are loved for who you are. You don’t have to change a part of who you are so that you can get all of those things that I talked about. When you are seeking those things outside of you, you are building your home outside of you. You are building your sense of, “This is enough. This is okay. This is worthy outside of you.”
When you do that, you are not the one in charge of saying, “This is who I am.” You are allowing someone else to tell you who you need to be and who you should be. Going back to what you were talking about earlier when you were saying like, “It was much easier for me to write when I was younger, and I was a lot more confident.” It is because the older you become, the more you have allowed others to chip away at who you are, who you can be, or who you have permission to be.
Maybe when you were younger, someone gave you permission to express yourself. It could have been a teacher or a group that you were a part of, but now that permission isn’t there. Now, there is a lot of judgment that comes with expressing yourself and expressing feelings. When I first started posting my writings online, I had family members tell me, “What are you doing? This is embarrassing. Don’t do this. Don’t post your writings online.” It was like, “This is what the world needs.”
I’m going to tell you, whoever is reading, one strategy that I came up with in Welcome Home where it is like, “Define your audience. Who is your audience?” When you are about to do something, and you are afraid, nervous, or worried that you are going to be excluded or judged, or they are going to think something or be so disappointed, write that audience down. It most likely is a number that is less than twenty. Even if it was a number that is up to 1,000 or 10,000, there is always a bigger audience, which is the whole world.
There are people out there who are sitting in that same dark corner that you are currently sitting in. You are using whatever it is that you created. Maybe it is a piece of writing, a piece of art, a song, or a dance. There are people out there who are feeling so alone and isolated because they have the exact same thought about something they want to express in some way.
Who is your audience? Is it the people who are judgmental towards you, going to exclude you because you took the risk of some sort, and make you feel like you don’t deserve love as a result of doing something genuinely for yourself that is not intended to hurt them in any way? Is your audience those who are like you, who have the empathy you have, who are seeking the same kind of courage and bravery that you are seeking?
Once you are able to say, “This is the audience that I am serving,” the other audience becomes so small and insignificant. The more you focus on the audience that you are serving, the less weight this smaller audience has and the less you feel it on your back and heart in a figurative way. For me, that has been pivotal because I have spoken up in the past about experiences that I was threatened legally not to speak about. I was asked by the media like, “Aren’t you afraid that you are going to get sued? You were threatened.”
I said this on TV, “My audience is not the people who are trying to silence people like me. My audience is the people who are sitting in a dark corner who have no platform and no one to speak up for them. That is my audience. That is who I speak for and whose voice I amplify. I don’t amplify the voices of bullies and those who are out there being judgmental and threatening towards others.” It is very empowering to think that way.
This cancel culture scares us because we want to feel included. We don’t want to feel like we don’t fit into a certain group. Reflect on this, if it is a lot worse for you to be excluded by a group of people and not be yourself. You are being included based on you hiding a part of yourself. If that is easier for you than being who you are and not having to change parts of who you are to please someone else, then you have a lot of work to do. You have built your sense of identity and home outside of you.
You need to come back to yourself because, at the end of the day, if you are changing who you are to belong somewhere, you are not the one who is belonging. It is the version that you created that wants to feel included, that is belonging, but you are going to continue feeling like a complete stranger to yourself and others wherever you are as long as you live that way.
I had this moment of wishing that I had heard these words so long ago because they resonated with me on so many levels. As somebody who considers themselves a recovering people-pleaser, that trauma response and coping is again getting into these old habits. I know I’m not alone in this. I’m grateful that you are sharing and articulating in this way that I truly have never heard before. It is such a powerful healing thing.If you are changing who you are to belong somewhere, you are not the one who's belonging. it's the version you've created that's belonging. Click To Tweet
It ties back into that point that we are going to make at the very beginning. It felt like we hadn’t come back around to it, but it has been here this whole time. That is how you want to talk about the difference between knowing and doing. It is what we feel like we should know better or do better. We have done entire episodes about the word should in the past and how damaging that word can be.
It also reminds me of a line that I loved. Either it was your bio or one of the pieces that I was reading about you. It said that you learned to build a stable foundation inside yourself and identity independent of cultural expectations and the influence of others. I put that in bold. That is what your book is about.
To me, when I read that line, I thought, “I want to learn that on another level. I have been working on it. It is a practice.” I want to come back around that because we could keep riffing on this over and over again. I want to make sure that we touch upon what you wanted to from the very beginning, which is the difference between knowing and doing. What does that mean for you? Why is that phrase resonating with you now?
Many of us know everything there is to know about self-worth and self-love, what we deserve and what we don’t deserve, what is right by ourselves and what is not right, and what is wrong in terms of what we accept when it comes to people treating us in everything. When we were put in a situation where, “Now, it is time for you to practice what you believe,” you somehow excuse the behavior because you are an empath or because you have a hard time accepting that maybe other people genuinely have a bad intention. Maybe they do want to hurt you.
You have a hard time because your worldview is, “Everybody is always coming from a good place.” I have fallen into that my whole life. Part of writing Welcome Home was learning not to abuse my own empathy against myself. There comes a time where you can say, “I can empathize with you. I can understand where you are coming from,” but I can also say, “I don’t deserve this.” I can understand that you are in pain and that is why you are spilling pain on me, but I also have the right to say, “I’m not okay with that.”
For me, writing Welcome Home was all about transferring knowledge to practice and action. Self-love is one of the chapters or the rooms in Welcome Home because I have divided it in a way where you are building a home within. I’m like, “I know everything there is to know about self-love. If I’m having a conversation with a friend or standing on stage giving a speech, I know everything there is to know about what is right and wrong, boundaries, expressing yourself, and standing up for yourself. When it would happen to me, it is like I was in the role of a therapist instead of I’m somebody who is equal in this relationship or friendship.”
For me, discovering what the missing element was like, “How do I know all these things but I’m not able to practice them?” It is because I had no solid foundation for myself. The foundation in Welcome Home is about self-acceptance and self-awareness. You have to fully accept who you are, not just at the moment. I talked about two types of acceptance, deep acceptance and shallow acceptance. Shallow acceptance is the kind of acceptance that is like, “This is who I am and I don’t care what anybody thinks. I’m going to be myself, raise my voice, and be inconsiderate of others.”
Deep self-acceptance goes all the way back to the history of what made you who you are now. You accept all the good and bad. On top of that, you are aware of yourself. Self-awareness is the other element that complements this. It is also an awareness of what brought you to who you are now, “What are your triggers? What are experiences that you have gone through that have shaped you to be who you are?”
If you know so much about self-love, forgiveness, compassion, clarity, and surrender, those are the rooms and chapters in Welcome Home. If you know all those things, are they complementing who you are? Do you know who you are? You know all of those things, but do you know yourself? Self-love and forgiveness for you is not the same as it is for someone else. Do you have a specialized plan for yourself that is based on who you are?
If you don’t, you are not the one living this life and walking this path. You are separating yourself from all of this knowledge. That was the disconnect for me. That is what stopped me from transferring knowledge to practice. I have been reflecting on that because, on my own podcast, the theme of this season is authenticity. I interviewed multiple people who are in different fields and talked to them about, “How do you maintain your authenticity with your presence on social media?”
The last person whose episode was released is a therapist. She and I were talking about grief. She was crying on the podcast. I was thinking about like, “This therapist knows everything. If you need proof that knowing something doesn’t mean that you can quickly apply it, this is your proof because here is a therapist who was experiencing grief of some sort and explaining it to you in a way where she couldn’t hide her tears.” Knowing doesn’t create this armor that is going to protect you. When you know something, you still have to experience it.
I wrote about it in Welcome Home, and I know this. I have been thinking of how to write about it in a different way or from a different angle. I was reading Brené Brown’s book and she said something that perfectly embodied what I was thinking. I tweeted it out. I’m going on my Twitter to read it out, “As it turns out, being able to see what is coming doesn’t make it any less painful when it arrives.” Knowing the pain of betrayal doesn’t mean that when you are betrayed, you are not going to feel betrayed or have to process that to get through it.Self-love for you is not the same that it is for someone else. Click To Tweet
When we tell people like, “You should know better,” that is what stops people from sharing their experience because they are like, “You are going to judge me. I don’t need you to judge me.” I say this to my friends many times before I start talking. It is not that my friends have a history of being judgmental in any way, but I make this very clear, “I know what I’m supposed to do in this situation. I know what I should have done in this situation. I’m not talking to you to talk logically right now. I need to get this off my heart. I need you to listen.”
That is it because most of us know what the right thing is. We struggle with doing the right thing for ourselves. Just because we know that we are going to be judged for not putting into an application and practicing what we do know, it doesn’t mean that we don’t share and struggle with that transfer, taking that step and leap. We were humans at the end of the day. There is no point in burying an experience, story or something that we were going through just because we know better.
Everyone out there knows better probably when it comes to 95% of their experiences, but we were humans at the end of the day, and we were not always going to do what we knew. Life is about the journey that gets us to a place where we treat ourselves with compassion, self-love, and understanding. Being the person that we feel most comfortable with, that person is ourselves.
What I mean by that practically speaking is when you call a friend of yours, and you want that comfort, you want that person to tell you like, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” You need to be that for yourself. I’m not saying it out of like, “If you are not that for yourself, something is wrong with you.” I don’t mean that at all. Most of us struggle with that.
What I’m saying is, it is such a beautiful thing to be the first place that you go to self-soothe, give yourself the love and understanding that you need, forgive yourself, be compassionate with yourself, get clarity on your situation and on yourself, and surrender to your emotions. That is why all of those rooms or chapters are in Welcome Home because it is like, “What room do you need to enter right now when you are struggling with something? Maybe it is the self-love room. What do we need to do?”
For me, any kind of problem that we go through in our daily lives, if we work towards being our own best friend, best ally, and the biggest person who understands us for ourselves, that solves so many of our problems. It is not in a way that is like, “You don’t need anybody. You only need yourself.” I don’t mean that at all. I do believe that we need connections and people in our lives. When you have such a strong sense of who you are and you operate in life from a place of, “I will not change who I am to be seen, heard, loved, or valued by someone else,” the kind of people in your life will be the people who respect, love and value that and don’t need you to crush yourself for them to be comfortable.
The way that you spoke is such a wonderful note to end on because it feels like this simultaneous summary. We have come to a conclusion but also what an incredible introduction and beginning to all of the amazing work that you have done, from your new book to your podcast, which is called Stories of Soul. I love that name.
It has brought up a lot for me. As I have articulated a few times, hearing the way that you have communicated this is profound, unique, healing, and also opening up all of these things to process and ponder. I’m grateful for that. I imagine the reader is experiencing the same thing. Even Brené Brown’s book, which I only vaguely knew about, you got me to lean in so much to that. I can’t wait to dive into that too. I feel almost at a loss for my own words because I’m sitting here trying to process it all. I have been nodding the entire time.
One thing that came up for me was how all of this that you shared sounds almost familiar, not because I have heard it before. In some ways, I have but not from you or in this way at this moment, but I’m familiar with that. I’m like, “You are right and this makes sense.” It goes back to exactly what you said about knowing something. Just because it feels familiar, I know it, I agree with it, and I have that clarity. Now, the process for me and the reader is to step into that next phase and do it and make that transition between knowing something and doing something.
That is one of the most important things that you said because it is often a form of protection. I have always been very sensitive to that almost egoic reaction of, “I know this already.” I remember Brendon Burchard, who I used to follow a lot for his business trainings. One of the most important things I heard him say was, “I have already tried that.” He was verbalizing something that people would say to him a lot, like, “I have done that already. I have already tried that, or I have tried everything.” He was on stage at this time, and he was like, “Really? You have tried everything.”
It is such a funny phrase the more you examine it when someone says, “I know that already. I have done that already. I have tried that already,” as if it is possible to know everything and have tried everything. The truth is, we often say those things as an excuse not to try more or not dig in further because oftentimes, we will settle for that surface-level experience as a coping mechanism to protect ourselves from the pain of trial and error of making mistakes.
I recognized how painful and how I have tried to play small. I have tried to be that good person and escape further pain, but there is a pain in not trying and not learning more. It is not serving you. It is temporary protection, but life does not offer us this ongoing protection that we seek. We have to constantly be moving through the pain. It is like a poll station in my experience of moments of, “This feels painful, joyful or neutral, but I’m never staying in one of those states permanently, and I can’t.”
You have helped me realize that on a new level of it is okay that you can’t always stay in some perpetual state when you reflect on how much people try to cope through drugs and alcohol, which they serve a time and place and I don’t think they are inherently bad. You examine that maybe somebody is drinking because they want to numb out because it is too painful, or they want to enhance their joy because they are constantly seeking it.
Sometimes that is okay. It is the same thing when we associate shopping when you are going through a stressful period of time as a negative thing, but what if you have chosen to numb that way? To me, that is better than not being aware of what you are doing. I do it sometimes. I say, “I’m going to shop now because this is going to make me feel better. It is going to help me feel better. This is the best I can do right now.” If a friend of mine were to tell me, “I was feeling down. I went shopping,” I would laugh at that and think that is cute. I wouldn’t judge that and say, “You spent your own money because you feel down.”
It is the same thing with any kind of numbing behavior. If you are aware of why you are doing what you are doing, there is nothing wrong with that. If you are aware to the extent that you are not allowing this to become something that has a hold over you where you can’t function without it, then that is different. It is something that we need to speak about and work on in some way. We have to stop being so judgmental towards ourselves and others and to the ways that we choose to heal on any given day in any given moment. We are not living someone else’s life, and no one is living our life.
The judgment of other people perhaps will be a way of protecting ourselves from judging ourselves. We put so much focus on others, like celebrities and gossip friends.
If you focus on how badly someone else is living their life, then it makes you feel better about your own without looking at your own life. Most of our pain is not actually the pain we were going through, but it is everything that surrounds it. For example, “Why did I have to go through this? Why do I have to heal from this? What is this person going to think? How long is it going to take me?” All of that distract us from the actual pain itself.
One of the strategies I have in Welcome Home is to have tea with your pain. I say, “When pain knocks on your door, let it in, sit with it, have tea with it, listen to it, understand it and then walk it to the door because now it is time for another emotion, thought, feeling, or experience to come in.” You are the one in control as long as you allow that pain in.
When you don’t allow it in, which is what we do when we numb completely, “I don’t even want to acknowledge that there is something that I have to heal from,” it doesn’t make the pain go away. It is still there and it is still knocking on your door. It is going to get louder with time. You are going to adapt your life to the noise in the background. The noise in the background is controlling your life. The pain is controlling your life without you even acknowledging it.
Why not be the one in control and be the one who says, “I’m going to feel you for an hour, a day, a week, or maybe an hour a day for a week?” You are the one in control. You have the power to do that. If you have something that you are perpetually experiencing that you feel, “There is no way for me to get out of this,” back to what you were saying, have you tried everything? Try something new. When a day comes that you have exhausted everything that you can do to heal from it or move forward from it, then you can say, “I have tried everything.”
I don’t mean this when it comes to certain diseases or illnesses. I want people to understand the pains that we experience on a daily basis and the experiences that we all share of exclusion of, “I’m not good enough. I will never be good enough. I will never get there. I will never be this person or this and that.” Those very common pains that all of us experience, there is something that can be done about them. There is an answer and a solution. There is something new you can try. Don’t submit to the end of your life before you have reached it.
There are many wise words and perspectives from you. I’m grateful that you took the time for this conversation. I’m grateful for all the work you are doing because it feels like something I could speak on and on about with you and listen to you. I’m grateful that you have a podcast as well and multiple books. There is so much to dive into. Najwa, thank you again for your generosity and time. The full expression of what you are doing for the world is a phenomenal gift to me and our readers. I feel full of gratitude for this wonderful conversation.
One of your worries is that I was going to be answering the same questions I always answer. This was a very different conversation. I’m happy that we discussed everything that we discussed. To anyone reading, whatever it is that you are going through, I want you to take this from the core of my heart. There is someone else out there who is experiencing the exact same thing. You are not alone in your experience. There is always something within you that needs to be heard, seen, and validated by you. You can do that bit by bit. You can get yourself out of this darkness, however dark it is.
Thank you so much.
- Najwa Zebian
- Celeste Headlee – Previous Episode
- Speaking of Race
- Welcome Home
- TikTok – @WhitLauritsen
- Stories of Soul Podcast
- Authenticity | Micheline Maalouf – Stories of Soul’s Past Episode
- Atlas of the Heart
- Twitter – @NajwaZebian
About Najwa Zebian
Najwa Zebian is a Lebanese Canadian activist, speaker, educator, and author of WELCOME HOME. Her search for a home was central to her early years as she struggled to find her place in the world. She became a teacher and a doctoral candidate in educational leadership. As Najwa began to write in an effort to connect with and heal her first students, a group of young refugees, she found that she was also writing to heal herself. The author of three collections of poetry, she delivered the TEDx talk “Finding Home Through Poetry” and recently launched a digital school, Soul Academy, and a podcast, Stories of the Soul. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Glamour, Elle Canada, HuffPost, and more.