Trigger alert: this contains references to sexual assault and childhood trauma.
“Piece by piece, I picked up the parts of me I’d lost along the way of life, restored parts of my marriage I didn’t even know were broken, and forgave my family. I had to look at the little hurt boy inside myself and even forgive him too. It wasn’t his fault, and he deserved no more blame.”
The road to healing and joy is difficult, especially if you have experienced childhood trauma or sexual assault. While the journey is hard, it can be made easier with love and support. Your spirit can be healed. Whitney Lauritsen listens as Certified Life Coach Isaac Jemal recounts the path back to himself after a harrowing childhood experience left him deeply traumatized. Hear how Isaac, or Zuki to those close to him, healed his spiritual wounds and learned to find joy, peace, and identity. Get inspired by Isaac’s venture – it may help you feel ready to take your own.
This episode is sponsored by Zencastr. Visit zencastr.com/pricing to try it out for free. And when you’re ready to uplevel, enter the code “wellevatr” to receive 30% off your first 3 months of the Pro plan!
Listen to the podcast here:
The Journey Back To Joy And Identity With Isaac Jemal
The Science Of Relationships
There are many directions that I want to go in with this episode’s guest. I wanted to begin with something on his website which says, “Piece by piece, I picked up the parts of me that I’d lost along the way of life, restore parts of my marriage I didn’t even know were broken, and forgave my family. I had to look at the little hurt boy inside myself and even forgive him too. It wasn’t his fault and he deserved no more blame.” That is beautifully written, open and vulnerable. You have such a beautiful story that I’m looking forward to diving into more.
My name is Isaac Jemal but I like people to call me Zooky. That’s the name that my family calls me and it touches a piece of my heart and my soul. When people call me Zooky, I get to know people and they get to know me. Please feel free to call me Zooky.
Where did that come from? What’s the origin of that nickname?
Our background is Middle Eastern. My parents both grew up in Lebanon. At least on my father’s side, Turkey is our ancestry. My great grandfather was a soldier in the Ottoman Empire and died serving the empire. My grandfather’s name was Zacky. Our tradition is we are named after the grandfather. My name is Isaac, but Zacky Isaac turned into a nickname called Zooky. I speak three languages, Arabic, Hebrew and English. That was the name that my parents called me and that’s what stuck. My wife, my family and everyone call me Zooky. When I started coaching and my friends saw Isaac Jemal out there, they were like, “It’s Zooky, right?” “Yes, it’s Zooky.”
I’m glad that you clarified that because, in general, my brain will get confused about pronunciations and what to call people. I need a lot of clarity around that. There is someone else who’s been a new acquaintance of mine and he goes by a nickname as well. I always stumbled like, “Does he want me to call him that all the time? Does he ever want someone to refer to his first name?” It can be a bit confusing. It’s important for us to remind people of our preferences. This ties into so many things, especially what’s evolving in society is we can assume what somebody wants to be called and assume things about their identity.If I'm not attached to my family, then who am I? Click To Tweet
I’m practicing asking someone. It’s wonderful that you have the story that you have an opportunity to continue to share with people what your preferences are and the meaning behind them. Maybe that brings you so much more joy to be called Zooky versus Isaac. I would rather call you what you want to be called, but also call you something that lights you up in the way that I can tell as you’re telling that story. You also have this beautiful history behind it that keeps you tied to your roots. I’ve noticed that’s such a big part of your story, the evolution of who you became and how you got there.
It’s beautiful the way that you’ve told your story on your website, the openness of the pain points in that, what you’ve had to go through, how that’s evolved into your career, and also your personal life, which is very intimately tied together. You speak a lot about your marriage, in particular, which is one of the big reasons I wanted to have you on this show. The way that you’ve articulated how you’ve worked on your relationship and with your children as well is so beautiful because most of us end up struggling with that at some stage in our life, whether it’s with our immediate family or our romantic partners.
Thank you for having me on. I appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak and try to help people as much as possible. It is very interesting. As you opened up, Zooky and Isaac are two different people. Part of my transition has been growing up and identifying myself in the workspace in my late teens and twenties as Isaac. There was this mask that I had to put on living in New York. My family had a very successful children’s clothing business. It was very corporate. At one point, I was a VP of Merchandising Design and had 103 people working under me. This persona caused insignificance, achievement and wanting so much. That was Isaac. Through the transition that you were describing or reading, Zooky emerged because that’s who I am. I am Zooky. That is the core of my heart and soul.
It’s amazing to me that a name can trigger us. Some of my training brings us to that. Sometimes we have so many multiple personalities inside of our brains. Every human being has the wild person, the responsible one or the financial head. We have many different voices and personalities in there. Identifying them via name isolates it and allows us to say, “In certain areas, I might be an idealist or liberal in some areas of my life, but I might be conservative in other areas of my life.” Sometimes we can identify with the name. It’s useful for us to be able to see the difference in those people because those multiple personalities grow at different times in our lives at different levels.
The goal is to try to balance them all out and have them in a cohesive agreement. I sometimes find myself in my own mind saying, “Do we all agree?” It’s something that I’m conscious about that there were certain voices in my head and everyone’s head that tell you the pros, cons, go with your gut or whatever the conversation might be in your own mind. It is, “Do we all agree?” Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. When all my personalities do agree, those are the moments where I know that I’ll be successful. I have the drive and the passion to be able to get to the end. I find that amazing. You could introduce somebody and there is so much to say about it.
That quote that you had read at the beginning of the show has so much depth that goes into those words of me as a child. You can find this on my website. I was molested at seven. We lived in an apartment building. In the apartment building next door, I had a friend. I asked my mom if I was able to go over him. She said, “Sure.” We had a front window. She watched me come out of the building and walk into the other building. She thought I was okay. As I started to walk into the building, the staircase was to the right of the second door that I entered.
As I got halfway up the stairs and he only lived on the second floor, there was a man that walked into the building and asked me if I knew if there was another way to get upstairs. There was a back staircase. I said, “I did.” He said, “Would you mind showing me? I said, “Sure.” I went up with him. To be honest, a lot of the details of what happened I don’t remember. That part of the story I do, but somehow he got me to the top floor right next to the roof of the door that you’re able to access the roof. He unclothed me. He unclothed and had gotten on top of me. I don’t even remember the details of how I got out. There was so much fear in that moment that I do remember.
Later on, probably when I was 22 or 23, I was dealing with it with some help and some coaching. I asked my mother, “How did I get out?” She said to me, “You urinated on him. You peed on him.” That startled him and that gave you enough space for you to get out. The feeling that I have lived with my whole life, up until the last few years where I’ve been able to release and let go is, “How did I let him do that to me?” I know that so many people that have been molested or sexually abused had this difficulty of blaming themselves for, “How did I allow this person to do this to me?”
While I was doing my work at 22, I had a brilliant coach. She had told me to write everything I wanted to write about this person, what I felt, what justice would look like, what I would like God to do to him or how did it affect my life? I took the time and I remember crying intensely when I was writing it. In the session, she made me read it and then we burnt it, which gave me some closure. I still did not understand until two decades later that it was something that I carried around. It was the way I interacted with people. I was always a confident, good-looking man. I’m great with people, always connecting with lots of friends. I was very popular, but there was always this underlining allowance that I would allow people to take advantage of me in different ways.
I was able to do the hard work to be able to associate it back to that moment that if I can allow this person to take advantage of me, this is a thought in my mind that’s brewing all the time in my career. Even with family, I allowed them to take advantage of me in ways that I now would never allow someone to be able to speak to me or ask of me. I’d be able to be very comfortable in saying, “I’m not too comfortable with that,” or no.No one had told me what marriage was about. Click To Tweet
For people out there that have family members and friends who themselves have been molested, we think while we’re going through the process that we’re not affected. The truth is everything in our life is affected from that moment. If you give it a simple thought of, “My innocence was taken away at seven years old.” It was gone. It was stripped of me. You can read this on the website as well with my story. Later on, when you’re doing drugs or drinking alcohol, you’re going out to clubs and partying, you think there is no association with that, but if I have no innocence, then everything becomes okay. That’s the place in my life that I was.
I was working with my family, making good money. I’m making a few hundred thousand dollars a year. I was pretty successful. I’d gotten married. I bought a home and then bought a second home. After a little while, there was a relationship within the family dynamic that was very toxic to me, allowing someone to bully me. He bullied me, labeled me and told me I would never be successful. I never ended up being a leader. This affected me. I won’t go through the whole story of how I got there but after a while, I left with a life of a family business that did probably $250 million. It was a very successful business.
When I left, something hit me that I was not prepared for. I had no identity. My significance, my persona or Isaac was this person who is amazing in sales, communication, corporate structures, achieving and making money. Zooky had no idea who he was. If I’m not attached to my family, then who am I? It was four and a half years tracking the journey of me being at the lowest point ever in my life. It wasn’t until I did a little bit of a spiritual journey to Israel that I met my partner. I fell in love with helping people.
He and I started an organization which is called Beit Hashem in Hebrew. In English, that means God’s house. We help young boys at risk and we were working with them. At the lowest point in my life, I now was listening and advising these young teenagers as to what to do with their lives. I quickly realized that I wasn’t advising them but I was advising myself. I was a Psych major in college but then ventured onto Business. That’s where the coach was born.
The healing process for me to was at the beginning. It took probably a decade or so for me to dive into all the details. There’s so much from that statement. I tell you my whole life story from those couple of sentences. You mentioned my wife. During that time, I was married. I had two kids and another kid on the way. We were married for about seven years. I thought I was winning in life. I was making a lot of money. I was very successful. We had a great family name. Coming from a traditional background, that’s what men did. Men provided and women took care of the home. That was the dynamic. I thought I was great at it.The only way to become spiritually strong is to go through spiritual pain. Click To Tweet
I had a great income and the kids were great. We had two and another one on the way. My wife comes to me and she says to me, “I want to talk to you.” I said, “What’s going on?” She says, “I’d like us to go see a therapist.” I said, “For whom?” She said, “For us.” “What are you talking about? I absolutely have no idea what you’re talking about. We’re great.” She said, “No. I’m not happy. I think that we need help.”
I’m such a sensitive person. I love my family so much. When I heard that, I said, “I would go.” We did go to a therapist. I can remember it clear as day that we sat in the office. This older man started talking and said, “Nice to meet you. What’s going on?” I gave my wife the opportunity to talk. For about 15 or 20 minutes, my wife was talking about how unhappy she was, but that’s an understatement. It’s how miserable and lonely she was, and she had no connection to me whatsoever. I’m not there for the kids and her. I’m no support. I’m flying to Israel and doing all these things. She doesn’t know if she wants to be married to me.
I’m like, “What?” I was so overwhelmed with emotion and shock that the tears started to ball up in my eyes and I started to cry. It was uncontrollable crying. The therapist at the time had to stop the session and said, “Are you okay?” I said, “No.” He says, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I have no idea what she’s talking about. I don’t know what she’s saying. Everything that I do, I do it for my family. There’s no ego here. I want to provide or do for my family.” I’ll never forget, she looked at me dead in the eyes and said to me, “How can you do that? You’re never around.” My mind was blown. I left angry, not at her but at my family, God, tradition and at everything that no one had told me what marriage was about.
I remember leaving that session. I went to my dad. He passed years ago and I’m missing him tremendously. I said, “How come you didn’t tell me about this?” He goes, “Tell you about what?” The older generation has this unspoken rule, especially Middle Eastern tradition, of the guy is this and the girl is that. He’s like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I said, “I got to learn and educate myself.” I dove into biblical texts and some Jewish deep philosophy. I researched everything that I could, Esther Perel and so many different facets of relationships.
I learned that there’s something called a woman’s emotional needs. It was a mind-blowing idea that I was responsible for fulfilling my wife’s emotional needs. No one had ever told me that before. The more I dove into it, the more I practiced, the more we became a unit. We became one and symbiotic. We’re still very different people with different philosophies, ideas and sometimes different beliefs, but we’ve learned how to make that work together. In my journey, I’ve been able to identify that and turn it into a science.
I’ll forever eternally be grateful to Tony Robbins who I’ve been watching on infomercials when he started many years ago. He taught me the science of relationships and all this happened within five years. I was in this furnace and I was a piece of iron that was being molded at this point. It hurt like hell. It formed who I am now and this transition of Isaac back to Zooky, who I was, who I am, and being okay being vulnerable whoever and whatever I am, knowing that I’m enough and having the ability to be able to teach. A life coach is something that we hear very often. That’s your occupation but to me, I honestly feel like I’m a teacher.
My mission, if God would allow me to do it, is to help people find shortcuts, and educate people so that they wouldn’t have to suffer or go through pain as I did throughout my life. I’ve been able to harness it and use it as my strength. Tony Robbins says this and it’s true for me, “It wasn’t physical pain but it was spiritual pain.” The only way to become spiritually strong is to be able to go through that spiritual pain. When you come through the other side using that pain as your anchor, engine, rocket ship, that’s what makes it all worth going through it. When you can help another person, be able to assist or advise or be there for someone, a hug or kiss. That’s what my life is all about. That’s the journey that I’m excited to continue to take. I know that was very long-winded, but a couple of sentences from a website can say a lot to a person. Everything you said is true and ingrained deep in my heart and soul.
I thought I was just picking a random part of your website that resonated with me but clearly, it resonated with you too and I imagine also the readers because there’s so much behind it. Thank you for sharing that journey that you’ve been on and also the beginning parts of it that are tough. Before we started the show, I asked you if you were comfortable sharing any of that because sexual assault is a tough thing but it’s also extremely common.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the more time goes on, we’ll find it’s perhaps even more common than we realize because our society is just now growing to be more comfortable talking about something painful. Whereas before, we may hide those things because of shame. We may think that we did it so we could never possibly acknowledge it because we’re taking so much personal responsibility for it. When people like you share that and also acknowledge that it wasn’t your fault, it’s powerful.
It took a lot of years to have that resonate and for me to believe that it wasn’t my fault.There are two things you can visit in a museum: one is respect, and the other is shame. Click To Tweet
It’s an amazing thing because there are likely people who carry that through their whole life without even realizing it.
If there is anyone that has blamed themselves, I’ve worked with people that have had siblings molest them for years. They take so much responsibility and they blame themselves. If there’s anything that I could help anyone that has gone through any type of that experience is if you’re having a difficult time believing in yourself, I’m sure it has something to do with that moment that you’ve experienced in your life. It took me over four decades to be able to truly have this outward confidence I had, but this inner “I’m enough” piece that we’re looking for so that I can live my life in alignment. To be able to live my life with being connected to my gut, heart and soul. That didn’t come until I was able to resolve that moment and say that it wasn’t my fault and that I bear no responsibility but it’s the responsibility of the person that molested me and had taken advantage of a seven-year-old kid.
It’s tough because most people don’t want to be sensitive to this type of conversation. They don’t understand it and most people don’t want to talk about it. You said the word shame. It’s funny because I do say a lot of the times that in our generation, modern-day 2022, there are two things that you can visit in the museum. One is respect and then the other one is shame. Our children don’t grow up with shame and respect, but there’s a shaming feeling. Most people that I know who have gone through something like that have first been self-destructive, and then had to emerge like a Phoenix to be able to emerge as themselves.
Unfortunately, so many people don’t emerge, do not make it, stay stuck, become the victim or allow people to take advantage of them. That’s heart-wrenching. That’s painful. There is what to do and strength that can even be taken from a situation like that. You can turn that around. My way, solace and heart is if I’m able to help one person, then it was worth going through it. If I’m able to help one person suffer less, my passion and love is marriage and relationships but overall, I would say the Zooky wants to touch as many people as possible. If I can help them suffer less, then that’s what I want to do. The pain, self-identity, drugs and all the crazy things that I’ve done are all worth it so that I can now be able to piece myself together and share what I’ve learned on my journey so that I can put out a helping hand.
Something else you said was also very profound. It’s important to circle back to it because to my memory, I don’t have a situation that took away my innocence. I remember when I was a teenager, somebody told me I was innocent in a way that I thought there was something wrong with me like, “I’m too innocent.” I remember them saying that to me and feeling very confused. As you were sharing your story, I recognized I had the privilege of innocence. I may still have it. I didn’t have that type of trauma, at least not that my memory recalls, but sometimes I think there could be things that happened in life that you block out, which is another coping mechanism.The one thing that is constant in all of us is fear. Click To Tweet
I went through a traumatic experience and it was a fascinating thing to witness myself going through at this stage of my life where I’ve done so much self-work. I studied Psychology and trauma. As I was going through it, I was witnessing my brain coping. I read something about how the brain works and when you were sharing your story it reminded me of not being able to recall something. That’s how the brain handles those situations. It shuts down. That was a huge part of what I went through. I can only remember certain parts of the experience.
It’s almost like what you were describing where there were two parts of me. There was the part that went through it, and then there was this part of my brain that was watching myself go through it, observing it and feeling confused because it was logic versus emotion. I was looking at it thinking, “I know this happened to me. Was it as bad as I thought it was?” Over and over again, I had to remind myself, “It was bad.” Part of my coping mechanism was almost trying to convince myself that what I went through wasn’t as traumatic as it felt. It was fascinating. I wonder if that in itself is a coping mechanism like trying to overanalyze things.
As human beings, the one thing that is constant in all of us is fear. Dealing with that fear of an experience, not being enough, having a relationship or a marriage that’s not working, having maybe a special needs child or sibling, these things are what we call normal. We’re all not normal. There is no normalcy out there. Our first reaction is to protect ourselves. It’s the caveman. It’s safety, security and what we would call in coaching as certainty. We want certainty in our lives to say, “I’m safe. I’m going to be okay.”
When something like that would happen to somebody, then we don’t feel safe. It’s a quick reminder that there is no certainty. That might be an extreme idea but nothing is certain. Everything changes. The weather changes. We change. We get older. Our skin whittles away. I’m not sure of the time. Maybe in a couple of months or weeks, but we change. Are we going to accept the change or not? When we go through traumatic experiences, we want to find the footing that we were on a moment ago.
In a moment, everything changes and that’s life. Most of us don’t want to cope or deal with that at all. One of the most famous quotes is, “The quality of your life is always going to be equal to the amount of uncertainty you can handle.” You don’t know what’s going to happen ten seconds from now. Living our lives moment by moment also puts us in a state of gratitude. It also puts us in the state of, “I don’t know if I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning.” Don’t take that for granted.
We were doing a little thing at home. My son jumped into bed with me and my wife. It was an Instagram post or something they were doing in school. I have no idea but he says, “Name twenty things that you’re grateful for in less than a minute.” For some, it’s challenging to do that. I have to think about the big things, my home, family and job. What about the little things like my toothbrush or I have running water in my house? We have refrigeration. We don’t have to go to an outhouse. I can walk, see and hear.
All these little things that we might take for granted are not for certain because there are so many people out there that don’t have these luxuries. We’re always looking for more. Some people want fame, wealth or health. It’s different for all of us, but there’s so much to be grateful for. If we put our mindset into being grateful all the time, that’s where we live our best life because we get to appreciate every morning. It’s cliché. It’s like, “Enjoy the journey.” What does that mean? That means trying to be as present as possible in the now because there might not be a later.
I’m not trying to be morbid here. I’m trying to teach the idea of someone walking with gratitude. I was coaching a couple and I said to them, “You’re not loving each other as if you might lose each other. You’re not putting in that effort of, ‘They’re here. We’re in this relationship. I don’t have to love you with the mindset of I might lose you, but what type of love would we experience if we did approach our relationships that way?’” Love the person you’re with as if you’re going to lose them.
Many human beings have dealt with loss. We know what that feels and we want to avoid that as much as possible. To live your life with that thought process and appreciate every moment, that’s a life I want to live. I’ve learned to be comfortable with being vulnerable, open, sharing myself and my story with people. It’s very interesting. When we are afraid or we want to protect ourselves, we want to control things first.
For example, people who love certainty in their life want to protect themselves. They want to stay safe, especially when it comes to feelings and relationships. They’ve gone on to relationships. It’s important that in a relationship, if I’m closed off and afraid to be hurt, you will protect yourself from being hurt, but something else comes without protection. You won’t feel joy, playfulness, creativity and passion because it’s all behind the barrier. Vulnerability, as the word is defined, makes me vulnerable. You can access a part of my emotion that might feel hurt, but it also allows me to feel all those wonderful feelings, happy, sad, playful, creative, passionate and in love. Love is not a safe place and that vulnerability, although it is scary, once you step into that, you now gain so much more than what you might lose.There is no normalcy. There is no certainty. Click To Tweet
I’ve studied Brené Brown for many years. I think she is such an important voice out there who talks about vulnerability, shame and a lot of the things that we’ve touched upon. She has also revealed how much work we have to do. The more that I study this, and I imagine you’re in the same boat when you get into this teaching, you start to notice not only where you can grow, but I get hypersensitive about the lack of growth and awareness in others. Sometimes that can feel frustrating. I naturally feel comfortable being vulnerable, but I’ve struggled a lot with shame in my life. I’ve noticed that I get triggered when I am vulnerable and it’s not accepted. I especially noticed this online because there’s so much shame online.
There’s so much cancel culture, accountability and call-out culture. Luckily, this show has been a very safe space, but in all my years on platforms like YouTube, every time I post something, I’m anticipating people coming out from the shadows. I’ve experienced so much of that, “How dare you say it like that? You said this wrong. You’re wrong about this.” I wonder and I’m curious about your perspective on this. Why are people so quick to point these fingers and ring the bell of shame to one another either in public or mostly in private? It’s either behind a screen or somebody else through the form of gossip. What has come up for you in your viewpoints on all of these?
The antenna of high vibing, people feels the energy around them. When I was younger, I didn’t understand that. I thought it was my own energy that I was trying to run from. Something you can learn how to do is to separate your energies between the people around you or the city that you’re in and you. It takes work and guidance, but it’s something that you can do so that you can still feel safe in your own space. To answer your question, people don’t like to leave their comfort zone. When you are voicing an opinion or living a life of expression of what you truly believe, you’re challenging people to do the same and they’re not prepared for that. People are not prepared to change.
They want their routine to be as routine as possible. We went through quarantine in 2021. A lot of people stayed home. The average weight that people gained was about 20 or 22 pounds. How many people were on Netflix and happy that everything had shut down? It might have been concerning, but there was something in the home that made you feel safe. The doors were shut. You were behind the windows. You had your TV, internet and you were watching the news, but you were watching it externally. It wasn’t an internal thing. We like that comfort.
My partner and I were talking. He goes, “I think people just want to quarantine again.” They’re saying that they don’t, but all they want to do is sit home, eat and watch Netflix. They don’t want to worry about money, getting up and being their best, “I want to sit back and be me.” When someone comes along and say something that might question their growth because as people or as an individual, we all know how much we can grow and what our potential is, walking and growing into that potential. When you’re challenging them, it might be something as simple as, “You’re still smoking?” They’re feeling, “I’m still smoking,” but they’re not prepared to make the change. Intellectually, they might be.Name 20 things you're grateful for in under a minute. Click To Tweet
This is back to where we started in different personalities, Intellectually, I might want to stop drinking, smoking and gambling or I want to lose weight, but we haven’t brought it to action. We haven’t changed our state enough to be able to bring it to action. A lot of the time, it’s either extreme pain or extreme joy that might make us shift from our comfort zone. Most people’s comfort zone is very small. When you broaden your horizons, that means you have to accept different people. I have to not judge others from where their backgrounds are, where they come from or what their beliefs are. That’s asking a lot from people. They’re not prepared to do that.
There are people like you who want to do the work, grow and have some type of regimen day by day, where they know they’re accessing growth, whether it’s our health mentally, physically or emotionally. That goes back to your relationships. Your relationships are not going to create themselves. They have to be created with intent. It’s work and you have to show up every day. For people who want things to stay the same, that’s threatening. You’re threatening their existence and you quickly become an enemy.
I’m of the age where I’m like, “Okay. You do you. I’ll do me.” I’m not out there selling. If you found me at 25 or 30, I would be talking to you about everything about my life and trying to sell you everything. My way is, “You got to see this. I want to educate you. I want you so much to have this.” On the baseline, the foundation is if someone doesn’t want help, there’s nothing you can do. That’s the prerequisite. I’ve got clients who’ve been willing to pay me upwards of five figures to do some coaching with them. I would say, “The first thing you need to do is bring consciousness. If you can bring consciousness and get the first base, I’ll get you all the way home.” Without consciousness, passion or want, a true fixed mind on, “I’m going to get there,” people will just revert back to what I like to call their emotional home.
If you’re a certainty person under stress, you’re going to want certainty. If you’re an uncertain person, you need change, and you got a fight or flight type of thinking, you’re going to run. If it’s significant, when you feel down, you’re going to go out there and make yourself feel good. It’s something that, “If we fix it will bring us together.” That’s going to have to start with us looking at where we’re similar as opposed to where we’re different. Most people don’t want to do that.
That leads me to something else I saw in your story that I wanted to touch upon. What you’re speaking about here is a lot of these differences, and how sometimes when somebody perceives us as being different, they may feel less than. They may use their own coping mechanisms to try to make themselves selves feel better. In your story, you described some bullying in school. Specifically, you shared the story of when you would bring your Middle Eastern food to school. At this particular time in your life, you didn’t have many school clothes.
We didn’t have much money at all.
You were going to a more affluent school at that time. The hem of your pants rode higher than what was fashionably acceptable to your peers. I had this whole visual of you as a little kid. I don’t know if this was before or after what you went through at the age of seven. If it happened afterward, it breaks my heart because you’re struggling with that. Now you’re going to a school where it’s every kid’s worst nightmare to feel like they’re different from someone else. Also, that sadness of people targeting you because you were eating different food than them because they weren’t familiar with your culture.
Kids are mean. What are you going to do? God bless my dad and my mom. They came with nothing. My father had a couple of $100 when he came from Lebanon. As a lot of immigrants do, they are working hard, 1, 2 or sometimes 3 jobs. My mom always wanted us to have what she didn’t, growing up almost like a peasant in Lebanon, where they felt that way. They felt that they would have to borrow clothes. Their emotional state was great, but financially it was difficult. She didn’t want us to go through that and struggle.
That was and still is her massive drive. She still works. She’s been in Corporate America. She’s been a major business owner. She’s been called the Donna Karan of the children’s clothing. She’s worked with many amazing brands like Puma, Donna Karan, Adidas and so many more. What drove her. It is that, “I want to give my kids what we didn’t have.” Those years when we didn’t have it, it bothered her. She wanted to switch me from a school where there were more immigrant-type kids there to a school that was more community-oriented.
We grew up in Brooklyn. I come from a Jewish Orthodox background, Middle Eastern. At the time, there was a community there, probably 20,000 people, that came in from different parts of the Middle East, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and we lived together. We did everything together. She wanted me to be part of this community and of this school. I could probably shed a tear remembering that when she wanted to enroll me in the school, the tuition was more than we could afford. She was negotiating with the person at the time for $100 for the whole year and begging him, “Please, I need them to come to this school.”What type of love would you experience if you remembered you might lose each other? Click To Tweet
I remember that. It’s a vivid picture in my mind of her negotiating and wanting so much for me to grow and develop. I spoke Arabic even though I was born in Brooklyn on April 8, 1972. We spoke Arabic at home. That was my primary language. I taught my parents English. Coming to school, I would wear my pants 2 or maybe even 3 times in a row because that’s how much we didn’t have or how poor we were. Saving those pants and wearing them as long as you could so you didn’t have to invest in more pants.
If I could describe it, it’s like those TV shows of the affluent LA high schools where everyone is coming in with beautiful clothes and pocketbooks. It was that type of feeling. I was always a confident kid and it was rough. I got bullied. They told me that the flood was over and I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. I’m like, “What flood?” That would make them laugh even more.
I wasn’t chosen for any sports. If I was, it was a pity party of teachers saying, “Come on. Include him.” I’m sure my mom called and said, “No. You need to include him in the sports. How can you leave him out,” as a good mom does. That was me growing up. Somewhere in my 6th, 7th or 8th grade, my mom and dad started to make some money. My clothes changed. That’s where Isaac was developed. It was that moment when there was a local store called Lester’s and we couldn’t afford it. Mom took me there. We’re now shopping there. This was the dream.
I remember going into school afterward with this whole new feeling, “I feel good,” but later on finding out that that was the beginning of the mask. That was the beginning of the costume of who I was. That also developed at the same time. When you’re being made fun of because of what you eat, how you speak, all those things, something did happen inside of me and lit up this achiever, “I’m going to show you. I’m going to make it one day and you’re going to be working for me.” That type of, “You don’t know who you are. I don’t know who I am.” I did punch out a couple of guys a couple of times. I did get physical about it.
You weren’t going to mess with me one way or another. I was very strong-headed. By eighth grade, I was one of the most popular kids. I developed. I was a handsome young man. The girls stuck to me very easily. I had nurtured my feminine side with 2 sisters and 3 aunts that I was close with. Understanding what I call the feminist language is natural to me where I learned that through osmosis. All of a sudden, this Isaac was created and he was popular. He had a lot of fun and did a lot of crazy things.Relationships are not going to create themselves; they have to be created with intent. Click To Tweet
I was the guy that ended up on the speaker in the club, pulling up everyone from the dance floor and buying everyone shots. You can jog someone’s memory and so much comes back. How I’ve developed and changed in my life, where the roots of Isaac start at that story. It’s because I was bullied, not accepted and different that I was going to show everybody that, “I could be more popular than you.” I was pretty successful at it.
It’s a relatable thing. I still find myself having those moments where things don’t go as planned or I feel ashamed or embarrassed and immediately want to prove myself or thinking like, “Wait until blank happens in my life and they’re going to regret it.” I’m very curious about how your childhood has shaped you as a parent because you have six kids.
I have 1 boy and 5 girls. Solomon was number five. My daughter, Jacqueline, is our last daughter. How has it transitioned me? We got married on September 6, 2001. Five days later, the Twin Towers came down. We were in Brooklyn the night before I had told my wife, “Let’s go to the windows of the world. I’ve never been at the top of the Trade Center. Why don’t we go?” I got my first wife speech the next morning, “I told you I didn’t want to go. You should listen to me. I know what I’m talking about.”
Up until that first 6 or 7 years, I had a very traditional understanding of what marriage is and parenting. I lived my life that way, provide, be the man, be served, be taken care and nurtured. I started raising my kids that way. I remember when Esther and Susan were born, it was very much that traditional role. After my wife and I started doing the hard work, my whole life changed.
The way I had approached my kids and my wife, it was an understanding that these relationships are not going to create themselves. These relationships are not just going to happen. Just because I’m her dad, she’s not going to listen to me and respect me. Parents with fear, I knew that I had to instill in my children the belief that I have in them. I often say this to parents because I get a lot of phone calls from parents who might have teens or young adults that they want me to work with. I generally tell them, “They better off working with you than working with them because they’re a reflection of you.”
If we look at our children from the perspective of whatever I need to do to build that bond relationship with my child is my inner challenges of growth. Those are my growth edges. We can’t tolerate them in our children because we can’t tolerate them within ourselves. They come out in the children. We still have a few teenage daughters growing up. We are still in the process.
We had dinner and I cried. I spoke to my children, “The only thing I want is for you to know that I believe in you and that you can do anything that you want. If there’s anything that ever happens, I’m the first phone call that you make.” Thank God there has been nothing serious but if my children are like, “Someone said something to me. They treated me that way,” I’m the first phone call that they get. To me, that makes me super proud of myself for being a parent. I’m proud of my children. If I can put this picture in your mind, most people look at their children as a piece of clay. They want to mold and shape their children.
They want to create and have expectations for their children, which especially in this generation, gives them a sense of, “I’m not enough.” In older generations, you might have even gotten beaten but you knew that behind the hand was a lot of love, protection and security. That was the way it was. Nowadays, with so much information out there and so much overload, I find that children are intellectually more mature than their age but emotionally younger than their age because they don’t have the actual experience to go along with the intellect.
When the child tells you, “You’re a liar. You go do that. F-you,” it’s difficult for me, especially coming from decades ago when we didn’t grow up that way. We didn’t see that. We saw respect. You felt respect. It’s something that you can visit in a museum because there’s no hierarchy anymore in this relationship, “You’re my mom or dad, but now you have to prove yourself because I know how you’re supposed to act because I’m watching and listening to all these things. There’s an expectation for you, parent.” Now we’re on trial as opposed to the child being on trial.
Most people want to develop their children and mold them as they’re a piece of clay, but children are a block of marble and a sculpture that needs to be chiseled out. You need to be exploratory and find out what that soul is made of. What is it filled with? What does it love? What does it hate? Parents, be ready. They’re very different from you are. I have six children and not one is similar to the other. They all like different things. They speak differently.Relationships are not going to create themselves; they have to be created with intent. Click To Tweet
If you’re in that exploratory mind and you’re finding out who they are, as opposed to telling them what they must be, then you can have a relationship with your child that will take last an eternity and hopefully, they pass that down to their child. I want to make it clear that I understand that most parents are concerned for their children. They’re worried. They’re going to call them three times when they’re with their friends, “Did you get to the movies? When are you coming back?” There’s genuine concern and fear there. It comes from amazing intent but are you teaching your child that they’re not enough, “Don’t do it that way, do it this way?”
I go back to the analogy of when you teach a child to walk, you hold their hand until you’re confident enough that you can let go. Is there ever an opportunity where that parent doesn’t let go and say, “No. I’m going to hold your hands until you’re 15, 20 or 25?” Some of them until 30 and 40. In my beliefs, depending on their own relationship with their spouse, especially women. Women will be overbearing moms if they’re not satisfied in their relationship with their husbands because they can get all their needs filled. There’s unconditional love, variety, significance and anything you need as a mom.
Once they get older, moms create stuff that isn’t there so that they feel needed. It is mostly because they want to avoid their relationships with their husbands because they’ve been alone for so long. There’s now something called empty nest syndrome. This is a syndrome that you and I haven’t connected in 30 years and now I don’t much like you. We’re going to give it a name as empty nest syndrome, but that’s not what it is. It’s that we haven’t developed this relationship. What should come at the end of the relationship is, “Now that we’ve been successful in raising our children, I can’t wait to get back to spending time with you because I enjoy you so much.”
To some people, that sounds insane and ridiculous. Let me tell you that in my experience, I felt the same way. The philosophy or the idea of as we’re married longer, we drift further apart. It’s a lie. Leave it for a minute. It’s a myth. It takes a lot of work, consciousness, effort, a lot of balancing of masculine and feminine energies, understanding each other’s languages, but that’s not the truth. That’s the way it should be.
Back to children, find out who your kids are. I can’t move on to any other subject without telling you that my dad, for the first 25 years of my life, I didn’t want to have a relationship with him. He wasn’t bad. He was the most gentle and sweet man. He never laid hands on me growing up but I didn’t understand him. I didn’t get him. He was quiet. He was to himself. He was kind. He spoke to people.Children are a sculpture that needs to be chiseled out. You need to find out what that soul is made of. Click To Tweet
I’m like, “We got to go out there. We got to achieve, make money, buy buildings and do things. We can’t stay like this.” He also had a story coming in from Lebanon. He had to leave school at nine years old because his family couldn’t afford any food. He had to go out and work. He was the one who sacrificed himself for his family to be able to provide. He had years of life, wisdom and experience. When he passed in 2006, I lost my best friend and the person that witnessed me in transformation. Unfortunately, Jacqueline has never known him.
To me, he’s the role model, the goal and the guy that no matter what I did and I did a lot of shit, he loved me and believed in me. Once I stepped into it as a parent, that’s what I want to be for my kids. The legacy that I want to leave behind is to know your strengths. It’s okay to take a break and a vacation. No one is going to crack a whip on your back but believe in yourself. Know who you are and bring that to others. Share that smile.
My uncle always used to say that my face is public property. My smile is public property, so how can I not smile? When someone else is looking at you, you don’t own this face. It’s public property. Give a smile. That is something that the Jemal side of my family all has. You’ll all find us smiling all the time, no matter how bad it is. We had a mourning ceremony after someone had passed. My uncle was sitting with me and we were cracking jokes even though it was a seventh-day mourning period. He looked at me and goes, “I can’t do mourning. I have to laugh and be happy.” There’s a lot of depth and wisdom in that.
What it has taught me, and I hope to teach my children, is that there’s always a silver lining. It might be thin but there’s a silver lining out there. There’s good in whatever is happening in my faith and belief, which I didn’t always have. My spirituality developed when I was in the dumps. When I was in that worst place of my life, I found my own spirit and my relationship with God. That’s what I would love to give over to my kids.
My wife is amazing. I don’t know how she does it. All girls shopping, shoes and whatever it might be. I don’t know how she feeds us. She’s an amazing cook. That’s what we want for our kids. We want them to believe in themselves and be able to pass it on. After a long, healthy life, if I can be able to leave this world and know that I’ve left that behind, that would be the most fulfilling thing of my whole entire life.
That is inspiring. Best of all, that’s also what you’re doing in your coaching. I want to remind the reader that if you’re learning, feeling inspired and curious, you offer one-on-one sessions, group sessions and a free discovery call. If you’re sitting here thinking, “I could learn a lot from him,” which hopefully you are at this point, I want to direct you to his website, which is JemalCoaching.com. We’ve talked about a number of different resources. I would encourage you to go read his story like I did before we started the show because there’s so much wisdom and inspiration there. You’re also posting a lot on Instagram. Is that your favorite social platform?
I hate social media. I rather speak in crowds. I don’t like to be on social media. I don’t like to post on social media. I don’t want to think about what story I have on social media. I’m a people person. It’s one of the reasons why if you do go to my website, you’ll find that I will fly anywhere in the country for free and I will present to groups of 25 and more because we get so lost and consumed with social media.
It’s the place that I had to shed. It’s that person inside of me that I had to shed. Now I have to go be significant and stand down. It’s everything that I don’t live for. It’s one of those things that for me is not enjoyable but a must. Not everything you do at work, you love. I’m passionate about coaching people and inspiring them, helping them grow, find their potential and build relationships everywhere possible. It keeps me away from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. All those things are not for me.
I love your honesty and it’s relatable. A lot of the readers of this show probably feel the same way and don’t want to be on there. Aside from your website, are there other places online or regular events? For someone who’s wanting to dig in more and can’t even wait for the time that they could schedule a discovery call with you?
We do have a blog. You can read some things on the blog. It’s constantly being updated. My philosophy, which I haven’t spoken about yet, is something called MTU. It stands for Me, Them, Us. For us to be able to develop ourselves in total, we first have to look within. First, it starts with me and developing that relationship with myself, and nurturing, taking care and loving myself.Your face is public property, so give a smile. Click To Tweet
The middle layer is going to be them. Them is any relationship I might have in my life. It could be a parent, a sibling, a coworker or a community member. It might be someone that I run to in the supermarket or a cashier that I say good morning to, but how do I interact in those relationships? How do I respond in those relationships?
How do I treat others? How do others treat me? How do I feel about it? How to learn how to have a perspective of what someone else might be feeling when I’m interacting with them? How were those relationships? That’s a lot of work when you’re dealing with sometimes so intimate of a relationship. Finally, the us part is what’s my purpose? Why was I created? What can I do to be able to better the world and help the world? How can I influence others to be able to grow?
If you take those three dynamics, me, the people around me and us as a unit and its entirety, that’s my goal to be able to affect as many people on this planet as possible so that they can live better lives. To me, that’s every day. That’s me walking down the street, talking to my friends, going out to dinner with colleagues. It’s day-to-day. First, go to the website, read my story and my philosophy, and send me an email. We’ll give you a free discovery call. I’m usually on the phone with people for about one hour because I have such a passion and desire to want to be able to make them feel heard and listened to. My old business skills have faded for me a little bit because when we’re talking about human beings and their feelings, it’s like, “This person needs help.”There's always a silver lining. It might be thin, but it's there. Click To Tweet
Sometimes my wife will say to me, “Did you charge them?” I’m like, “No.” It is very personal for me. It is something like we’ve been talking about that I’ve lived through, experienced and start there. I do offer one-on-one coaching. There are packages there. I do offer group coaching so that we can help each other. We can work on them and we can know that we’re not alone in this world. There are other people feeling what we’re feeling. Most human beings are struggling with the same things. The intensity might be different, but we’re generally going through the same feelings, growing and developing a way to deal with whatever we’re afraid of.
I’ll travel. Get me an audience or give me an opportunity to be able to speak in front of a crowd, I’ll go out there, talk, answer questions, and be able to help as much as possible. Those are the best ways to be able to contact me. Please reach out. I’m very accessible. You will get me. You’re not going to get someone else that’s answering my phone calls. You’ll get me personally. We’ll be able to talk and hopefully, I’ll be able to help you out with whatever it is that you are going through.
Thank you for your overall generosity, especially in sharing your story. There are many words of wisdom that people can take away from this episode. You have this energy that gave me a very calm and joyful feeling. Thank you personally for being part of my day and uplifting me. I am so excited to share this with the audience. Everything you’ve mentioned is in one place at Wellevatr.com. I will make it easy for people to get in touch with you and to learn more. I hope that they do.
Having me on the show, I appreciate it very much.
About Isaac Jemal
Before being a relationship and marriage coach, Isaac was an everyday husband and father who thought he was winning life and his marriage. That is until his wife suggested they need counseling. This experience made Isaac realize that he doesn’t really understand his role in their marriage. He also realized that men and women are biologically, physically, and spiritually wired very differently, and understanding these differences is crucial in creating a relationship that lasts. This led Isaac to discover the keys to a successful relationship.
Isaac uses his expertise as a long-time coach and personal experience as a loving husband to provide deep insights to couples seeking his counsel. He helps them deep dive into their relationships so they can understand the reasoning behind the behaviors and emotions of their partner. He also helps them develop powerful communication skills. Unlocking the secret to love and harmony is the key to reigniting passion in fading relationships and building one that feels like new every day.
Work with Isaac on building extraordinary relationships. He provides one-on-one and group coaching services. Coach Isaac is willing to travel for groups of 25. To learn more, visit https://www.isaacjemal.com/.
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