Leading yourself in your own life requires making space for your pain. However, a more critical skill to have, and one that’s probably harder than you realise, is making space for your joy.
On a recent volume of Psychology of Entrepreneurship, I had the pleasure of sitting down with coaching extraordinaire, Kemi Nekvapil. Kemi is somewhat of a hero of mine, and it’s not hard to see why. Besides working with powerful female CEOs and executives as a coaching expert, Kemi also helped bring the raw food movement to Australia. She’s also a yoga master who has taught all over the world. She's a best selling author, an extremely successful entrepreneur, and just an all-around fierce, powerful woman.
She didn’t have the best start in life. Kemi is now a strong, proud Black woman of Nigerian descent. But she passed through 5 different white foster homes before she was 13 years old. This rocky start in life has proven to be one of her most significant motivating factors. “When you don’t have agency over your life as a child, I think we’re drawn to have agency over our lives as adults,” she explains.
Another critical life lesson Kemi learned from this harsh upbringing is that pain is the ultimate growth fuel. Working through this pain, and learning how to change her reaction to it, is what made her who she is today. It also allows her to show other people how to use their pain as a tool. “The only reason I can hold for my clients for their pain, as well as their joy is because I have been able to hold space for my own pain. And learned how to hold space for my joy.”
Letting Go of Shame
Once you’ve learned the power in your pain, the next step is allowing yourself to feel joy. Many people who’ve come from a background of hardship, abuse or neglect tend to have issues with emotional blockage. When pain is all you know, how can you allow yourself to feel happiness?
It’s a process, that’s for sure. For Kemi, part of this process was accepting who she was and learning to let go of the shame. Her shame centered around looking different than everyone around her. “The shame put on me, from a very young age, was being Black,” she says. “That was the shame.” However, she stresses that dwelling on shame is counterproductive.
“We all have shame stories,” she explains. “It’s not a place to hang out in, our shame stories.”
A defense mechanism Kemi learned early on to combat this shame was human connection. Although she used it as a way to get her foster families to quickly see her humanity, it turned into a lifelong skill. This connection came from a place of survival, but it now gives her an edge in her career.
Holding Space for Joy
So what does all this have to do with joy, you ask? Well until you can let go of your shame and learn healthy ways to react to your pain, happiness stays surface level. “Enlightenment on the ground is being able to say ‘This is who I am and this is what I need’”, Kemi explains. “And then be able to give that to ourselves or ask that of others without any guilt or any shame.”
Let go of that shame. Seek out therapy, meditation, yoga- whatever it is that helps you. It’s different for everyone. What works for me may not work for you. And that’s ok. Just keep learning, keep growing, and keep doing. As Kemi says, “We all experience shame. We all experience despair. We all experience pain and joy, and we strive and we have ambition and we experience love and we experience loneliness. When we all can recognise that in each other, that is the humanity that I’m really excited to be a part of.”
To hear more of this inspiring conversation, listen to Psychology of Entrepreneurship 47. Volume. Kemi Nekvapil: Self-Leadership. Out now.
Author: Kaili Bonnyman
Kaili is the Queen of Audio at Must Amplify.