If you have heard my story or listened to the podcast from the last post, you know the role my parents played in shaping my values. Many of my decisions were driven by the desire to repay them for their sacrifice — cutting family ties to come to America and working incredibly hard so their children were better off. They exemplified the immigrant success story. It was a story I never forgot. Both because I heard it from my father every year, but also because it is the reason I have the opportunities I do today.
Overcoming the poverty of their small village in Nigeria to have their kids graduate from college and pursue successful professional careers was no small feat. Looking to their example, I set my sights on being equally disciplined -- making straight A's, balancing studies and athletic pursuits, and going to a prestigious college.I put it on myself to make the most of their sacrifice. And as many boxes as I checked off or accolades I received, I didn’t feel accomplished. I set my sights higher.
The driving force for my future career goals was my parents happiness — the beam they had when someone asked where their son was going to school or what he wanted to do after graduating. My ambitions for medical school was my thank you — proof that my family had really made it. But it came at a cost. I was so stuck on what I thought they wanted of me that I forgot to ask what I wanted of myself.
It's easy to assume that I began to resent the tough standards and strict upbringing. I didn’t. My parents taught me what they knew. Education was security. I did resent my own cowardice. I was too afraid to risk their approval for my chance at happiness. When I finally decided to forge my own path, I didn't step out in triumph. I was timid. I was uncertain. I had so many fears about letting down those closest to me, that I even doubted what I was the right step.
Once I fully committed to my dreams, I had to be okay with being ridiculed. I had to prioritize my self-image over my reputation. I had to come to terms with my parents not understanding what I did or why I did it. I might be stuck with that disapproval for the rest of my life.
I share this as I’m coming into my second year directing Everybody Dance Now! I was alerted of a new donation that was made. It was from my father and followed with a note “It’s not much, but I hope it helps.” The approval I desperately sought growing up came at a time that I least felt worthy of it. I thought I had failed in his eyes. I had so long sought approval from being who I thought I needed to be. But my father’s support came when I stuck to who I was meant to be. And the acceptance that comes when you are your genuine self feels much better. Whatever you really feel like you should be doing, stick to it. You might lose support or friends, but you also will gain