I completed my undergrad with a 3.9 CGPA, the Most Outstanding Male Graduating Athlete Award, the McMaster President’s Award for Excellence in Student Leadership, and a scholarship to my top choice Master’s Program.
But none of that mattered – or at least that’s what my heart kept telling me.
People would tell me how bright & promising my future looks, yet as I write this piece, having moved back to my public housing complex – I can’t stop but think about the work I need to keep doing right now.
My friends would tell me how I’m “up”, yet to hang out, I’d have to get picked up by one of them or take the transit. I know some of us have valid reasons why we don’t have cars, for example, but insecurities like these continue to pile up in my mind.
My mom still had to work two jobs for us to survive, I still didn’t have a stable income, and the list can honestly go on and on.
Even if our situations may not be the same, I know you might relate to having these void-like feelings at some point.
I know how hard I worked for my achievements and how grateful I was to be recognized, yet there was always a lingering emptiness that followed the celebration. In my case, especially along with many aspiring souls in the Black community, even if I were being acknowledged, my gut feeling would always tell me how much more I had to do before I could truly say I was successful.
Now, these feelings are valid, but I found that they also serve as a constant source of invalidation. Ever since I was young, I was brought up to be a high achiever because I knew I didn’t have much to fall back on – especially coming from my parents, who left their professional careers behind to immigrate to Canada.
This upbringing fuelled me, but I made a grave mistake somewhere along the line that I think other people can make too.
I gradually became convinced that I had to work hard because I’m not enough now. This might seem harmless to some people, but there’s a very subtle and dangerous message it sends. When you work hard for this reason, your motivation can become deeply rooted in inadequacy. As if, without success, you carry no value for yourself or others. And the more I reflected on my achievements, the more I started to see how this pattern affected me; if my motivation was rooted in self-doubt, any celebrations would be very short-lived as the doubt gradually returned.
That’s why as I go forward in my life, I realize I must continue to understand my past. Those gut feelings of doubt have often fueled my thoughts, which ultimately guided my actions and perceptions of the world around me. Doubt is a part of human nature; we can’t control those gut feelings as they arise, but we can work to understand where they come from. If we’re able to understand & validate those reactions, the awareness we develop will better prepare us to understand when we’re our own worst enemies.
We all have memories and mentalities from our pasts that influence the people we’re standing as now. They guide our emotional responses, which ultimately drive our behaviours and actions.
When I think about my high achiever mindset, for example, I can recall a moment that shaped me. I was around seven years old, and it was one of my first times going to work with my dad, a taxi driver at the time. Like many kids that age, I thought my dad was a superhero and told him I wanted to be just like him. He met my excitement with a serious lecture, and I remember the profound embarrassment I felt being told to dream bigger, especially when I thought his life was my dream. And I think that’s a part of why I continue to aim higher to this day.
I believe that to enjoy our present lives and take more control over them, we must return to moments like these and uncover the shackles they still have on us.
There are various ways to do this: some go to therapy, some read, some seek mediation, some pray, or do what they feel helps them take an honest look inside. I have tried all of these methods and have found that a healthy mix can help you in your healing journey.
I started therapy to help me with the anxiety I had playing varsity basketball, and I gradually realized how many more areas of my life I needed to unpack continually.
I know this looks different for everyone. We all have access to different resources and experience different barriers. However, regardless of the journey we choose to take, this healing journey and returning to our authentic selves is an important one to engage in.
As you could see from how I started this piece, I am still working on myself. However, I wanted to remind you that you’re not alone if you’re experiencing the same thing. There is greatness in you, and as you look into your past, you will have more clarity on how to better the amazing person you have built yourself to be and will continue to become.
Kwasi Adu-Poku is a McMaster Men’s Basketball & Kinesiology alumni. Having recently graduated from McMaster, he was the recipient of the prestigious Dr. Ray Johnson Award, an honour given to the graduating student-athlete who best exemplified the “Spirit of McMaster” in their time as a Marauder.
Overcoming his mental health challenges & life experiences, he’s also the founder of The Reach Series, a platform that promotes personal development. He is also the Head of Content for an organization called The Playbook, which aims to help university athletes succeed professionally after their careers. In the Fall, Kwasi will enter the Masters of Public Policy & Administration program at X (R*****n) University.