Many of us change parts of who we are to better fit into different spaces, but there's real power in representing your true self. Ofosu and Leah talk with performance psychology coach Faheem Mujahid about how he's learned to embrace that power of representation as a Black man in the mental wellness space.
See more of what Faheem is up to on Instagram @faheemamujahid. Or check out his work on his website, seeballthinkball.com.
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OFOSU: Hey, what’s up? I'm Ofosu Jones-Quartey.
LEAH: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz.
OFOSU: We're the meditation coaches on Balance.
LEAH: And this is our show -- Well Balanced.
OFOSU: All right. So I think that one of the best ways for human beings to deepen their empathy and compassion is to take time, to really listen to someone else's voice and to hear someone else's story.
It's a lot of what we try to do here on this show, we try to reveal sides of ourselves that can help people understand a little bit more about the world through our perspectives and the perspectives of our guests. As you know, it is black history month and here at Well-Balanced, we are celebrating by shining as big a light as we can on black people who are dedicated to helping others with their mental health. Last week, we had the honor of speaking to Dr. Stephanie Stewart, a psychiatrist, about how she's helping therapy become more inclusive of her black patients in general. But if you haven't heard that episode yet, I highly encourage you to give it a listen, it is fascinating.
Today, let's keep building by diving into the specific experience of one black man's journey to where he is today, a performance psychologist working with athletes at the top of their game, you may recognize his name as you've been listening to this show.
If not, you are in for a treat. Faheem Mujahid,welcome back to our show.
FAHEEM: Oh wow. I feel called to just land in the space of gratitude. The importance of being able to give a platform for black voices is huge. But I just want to say, thank you guys. You guys are just so dope for holding space like this. So thank you for that.
LEAH: I appreciate that.
OFOSU: Yeah. Well, appreciate that and appreciate having you here. I'm excited for people to experience you again and for the first time, for those who might not know, let's quickly get them up to speed.
Faheem, you are a performance psychologist who works with sports teams, like the inter Miami CF soccer team, uh, and the women's basketball team at University of Miami. So for starters, I don't think that we have actually asked you this question, what is a sports performance psychologist?
FAHEEM: So for me, I consider myself a performance psychology coach. The most powerful call for me was being able to work and build a relationship with a life coach. So for me, you know, performance psychology, I ended up going in, in getting certified as being a life coach.
And I worked on from a psychology standpoint with a lot of medical clinics in doctor's offices here in Miami, helping people who originally suffer tremendously from anxiety, depression, drug addiction. And I did that for a really long time. And what I've found in doing that from a life coach standpoint was that, you know, I was only just scratching the surface and I was really working with such a fragile, but very beautiful population.
And I wanted to see if there was a space where I can expand my shared experiences, being an athlete in a crowd then into the space of high performance athletes and high performers. Playing football in college and trying to follow a direction that I felt was my calling and play professionally. I always felt like people who operate in this space of sports psychology always had a way of feeling somewhat disconnected to those people that they were preaching to or trying to connect to. I felt like I couldn't see myself in how the conversation was being represented. And I felt like if that was my challenge with it, I always knew I had a shared experience with a lot of the athletes that I shared the space with.
For me, I wanted to take the elements of what I was doing already, um, in the medical space and see if there was a way I can mirror that with my performance background. So when I look at performance psychology specifically, sports psychology - has so many tentacles performance psychology is just one lane.
Some sports psychologists are incredibly passionate about clinical work or research. For me, I want to be on the front lines and the application of how it impacts the person's life and how I can give you the recipe to kind of learn how to get out of your own way and expand beyond the belief patterns that you have.
So it was kind of like a journey amongst journeys that kind of led me home to where I'm at right now. But as a performance psychology coach, I'm in love with the process of what it means to kind of help people really tap into their greatest potentiality. And it just happens to be around high performance athletes who play sports really well until they don't.
And then they live life really well.
LEAH: Wow. That sounds like a super exciting career to have. And, you’ve got us interested now to understand a little bit more about that journey you've been hinting at that led you here. Because as far as I can sense most people that end up in careers like yourself that are helping people live better lives, didn't fly into that career on the wings of having just an easy life themselves. They've been through some stuff. I'm curious to know a little bit more about that journey. What were some of the events or turning points in your life that led you into doing this work of helping people this way?
FAHEEM: So I'm originally born in upstate New York. I was raised by a beautiful black woman and a half, I would say, cause my grandmother was always a force that wherever we went, she was right there. Um, so I was born and raised by my mom and my grandmother. I, um, I have six sisters who I cherish.
Um, we were born in a, in a Muslim household. And one of the things that you realized about Islamic customs is that there's rarely any dating. It's always marriage. So as powerful as that is, for a child going through that experience, what it looks like is your mother being married and divorced six times - you moving every two years.
Right? So when I look back on my life, change was constant. And my mom was a very strong, beautiful black woman. So no matter how many of us there were, she was never a believer in government assistance and support. So we had to, um, we went from selling t-shirts at the Washington monument to selling snow cones to selling turkey hot dogs downtown to paper routes to WIC stores. We were always schooled on the importance of hard work and more importantly becoming self-sufficient and self-reliant. She wanted to instill that quality in her children. And, and at times, you know, you're a kid and you just want to be a kid and you don't want to have to get up at five o'clock in the morning and wash the coolers out.
You know where other kids are playing, you're out trying to help provide means for your family. But again, you get a little wiser and a little longer down your path, you understand how they made you into who you are. One of the things that was constant in my life was seeing how closely connected peace of mind came with the external elements of health.
When my mom felt beautiful, there was a way that she carried herself in our house. When my mom felt healthy, there was a way that she was present that was hard to describe because she was always present, but it felt different when she had a certain air and a certain belief in confidence within herself, it rippled through the hallways.
And I saw how closely connected one feels about themselves, how it highlights the entire world around them. If I can help create an environment that makes my sister feel better, that makes my grandmother feel more at peace, then it will ultimately impact my entire ecosystem. And my mom is a very beautiful, healthy woman, but just like all of us, she would go through her moments of struggle where she didn't feel healthy or didn't feel this confident, or she didn't feel as beautiful or she was just going through the normal ebbs and flows of trying to figure it out with seven children. You know, you would sense that. And I would probably say if I had to land on where my original passion for wellness and personal development stemmed from, it was being able to see my hero, someone with whom I saw the beauty and even when she didn't see it go through different moments at different spaces of her time, questioned that. And at different times fill the weight of what she carried and seeing how by shifting how she felt about herself had such a tremendous impact on not only how she engaged with her life, but how she engaged with her children.
Right. So that's kind of like the origins of where it all stemmed from.
LEAH: Thank you for sharing your story. I'm curious now, working in the wellness and mindfulness space. How does your identity as coming from this background, influence your experience working in mindfulness or wellness?
Um, how does it inform it?
FAHEEM: Being a black man and having a black male experience with life and also in the mental and wellness space - there's no more powerful tool than representation. For me, whether I'm hosting an event, whether I'm invited to talk onto a beautiful platform, like you guys are sharing or I'm doing something with the corporation.
In any capacity, but especially when it comes to mental health or wellness, I think what I try to always remind myself is that within each and every one of us, there's still that little Ofosu that's in a corner scared to use this voice. There's still that little Leah that's still trying to figure it out for herself.
You know, in those moments, that little Faheem within me still feels like, can I say this? Can I stand here powerfully? Right because there's still that young kid that's waiting for his father to come home, to feel as if he's worthy enough to use his voice. So I try to acknowledge that when I'm in those spaces, representation is so important.
And it's my responsibility to understand that a part of my purpose is to be brave and be bold. And even if my voice shivers, speak my truth. So when I step in spaces, coming from my experience, I add the ancestry of my beautiful culture. And I know that I'm standing on the shoulders of beautiful Kings that have come, and Queens that have come before me.
And I try to bring that confidence and I try to bring that belief in those spaces so that other people can see that. So if I can see him differently than I can expect something different, when I do see someone that looks like him, that carries himself the same way. Those are the things that I kind of keep in mind.
And, I wonder if there's something in that that resonates with you as well, because I mean, you, I look at your entire aura. I would need to give myself so much permission to even just be in those lines to color in those margins. And sometimes just being on a call with you, I'll hang up and I'm like, man, I just feel, I just feel taller.
You have that energy about yourself. So I wonder if you go through that process as well, when you're holding space, the way that you do.
OFOSU: Thank you for your sharing and those kind words. It's interesting that you would say that because I feel the same way when we get off a call with you. And I think we operate in spaces that probably intersect, but they're also distinct and have their distinct demands.
The place where our journeys meet pretty clearly is that, like you said, even if your voice trembles being able to say what's true for you and being able to come from a place of authenticity.
And I can tell you that as a black person, the last thing that you want to be thrust upon you is to be the voice or the single representation for the entire culture. However, there's almost no way to escape it as you move through spaces where there are not many black people. Um, so you realize that you are carrying and mantle of dismantling. I remember when I stopped going to teach mindfulness classes, wearing a button up Polo, because I thought that would make me a more acceptable black man. And I show up in my leather jacket in my hoodie and would teach, you know, a room full of kids of all colors. You know, in the early days of the rise of wellness, it was usually a room full of white families.
And I'm showing up looking as probably a lot of their worst nightmares. So, in being able to offer them something that is helpful and healing I'm potentially transforming their viewpoint of what a black man in America is capable of. And you know, the next time they see somebody like me walking on the sidewalk, maybe they won't cross the street.
Maybe they won't, maybe they won't call the police. Maybe won't get shot, you know? And so I started to think about that, you know, pretty deeply like, you know, what, it's really important for me to just show up how I am and, you know, as that evolves, that's fine. It's not the whole essence of the mission, but it's a part of it.
In being your authentic self, no matter who you are encountering, you are giving them permission to do the same, you know, representation matters. So specifically for people who look like us, but really, you know, writ large for everybody.
FAHEEM: Wow. There's a couple of things that just landed, you know, like you said, no matter your background or your cultural experiences, no matter how you identify, no group is a monolith.
And I think what we constantly have to give ourselves the fact that you've had your experiences and that you can sit in the full essence of who you are, it means that your voice is worthy, right? Like I think so often we feel like there are so many things that we have to accomplish to be worthy.
And I think what we have to first realize is that the way that you talk, the way that you carry yourself, the way you see things, the fact that you're here means you're worthy. And then I think the other thing is, you know, being a black man, especially you even spoke a little bit about this, about how you present yourself - you learn quickly how to appear bigger, but also how to appear smaller. Like how can I make myself appear in a way, present myself in a way that makes others feel comfortable. [Ofosu agrees] And when you shift to oh man, but that doesn't really feel as authentic. That could be a very powerful awakening, right.
OFOSU: It definitely is.
FAHEEM: I agree with you. I mean, I intentionally go in with my hat backwards, tatted up. True story. When I started going into spaces, presenting myself, hoodie out, hat backwards. I said, okay, well let me wear glasses. Let me wear glasses because there's no imagery of me being where someone that looks like me being portrayed to someone else is a threat by wearing glasses.
Right. You're not going to see someone on the news, robbing someone in glasses or sticking someone up in glasses. So true story. A lot of times my glasses won't have prescriptions, but everyone felt better.
OFOSU: Same! Yo, the glasses specifically.
FAHEEM: You learn that, and God bless you for learning that, but your responsibility is to make it to where your children and the ones coming up after you don't have to learn them now to the extent that you had to and shame on you, if you don't use your voice and if you don't use your purpose to start shifting some of those spaces.
FAHEEM: Um, just a direct statement to Ofosu right now in this moment.
I'm just proud of you, man. You know, like it's important for you to be in this space without blocking the light that you have, you know, because you, you make it possible for people to understand the magnificence behind who we are.
You know, just from a black man to a black man, I think the fact that you're using your voice and your presence, especially within the mindful committee - you know, it's, it's an honor to watch you in your light is it's an honor to watch you share that beautiful space with Leah. And in Leah, I see your lineage and your legacy as well. And I learned to love you through how I see myself in you as well.
And that's why I think the fact that you guys are prioritizing these kinds of conversations - bravo, I'm here for it. Whatever I can do to support it, count me in.
LEAH: Wow. It's been lovely to have you here on the show again with us, Faheem, and to hear your story. I think that the world heals when we share our stories.
Yeah. I personally am leaving this conversation uplifted and with more energy and positivity than even when we came into it. So, yeah. Thank you so much, brother. I appreciate you here for sure.
FAHEEM: Thank you guys again for holding space.
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OFOSU: Thank you so much Faheem. Uh, always so wonderful to have you and, uh, what a meaningful episode.
LEAH: I completely agree. You can follow what Faheem is up to on Instagram at Faheem A Mujahid.
OFOSU: Yes, please go follow him or find him on his website. See ball, think ball.com. And we've got a link in the description for you and thanks to you listener as always for joining us.
And I've said it before, but I just want to bump this up. We come out with new episodes every Monday. So if you want to be in the loop, when they come out, please subscribe or follow on your favorite podcast app.
LEAH: Yes,please. Well, thank you so much. This was awesome. We'll be back next time. And until then have a lovely week.
OFOSU: Don't forget to be kind to yourself. We'll see you again soon. Take care and peace!
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