In your journey to self-discovery: be willing to ask for help.
Sarah Udoh-Grossfurthner interviews James (Ifedayo) Piro (an American), a friend, a father, a businessman and a survivor — not a victim.’
Sarah: thank you very much, James, for being my guest today and agreeing to share some memories of your life journey with us. As you already know, the purpose of my interviews is to gather and share life lessons and tips from diverse individuals from across the globe in the hope that these lessons can help us live our genuine and authentic selves and achieve the purpose for which we were created. On that note, thank you for joining me today.
James: My pleasure, Sarah. I am honoured to be a part of your project. Thank you for including me.
Sarah: First thing first, who is James (Ifedayo) Piro?
James: I am a family man first, like it says on my LinkedIn profile. It took me years to put my priorities in line. I retired early from working in the prison system for over 25 years and started my training and consulting business. I’m a husband, father and friend.
Sarah: When you say husband, father, ‘friend,’ does that imply friendship to your spouse and children? If yes, what does being a ‘friend’ to your spouse look like in James (Ifedayo) Piro’s world?
James: I believe in having a relationship with your family, you need to fulfil the role of spouse or parent and a friendship where you can talk about anything. I believe I have that with my family. A friend is someone who’s there through good and bad times: listening when needed and lending support without judgment.
Sarah: ‘Listening when needed and lending support without judgment.’ That is so beautifully put, James. By the way, you are American, right?
James: Yes, I’m an American white male.
Sarah: You are pretty active on LinkedIn, James. How come?
James: The pandemic created much spare time in people’s life — mine included. It also created much sadness and depression. And so, during this period, I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn meeting new friends and help spread positivity. I made many friends in the process, especially among the Nigerian people — who, by the way, are wonderful people.
Sarah: Interesting, the bit about making ‘many friends’ especially with Nigerians. Why do you think you have such affinity with Nigerians? Also, what makes Nigerians ‘wonderful people.’?
James: The funny thing is I went on LinkedIn during the pandemic due to being home in lockdown — I was getting tired of Facebook with all the negativity. Whilst on LinkedIn, I started seeing inspirational messages from people. There was one particular woman who was a psychologist. We started exchanging positive messages and quickly became friends. People were responding to my post, and I noticed they were primarily Nigerian people. It was so positive to me during an ugly time due to the pandemic! I started connecting with more people, especially Nigerians, and we would talk about our different cultures. Ninety-eight per cent of the people I came across were wonderful people.
Sarah: One cannot help but notice your unusual middle name, Ifedayo. I am Nigerian, so I do know that’s a Yoruba name. Can you tell us how you came by it?
James: During my time on LinkedIn, two particular women I became close friends with decided to honour me with Nigerian names: Ifedayo and Adeiza. They said Ifedayo means my joy turned to love, and Adeiza, generous father. I was so humbled and honoured by this that I immediately put both names on my profile.
Sarah: Beautiful! They say there’s more that unites us than that which divide us, James — your story supports that saying. Back to the primary purpose of our interview: self-knowing is a critical factor in achieving success of any kind. What does the phrase mean to you? How would you define self-knowing?
James: Self-knowing to me is the same as self-awareness: to know who you are and where your path is. By the way, the psychologist was the one who gave me the name Ifedayo.
Sarah: Interesting! The fact that the name was given by a psychologist (a person who studies and interprets mental and emotional behaviour through close observation) is quite telling. Moving on. On a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the highest, what level would you say you are on the self-knowing spectrum?
James: On a scale of 1–10, I would say I’m an eight based on my life experiences.
Sarah: Have you always occupied this spectrum of self-knowing? If not, what iconic event in your life led to the spectrum you now occupy in your self-awareness journey?
James: No, I haven’t always occupied this spectrum. I believe our life journey teaches us many things. I had a very traumatic childhood filled with lots of abuse, which led me down a path of darkness. But through the kindness of good people in my life, I was able to come out of it. And it taught me a lot. The help I received transformed me into the man I am today. It helped shape my value system.
Sarah: I know those who have experienced abuse can sometimes find it hard to share their past pains, but can you tell us a bit about the traumatic childhood experience with us? Also, when you said ‘down a path of darkness,’ what exactly was that ‘darkness’?
James: Growing up poor and having alcoholic parents, my father was very verbally and physically abusive to me, my siblings and my mother. It wasn’t only traumatic to be the brunt of the abuse, but seeing him beat my mom savagely was very traumatic. We were also Catholic, and I served as an altar boy and dealt with an abusive priest who did things to me that I’ve had to learn to block out.
Sarah: Wow! To go through all that and still become the person that you are today? What an incredible person you are, James! It truly is an honour and a privileged to host you. You speak about how the help you received transformed you. Who did you receive this help from, and why was the help particularly iconic when you received it?
James: The abuse I suffered led me down a dark path of alcohol and hardcore drugs to hide my pain. A few overdoses and watching people die just added to my trauma. I sought help one day in my despair, and an Angel of mercy appeared at my door. He and a few others took me under their wing and showed me how to live life. I also got into therapy for many years to heal the wounds from my childhood.
Sarah: Is this person still in your life today, James?
James: No, he passed away over two years ago. I was fortunate to travel and pay my last respects to him.
Sarah: Do you have a role model? If yes, who is he, or she, and why do you consider this person a role model?
James: I have many role models and mentors. One is that man who showed up in my life when I was on the verge of suicide, and he helped me learn how to love myself and assured me that the past trauma was not my fault. He became a dear friend to me and was always there when I needed him.
My other role model is a man I met in 2007 while I was volunteering for his campaign. That man is former President Barack Obama. I consider him a role model not only for his political success but for the respect and kindness he gave all of us when he met us. He made us all feel that we mattered. I’ll never forget that. I try to live by his principles today.
Sarah: You met President Barrack Obama? That must have been amazing, James.
James: It was.
Sarah: Considering the political climate during his initial announcement to run for office, what made you campaign for him, especially as he was relatively unknown at the time? What moved you to decide - I will campaign for this guy — despite the opposing views of some Americans, especially those of your race?
James: Besides sharing the same values: family, caring about people and wanting to help, I was attracted to his magnetism. When he spoke, you believed him. He was refreshing, compared to most past candidates. Moreover, in decisions to cast my votes, I also always look for who walks the walks and not only talks the talk. And President Barrack Obama did that.
Sarah: ‘who walks the walk and not only talks the talk,’ what an apt way to describe evidence of a good role model! Now, what attribute, or attributes, should qualify a person as a model, and someone that others should emulate?
James: To be a role model, I think caring, compassion and empathy are the three things to start with.
Sarah: Name three people you consider your closest friends and why.
James: Well, my closest friend and mentor was a man named Richie. He recently passed away. He was there to help me during my darkest hour. He wanted nothing in return. I loved that man immensely. Then there’s a childhood friend, Kevin. We grew up together, did everything together and had lost contact due to everyday life. We reconnected many years ago on Facebook and have picked up our relationship! Then last but not least would be my wife. We’ve been through a lot together, and although we have had our issues, she is someone who cares and is willing to help me through thick and thin.
Sarah: Let’s talk about your job for a moment. What do you do?
James: I worked for over 25 years in the prison system and retired early to start my training and consulting business in the same field.
Sarah: For someone who experienced trauma during his childhood and who considers kindness and compassion core traits that mattered deeply, the prison industry is hardly the kind of environment that boost these kinds of traits; what made you choose prison work, and how were you able to marry the contradictions of your workplace with the essence of who you are as a person?
James: I was initially working for an organization that helped the homeless. I was doing social work in the area, helping men, women get back on their feet. A friend I knew told me about how the prison system is incorporating treatment and mental health in their facilities, and it’s a good-paying job with room for growth. So I got a job working in this prison, and it jump-started my career. For over 25 years, I made a difference in people’s lives and helped give them a second chance. It was gratifying to work.
Sarah: So, what you are saying there is that you went into the prison system primarily to help because it was incorporating treatment and mental health into its facilities?
James: Yes, that is what I am saying.
Sarah: What matters most to you?
James: Family and friends matter most to me. People matter most to me. I try to be kind to everyone that crosses my path. It’s funny sometimes my kids get embarrassed because when we go out, I talk to everyone. I try to give a positive word to people I meet.
Sarah: How did you learn these values? I mean, it can’t have been from your home since you’ve just shared the abusive nature of it.
James: I learned what matters most through my job! I mentioned earlier I worked in the prison system for over 25 years, trying to help incarcerated men and women see their self-worth. It was a challenge but a challenge I enjoyed. I was fortunate to have a position of authority to train people to work in the system and show kindness to the population we served. Now I contract with a company where I can continue to train new staff. The beauty is I get to spend more time with my family.
Sarah: Have your values ever conflicted with what you do? If yes, what was the conflict, and how did you resolve it?
James: Yes, early in my career, I had a situation that went against my value system. My boss wanted me to fix some numbers on a statistical report to help make him look good. I refused and reported this to the higher-ups. Eventually, I resigned because I felt the company did not follow their Mission Statement.
Sarah: Interesting. Was your boss ever held accountable for his lack of integrity? By the way, what was your former company’s Mission Statement?
James: I heard he was eventually let go by the company. I never knew the reason, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to make a report. I don’t know the mission statement by memory, it was over thirty years ago, but it was something to the effect that it treats its employee with dignity and respect.
Sarah: What did this particular experience teach you?
James: The incident taught me to always hold on to my values, no matter what. I live by that to this day. And because of that, I would tell people today to never compromise their value system for anybody. At the end of the day, you have to look at yourself in the mirror.
Sarah: Do you have regrets about any decision you’ve ever taken in your life? If yes, what are they?
James: I have many regrets about decisions I made throughout my younger life. But through the Grace of God, I overcame them. Due to my childhood trauma, I turned to alcohol and drugs as a teenager and hurt many people. They say hurt people hurt people.
Sarah: You speak about faith and God a lot. Have you always been spiritual? If not, how did you come by your faith?
James: I had lost faith in God at an early age, and it took me years to trust and find my spirituality! I found it through people. People like my friend Richie who helped pull me out of a dark time. My God speaks through people. I don’t believe in organized religion, but I believe in a spiritual being who loves me and protects me.
Sarah: Now, let’s speak about your spouse; I know she is of African ancestry. What part of Africa does she come from, and how did you two meet?
James: My wife is actually African American. She was born here in the United States. We are not too sure of her ancestry due to slavery back in the day. We met in a restaurant. The minute I walked in and saw her, I knew she was the one. We started dating and instantly fell in love. We were married months later on a beach in Mexico.
Sarah: If you could tell your younger self anything today regarding spirituality, what would that be?
James: I would tell my younger self that everything is going to be ok. Trust in God and believe that there are good people in the world. I was in a dark period at 17, so I would have needed that encouragement! In addition, I would add, treat everyone with kindness and consideration.
Sarah: That speaks of gratitude, right? What does the word, gratitude, mean to you, James?
James: Gratitude is so important to me; it is the core of my life. I learned to be grateful for everything, big and small. I am no longer a victim but a survivor. And I’m grateful for each day I wake up and breathe.
Sarah: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with my readers and me, James. One final thing before we wrap up, what advice would you give a young person experiencing the same trauma you did in your childhood?
James: The advice I would give a young person going through similar trauma is never to give up hope.
Sarah: Let’s make the previous question quite specific. If your younger self could go back in time, what advice would you give to 17-year-old James Piro?
James: Easy. I would say, believe in yourself and never believe you deserve this pain. Trust in God, and He will see you through this.
Sarah: Sum up James (Ifedayo) Piro’s life philosophy in one or two sentences max, please.
James: Treat everyone with kindness and consideration. You don’t know what that person is going through, and maybe that one kind word can make a difference in their day. Also, value the people who love you. They are the natural treasures in your life.
Sarah: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with my readers and me, James. It’s been a real privilege hosting you.
James: I am thankful for the opportunity to share, Sarah; hopefully, my experiences will benefit other people.
For more on James (Ifedayo) Piro, visit: http://linkedin.com/in/james-ifedayo-adeiza-piro-60143846