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The Greatest Love Of All

How a Whitney Houston song became the soundtrack to my life…

By Jumol Royes

When I was a little kid, my family had a Saturday night ritual: we’d gather in the living room, my mom would play DJ spinning records on the record player and my sister and I would dance and sing along to the latest hits. 1980s ballads were my moment to shine, but there was one song in particular that I loved more than the rest. I can still remember being about five or six years old, standing under an arc floor lamp—which doubled as my spotlight—and singing my heart out as if I were auditioning for Star Search (the OG version of American Idol). It’s a memory that always makes me smile because in that moment, I was totally uninhibited and completely myself. The song was “The Greatest Love of All” by the incomparable Whitney Houston, and though I didn’t know it at the time, it would become the soundtrack to my life.

“Everybody’s searching for a hero”
Coming to terms with my identity and being labelled has been a lifelong struggle. As the proud son of Jamaican-immigrant parents, I was either too black or whitewashed. To this day, I bristle when asked where I’m from. While the question implies that I somehow don’t belong, I’ve come to expect it. My answer, on the other hand, often catches people off guard: Etobicoke, born and raised. Growing up gay in an all-boys Catholic school, I was bullied and called every slur in the book long before I even knew what being gay meant…and it hurt. Even though l know now that it doesn’t matter who I love, but simply that I love, those wounds are hard to heal. I’m still not sure how to be a gay man of colour in today’s society—so instead, I’m just trying to be the best version of me I can be.

“I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows”
There are two modus operandi woven through the fabric of my life: people-pleaser and perfectionist. It’s always been easy for me to focus on other people’s needs and desires while neglecting my own. I never want to let anyone down, disappoint them or hurt their feelings. I set impossibly high standards for myself and beat myself up when I fall short. I’ve long operated under the mistaken belief that being perfect and making other people happy would make me happy, because for a long time it did…until it didn’t. Now I’m learning that I owe myself the same empathy and compassion that I so easily extend to those around me. And instead of berating myself when things don’t work out as planned, I’m learning to be grateful for the gift of resilience.

“I found the greatest love all / Inside of me”
I wrote a love letter to myself not so long ago. It is without a doubt the most important letter I’ve ever written:

Dear Jumol,

You are loved just as you are for who you are in this moment. You are a kind, generous, loving, caring, compassionate, intelligent, strong and beautiful human being. Your life is full of great accomplishments and you have many more still ahead to look forward to.

Yes, you have experienced challenges, difficulties and disappointments, but that doesn’t mean that you are not worthy of love, happiness and success in all their many forms. Yes, there have been times when you’ve stumbled, fallen and failed, but that doesn’t mean that you are worth less, undeserving or not good enough…it just means that you’re human. And, yes, you can choose to be hard on yourself and to beat yourself up over what you didn’t do and things you didn’t know, or you can choose to be kind to yourself, to love yourself and to show yourself compassion.

Jumol, you have it within you to reach for your dreams and to make them come true. You are not in a race or competition with anyone else. Don’t let your mistakes define you, but rather, let them motivate you to do better, to be better. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come, but as long as you have today, it’s never too late. Forgive yourself for the person you were yesterday, and accept and love yourself for the person you are today. Release who you used to be; you are new.

Remember: You always were, you are and you always will be worthy. You are loved just for being you.

And if I ever lose track of what I know to be true, I think I picked the perfect song to remind me. On second thought, I think maybe the song picked me.

“The greatest love of all / Is easy to achieve / Learning to love yourself / It is the greatest love of all.”

Jumol Royes is a Toronto-based PR and communications strategist with a keen interest in personal development and transformation. Follow him on Twitter at @Jumol.

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