Najwa Zebian, a Lebanese-Canadian activist, author, speaker, and educator, is one of the most recognizable names in poetry today. But the Founder and CEO of Najwa Zebian Inc. never intended to be a professional writer. As a thirteen-year-old, she first stumbled on her passion for writing as a way to heal from pain inflicted from being suffocated by culture and society. The search for a home -what she describes as a place where the soul and heart feel at peace -was central to her early years. At sixteen she ‘stopped writing’ to ‘stop feeling’ when she permanently moved to Canada due to the 2006 Lebanon war. She eventually became a teacher and is currently a doctoral candidate in educational leadership. Najwa began to write again in an effort to connect with and heal her first students, a group of young refugees, but she found that she was also writing to heal herself. Drawing on her own experiences of displacement, discrimination, and abuse, Najwa uses her words to encourage others to build a home within themselves; to live, love, and create fearlessly. On a journey to empower herself and others, her work is primarily focused on love, honesty, self-healing, and self-acceptance. Through her soul-stirring writing, she guides people to own their pain, develop a strong sense of self, and build resilience & strength to live a fulfilling life. Her willingness to embrace her feelings and talk openly about personal experiences has resulted in three published collections of poetry (Mind Platter, The Nectar of Pain, and Sparks of Phoenix) with more than 250,000 copies sold and recently published her fourth book, Welcome Home: A Guide for Building a Home for Your Soul is a bestselling self-development work. Her TEDx talk “Finding Home Through Poetry” has been viewed over more than 100,000 times, and her work on Instagram has attracted more than 1 million followers and fans that include Danielle Brooks, Hilary Swank, and Jordin Sparks. She currently has a digital school, Soul Academy, and a podcast, Stories of the Soul. In addition to her poetry, she has spoken at political rallies, educational and motivational conferences. From self-publishing her first collection of poetry and prose in 2016, Najwa has now become an inspiration to millions of people worldwide and a trailblazing voice for women everywhere – name-dropped by the New York Times, The Huffington Post, and CBS News, among others. She has also creatively collaborated with Google, RBC, Kohl’s, and Cirque du Soleil.
In the interview below we talked to Najwa about her life’s purpose, power of words, everything that goes behind the creative process of writing prose, and hopes for the world.
Healing souls through words
Najwa Zebian: “My Company’s mission is to heal through words. We aim to inspire every human out there to build a home within themselves. I, as the author, put words to thoughts and emotions that we all feel but can’t express with ease. I aim to be real and to be vulnerable and to talk about things that all of us feel and go through but either we don’t have the right words to explain them or we don’t have the courage to say ‘Yeah, I feel this way.’ Our vision is to make the human experience with its complexity of thought and emotion something to embrace and understand instead of shame people for. I do this through writing books and getting involved in any efforts on mental health and empowerment in any sector.
Writing is like breathing to me. It’s how I make sense of myself and the world. The interesting thing about being an empath is that helping others heal helps you heal and vice versa. I know the power that writing has for me in my own understanding of myself, my healing, and healing in general. The power that it has for others is that it gives a voice to the thoughts and emotions that they are trying to verbalize and comprehend. So, it’s a beautiful feedback loop. I chose poetry because that’s how I felt most true to myself. Since poetry is the language of the soul, using it as a vehicle to express myself has the potential to reach the masses of those who struggle with expressing and finding themselves. At the end of the day, that’s my purpose; to be a vehicle for myself and the world. In fact, my style of writing sets my business apart from other businesses. The nuanced nature and universality of thought patterns and emotions have been studied widely in academia and practice. Translating it to words that any person can read and understand is powerful. Translating it into words that any person can feel seen and heard by is even more powerful. That’s what I do. And my team helps spread the message.”
A culture that nurtures
Najwa Zebian: “We have open communication and dialogue about various decisions. Even at times when we get very busy, it’s a respectful and easy-going environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions. Every person who works with me has a designated area of expertise where they bring value that I personally wouldn’t be able to. That also means finding the right people to be agents for me; literary, speaking, etc has been the biggest challenge. I resolved them by learning to trust my gut and only working with people who genuinely understand my vision and are fully committed to helping me spread my message to the world. I assess that through witnessing their actions.”
Najwa Zebian: “I lead from the heart and through action. I am most proud of my ability to stay true to who I am as a person in everything I do. When you meet Najwa the author, speaker, activist, content creator, etc., you meet Najwa the human. There is no difference. For me, success is when I am able to be authentic with myself in terms of keeping the work that I’m trying to do within the world as genuine as it should be instead of it being strictly monetized. It’s striking the balance between authenticity and trying to make a living.
How do I keep going? I just never quit. I always listened to the voice within that pushed me to express myself and I believed, as I still do, that sharing my truth is a lot more important than how the world perceives it. I believe in my work. I never speak to myself in a self-degrading way or allow external voices to make me doubt the value of what I do. On a more practical level, I believe that being action-oriented has been a game-changer for me. I get so many ideas all the time. If I don’t act to execute them, they leave. I forget about them. Sometimes, not acting upon them weighs me down because I start to feel unaccomplished. Writing out a list of actionable steps with reasonable deadlines is so simple and powerful.”
Striking a difficult balance
Najwa Zebian: “I believe my greatest fear is to not fully realize the power I have over my life and career. I have so many visions for what I want my life to look like but sometimes I get distracted in saving other people from their struggles. Don’t get me wrong, that’s part of what I love doing. It’s the balance of being there for myself and others while learning how to have boundaries that are the struggle. I manage this by constantly reflecting and making changes accordingly.”
A perfect plan doesn’t exist
Najwa Zebian: “My advice to anyone who wants to pursue their passions will simply be to just start. You don’t have to be perfect. No one is. And your plan doesn’t have to be perfect. You learn as you go along. As much as the big vision is important, focus on the next step you can take and take it. Don’t let anyone’s opinions deter you, even if it’s culture or religion. Those who love you will support you through your journey of growth, not hinder you.”
A vision for a beautiful world
Najwa Zebian: “Through my work, I hope to always empower every person out there to be themselves, to feel their feelings, and do what they love. I would like to see more empathy and compassion toward those who are struggling in any way. I wish to see every person who is afraid of sharing their truth to let go of their fear of not being included as the only inclusion that truly matters is the one within.”