A Word With Jesse Kadjo
Every week I will feature the kinds of everyday heroes I look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. I hope you’ll learn as much from them as I have!
I first met Jesse at Loyola University Chicago. We didn’t live in the same dorm, but we ate lunch at the same dining hall, and eventually took a Psychology class together. Jesse always came prepared to learn, while I usually showed up ready to nap. That duality has been the through-line of our relationship: Jesse conquers, I goof off. Thankfully, my sisterhood with her as lead to some real breakthroughs that have shown me how much fun life can be if you live it with both eyes open (see what I did there?). She’s a woman of unmatched strength and poise. She also lays out the kind of humor you wouldn’t anticipate from a worldly woman in a tea-length dress. I love Jesse for many reasons, but most of all for her inherent goodness. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did. The transcript is below!
What is your profession? Is it what you wanted to do?
I am a labor representative. Another term for it is organizer. I work for a labor union and teach workers how to advocate for themselves and make positive changes to their work environment through collective action and bargaining. This is not what I set out to do when I went to college. I wanted to be a diplomat, because I grew up abroad and saw that work around me. But, in truth, I don’t think that is what I would have been happy with either. I’m just good at talking to people and helping people learn how to work systems to improve their lives.
If not, what would you like to do instead? Why?
I’m not sure what I would like to do. I have toyed with a lot – cosmetic chemist, food writer, food researcher, travel show host, podcaster, blogger. Some of these things I already am doing. I think that finding your passion in life is a real privilege, and being able to actually do it is a whole other thing. Even the passion is work. For right now the thing I greatly enjoy is food and and the feelings it brings to me. From the preparation, to the pictures, to the video, to the writing of it, I love thinking about it in all ways and its impacts on human life. This is what I’m trying to explore on my blog, The Chocolate Mousse.
What are some ways you take care of yourself?
I love to meditate, read and exercise. If I’m doing one of those three, I feel good. If I’m doing all three, I feel amazing.
Can you share a time or event you didn’t think you could survive?
My brother’s death is the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s one you can never recover from, because death is permanent. I wouldn’t say I didn’t think I would survive it per se, it’s that I felt such deep pain that I did not know how I would come out of it. My mother was also so broken that I could not look to her. In many ways she felt this much more than I did, as this was her son. I had never suffered from depression or even negative thoughts until then. It was a sadness I cannot even put into words. At least not yet.
What/Who pulled you through it? What did you learn?
I can tell you that I knew I needed to speak to a professional, because the mind is a real forest, and you need a guide to get you to the other side. My therapist, Dr. Rebecca Chamorro, was an angel sent from God. I worked with her for two years, and she helped me through this time as well as helped guide me to the next stages in my life. I am deeply grateful for her. The path to healing is a long one and I’m still on it. I could not have started on this without her. I’ve learned that therapy is just as important as going to your doctor regularly. I’ve learned that if I want to have a good life, full of love and happiness, I have to do the work to learn how to better move in society, accounting for all my faults, not really to eliminate them but to understand how they were formed and how they remain. It is only then that I can tackle them in earnest.
How did the event/time shape the way you live now?
I am much more aware of the impermanence of our experiences and relationships. Because of this, I value my friendships so much more and work to connect with my people wherever they are in the world. I’ve traveled more to see my friends and family since his death, because I don’t want to regret not having made that trip or made excuses for why I can’t go. You truly don’t know what can happen. I don’t live every day like it’s my last. because what does that even mean, but I do try to live a full life and an earnest one. When I’m upset with someone, I tell them. When I’m happy for someone, I tell them. When I want to talk to someone or spend time with them, I tell them. I tell them, I tell them, I tell them. I wish I could tell him too, in person. But I still tell him, every day, in prayer.
What was the best/ funniest/ most memorable piece of advice you’ve received?
The best advice I’ve ever received is from my mom. In high school she told me I only need 5 friends. She said this in response to me asking to go to a play with my friend Gwen. Like many times back then, I thought my mom was nuts and that she was trying to attack me. Mother daughter relationships are such a minefield and more needs to be written about them. Now, I completely understand what she meant. Of course you will have more than 5 friends. Facebook might even say you have 1000. But your quality ones, the ones that really matter, those you only need a few of. Those are the relationships that matter and that have to be watered. Those are the ones to invest in. Those are the ones that have great benefits all throughout your life.
When do you feel the most free?
At home, farting away, reading my book. Also, traveling alone. I love it.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Being a good friend and someone people can count on to be there in good times and bad.