Updated: Jul 8, 2020
| This is the 181st story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in 1986 in Rome to a family of mixed culture, my mother was German-Dutch and my father, Italian. As a boy, I was enamored by my father’s sharp business suits and his title of a lawyer. While I looked up to him, I did so at a distance. He was always busy, constantly preparing or rushing to the office. The strict, tidy nature of his way of conversation made him a great lawyer, but made it hard for me to build a close relationship with him as his son. When I was eight, he lost his job as a lawyer and I could see that really disappointed him. I decided that I wanted to be the one to make him proud; I never wanted to disappoint my father.
In school, I worked hard in my studies and performed well. I also wanted to show my success outside the classroom, so I joined a club rugby team . I found that I was bold on the field. The aggression and fearlessness of the game drew out my courage, and after each win, I just knew I was a player to be proud of. And my dad recognized that too; much to my surprise he never missed a game and rugby was one of the few things we shared together.
I’m fortunate though for my maternal grandfather. My grandfather would pull me out of my insecurities. He was altruistic, generous, and was a fine storyteller. Being a World War II veteran, my grandfather filled our visits with gripping stories of adventure, all spun by his wrinkled hands and animated grin. He listened when I spoke, he smiled when I told him about my dreams, and he helped paint a true picture of my worth that formed a lasting confidence within me.
Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away when I was 17. In my mourning, I decided that rather than letting his loss drown me in sorrow, I would take what he taught me and put it into motion in my life. Through my grandfather’s guidance, I began my journey towards happiness with two internal voices; one directing me down a strict, straightforward path, and the other guiding me more towards purpose, perhaps what I’d even call the unknown.
Even though my grandpa boosted my self-esteem, I still wanted to impress my father. I decided to follow in his footsteps and pursue the prestigious subject of law after high school. But the more I studied law, the more I knew it wasn’t for me. I was a good student, but I didn’t have the passion to be a good lawyer. Despite this realization, I continued to go through the motions and stayed in the program. I thought about my dad’s expectations and the internal voice that wanted me to help others and succeed, so I continued down the path.
During my university years, I traveled to Vienna, Austria and got a taste of world exploration. In Vienna, I was fascinated by the culture and the people. I felt free and easily identified with such an open-minded and free-spirited community of international students. I learned there that I could adapt and experience new ways of life outside of the structured city I grew up in. While at the time I didn’t see it, I was getting a taste of the life my grandpa lived. The more I got to explore the world, the more I thought about what life outside of law would look like. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure if I could, or should, take that big step. Practicality spoke louder than purpose.
I returned to Rome at a junction, or a fork in the road in my journey towards happiness. I had lived the practicality of studying and pursuing law. I had also experienced living in a way that got me thinking about purpose and fulfillment. Unsure of which road to take, I stuck with what was most familiar. I accepted a training position at the best law firm in Italy. However, after a year there, I had a serious conviction that I was not meant to be a lawyer, and I couldn’t live this lie anymore.
I really began to think about my life. Maybe I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to chase after the dreams of my father or strive to make him happy anymore; I wanted to live. I decided it was time to forge my own path. So, I left law and took an investments internship in Paris in 2013. Through it, I was assigned to their projects based in Africa.
While working with investments in Sub-Sahara Africa, I moved to Nairobi, Kenya. Despite starting something new, I was still feeling my heart being pulled toward the need to give back. I decided to finally connect with others and follow in the footsteps of someone who truly inspired me growing up: my grandpa.
I started by volunteering at a baby hospital for abandoned and orphaned children. The babies’ underdeveloped brains wouldn’t remember my interaction with them, but I will remember those moments forever. Giving them care at the most pivotal time in their development gave me a sense of purpose I had been searching for. I continued working and volunteering until I began to search for a new way to connect with others. I wanted interaction with people who would actually remember our conversations. In my search, I found the Shamas Rugby Foundation, an NGO (non-government organization).
I will never forget that Sunday afternoon when I met the Shamas kids in Mathare. I saw the kids sprinting around the field, and it took me back to my high school days. I was reminded of my love for rugby and all the friendships that grew from the teams I was part of. I thought back to the lessons I learned as a player and I could feel my heart open up. Of course. This was where I belonged—helping others through something I loved. It all seemed so simple when I came to the realization that day.
Stepping on the pitch, meeting the kids, and being part of their session allowed me to experience happiness. Happiness not just in that moment, but in the months and years to come. It was so natural for me to interact with everyone and connect through the game. The more I got involved, the more I knew I had found my place. I began coaching and volunteering with the rugby clinics across Nairobi and left my job in investments. I figured if I could leave behind a prestigious career in search of something meaningful once, I could do it again! After making this change, I felt an internal satisfaction that I had never felt before. Finally, the feeling of helping others felt right. No wonder my grandfather had done it all his life!
I eventually worked my way up to the CEO of Shamas Rugby Foundation, and it was one of the happiest days of my life. All those years of feeling pressure to live up to a certain standard, to follow in the footsteps of my father, and to look like everyone else were over. When I stop to think about it, I can feel the support of my grandpa; his passions for traveling, giving back, and making a positive impact are what brings me happiness too.
While there are many challenges I continue to face, I feel settled and fulfilled in where I’m at in life. I always have ideas and dreams for the future. I think about how the NGO can grow and be sustainable, but more than that, I dream about where I will go and what greater impact I can make in the future.
In my journey, I realized that the pursuit of happiness can actually lead to unhappiness. I used to see happiness through material lenses and was often disappointed. When I allowed myself to start the journey of what made me truly happy, it was like starting my life over. Without my education and the detoured experiences that I have had, I wouldn’t have reached the place where I am today, and I’m happy to have been through them.
I can confidently say that I am a dreamer. I am always learning about myself and working to overcome the fear of failure and the unknown. I strive to not let financial uncertainty, cultural differences, or others’ opinions hold me back from dreaming. I have learned to take the initial step and see where it leads. My dreams are my motivation. After all, “dreaming is a form of planning.”