Wellness Wednesdays: The key to finding a calling over a career with professor Omékongo Dibinga
Dibinga reflects on his journey to cultivating happiness as a lifestyle
Wellness Wednesdays is a series spotlighting the stories of American University community members who are working to uplift student, faculty and campus wellbeing.
College students experience life in a transitory state from teenager to adult, and one mark of entering adulthood is securing a job. Still, many students struggle to have a career that pays well while also bringing fulfillment and having a positive impact on the world.
Omékongo Dibinga, a professor in the School of International Service, has found a career that aligns with his calling and travels the world inspiring others to do the same. Through poetry, lectures and music, Dibinga encourages students to center their work around fighting injustice and creating a meaningful life.
Dibinga was called to become an educator and activist after growing up in Boston during the height of the war on drugs with mass incarceration targeting his community.
“I grew up having to share clothes, having no heat, no hot water in my household and going to schools where I read only one book by a Black author and not seeing myself represented,” Dibinga said. “And then just being a Black man in America on top of that.”
He wants to be part of the group of people who are creating activists. “I believe one really dangerous thing to the world is uneducated activists,” Dibinga said.
By pursuing a career that aligns with his passions, Dibinga feels he has control over his happiness. However, working to fight social injustice leads to being faced with a lot of ignorance.
When he feels uninspired and hopeless, Dibinga said he can turn to his job as an outlet to turn negative energy into something positive.
“You should do the things you love and value especially when times get hard,” Dibinga said. “The great philosopher John Stewart once said, ‘if you don’t practice your values when times get tough they aren’t values, they’re hobbies.’”
He also reminds students to always be mindful of the intentions of their work, constantly reflecting on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and most importantly, who you’re doing it for.
“Being content isn’t a destination, it’s a lifestyle. So you need to ask with everything you do if it’s bringing you happiness,” he said. “If you think happiness is a destination and something then blows up that destination, you’re done. You feel like you aren’t in control of being able to bring yourself back to that state.”
In order to cultivate happiness as a lifestyle, Dibinga emphasized being mindful of who you’re listening to and what media you’re intaking.
“Am I going to keep watching these news shows that just paint me as a criminal? Am I going to keep reading these books that don’t teach about Black contributions to history? And only look at us as subhuman and three-fifths of a man?” Dibinga said. “I had to reevaluate my intake, so in middle school I started listening more to rich history. My mom descended from kings and queens, my dad descended from warriors and hearing those stories of how they fought for liberation, I developed this idea that I want to make them proud.”
Dibinga reminds students that our mindsets inform how we take care of ourselves and others, which is why it is extremely important to surround ourselves with uplifting people.
In what seems like a never ending cycle of work, Dibinga encourages students to trust the process and be patient with ourselves. By making a consistent effort to cultivate a life of meaning and happiness, students will be able to achieve fulfillment.
“The difference between school and life is in school you get the lesson and then you get the test, but in life you get the test and then you get the lesson,” Dibinga said. “So with all the trials and tribulations that you’re dealing with, are you able to see the lesson on the other side? You have to fight to get to the other side.”