Writer, researcher, EdD, mother, friend, wife — Haydée Cuza doesn’t fit into only one box, and that’s a very, very good thing. She’s been an anchor in the OwnTrail community for some time, and it was an honor to talk with her more deeply about her journey through life.
I couldn’t think of a more apt starting point than self-love, and how you chose to give that its own milestone in your trail. What impact has actively choosing your relationship with yourself had on your life and the people in it?
The journey to self-love has been similar to my OwnTrail journey. It’s been nowhere near a direct path with moments of feeling completely connected and in love with myself for nothing other than I’m me. And there have been moments where my life ending seemed like the only way to stop the pain and internal judgment and external circumstances. It’s been a conscious journey that began with choosing a therapist who also chose me. It’s been a place where I don’t have to explain the details but still feel heard and understood. I’ve been in therapy with the same person for over 17 years. She helped me to see myself with the same compassion that I view others with, the same empathy that frames how I interact and treat people, the same confidence that I hold for others’ ability to soar and be gentle at the same time. Self-love means I can love my daughter and grandchildren more deeply. It means I can approach my needs in marriage with a direct conversation. It means that I am growing to recognize when it’s time to focus on me, my interest, my passions and choose a field and job that aligns with my skills and fits a culture that I don’t have to create but can participate in. This last year and a half has been a crash course on choosing love or self-deprecating. Ultimately, I chose love thanks to being surrounded by people who love me.
“[Self-love] means that I am growing to recognize when it’s time to focus on me, my interest, my passions and choose a field and job that aligns with my skills and fits a culture that I don’t have to create but can participate in.”
With your significant professional and personal experience spanning policy, research, community action and healing, your current work to help inspiring executives level up and move toward abundance and peace of mind seems like a logical step. Is this what you envisioned for yourself as a 19-year-old new mom working and attending college?
No way could I have envisioned my life today when I was 19. For most of my life up to that point I lived in a survival state. It included financial survival, mental health survival, day-to-day functioning survival, sometimes it included the literal need to find a place to sleep and eat survival. It wasn’t always negative but it didn’t include dreaming. I accomplished things one step at a time usually with multiple detours but with a push from someone or an opportunity brought to me or an offer of help. Once I had my daughter, at 19, the survival mode held more purpose that included my deep love for her. Staying alive was important for her (and of course for me but it’s what I had to tell myself). Each accomplishment was celebrated with more joy because of her. When I achieved my AA degree my cheeks hurt on the day of graduation from how proud of both of us I felt because of what we accomplished. She would sit side by side with me as we did homework, she helped me watch younger kids as I earned money babysitting – we did it together.
“No way could I have envisioned my life today when I was 19.”
As our life progressed the opportunity to continue my education was a part of my survival. Academic scholarships, the example I was setting for my daughter and the satisfaction I felt from learning, academic banter, and getting an A kept me going. Friends opened up job opportunities along the way and one thing led to the other. I left a few jobs demoralized and indignant and others with a great amount pride and community.
My role as a helper is in my DNA. My parents taught me about community action and the importance of contributing to creating a humanitarian-centered world. Of course within a family dedicated to social change there were complicated experiences of phone tapping, too many strangers and unacceptable experiences and lots of time without my parents. Even with those things I’ve held on to a humanitarian view. Meaning that I deeply believe that every person has inherited everything they need to survive – food, sleep, comfort, warmth, water – but that systems and oppressive structures and decisions have made us feel like we are supposed to earn the right to thrive.
Ok, I went way off track from the question. The short answer is no but I can look back and see how my nontraditional path is actually a very human, love-filled, growth-focused path and continues through the tough and soft spots.
“My role as helper is in my DNA.”
The milestones you share about your family and your lifelong friends are powerful. Why do you think it’s important we name the value of these relationships in your journeys?
Friendships and family are the most important aspects of my life. My family story is complicated and my friend journey has been as winding as my career journey. I wouldn’t be me without these relationships and the experiences within them. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t change things if I could in some circumstances but they are a part of my trail nonetheless.
Several achievement milestones along your trail take the form of publications, most recently alongside legendary writers Nikki Giovanni, Gloria Steinem and Kevin Powell in the anthology 2020: The Year That Changed America. What role does writing play in your life now and in your aspirations for the future?
Writing has been a place for me to express myself without getting in my own way. People often compliment my writing as being literal and metaphoric at the same time. I’m not conscious of this as I write but I enjoy hearing how other people experience my words and thoughts. I hope it’s a place where I can continue to heal and hopefully inspire others who can relate to my experiences or in some cases change minds for people who have limited perceptions of certain experiences
“Mostly, I want my legacy to be that I inspired people to be gentle with themselves and see the absolute best in who they are and the possibilities.”
I love how you describe yourself as a “lifetime believer in the fundamental worthiness of everyone to be fed, housed, clothed, loved, and with the means to thrive”. What would you like your legacy to be? How can we, as a community, support that?
My legacy – oooohhhh that’s a big one! 😀
Mostly, I want my legacy to be that I inspired people to be gentle with themselves and see the absolute best in who they are and the possibilities. I want to contribute to everyone human being thriving in wealth of health, food, warmth, community and all that cultivates love. And totally selfishly, I want to be the absolute favorite person to my grandchildren and see them thrive because they know they are loved unconditionally and safe to stumble, soar, lay down, run a marathon, win a sprint and live life on their terms while contributing to a love-filled society.
So much purpose, so much power! Want more? Connect with Haydée to start a conversation, ask her a question and/or appreciate her journey.