The Healing Begins When We Lean Into What Feels Good

How moving into my own space helped me find my own joy as a first generation immigrant woman of color

Jenn Pamela Chowdhury
Human Parts
Published in
15 min readJul 13, 2021


A bookcase dedicated to my love for healing, travel, and community. In my apartment in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, 2020. All photos courtesy of the author.

When there’s a full or new moon, I have this ritual. I like to write my intentions in this journal with a silk sari print blue cover. I have entries filled with things I wished to release, like deeply held insecurities. Things I wanted to call into my life, like healing my inner child who was bullied in school. A conscious and healthy romantic partnership. Job opportunities from companies with leadership that cared about anti-racist business practices and centered community care and healing. And a home. I described the space with vivid images: an open, airy room or apartment filled with my books, collected artwork, and crystals with plenty of space to dance and stretch in. With trees facing my windows and singing birds to wake up to. This space would be my anchor. I’d take clients on powerful journeys from this space and host community workshops and healthy communal dinners with loved ones. I’d birth my deepest, most creative thoughts and I would bring all parts of me there safely. And I’d have freedom to move; an easy run to the nearest park or a quick oat milk latte after a nourishing walk. Binge watching shows on Hulu would be allowed in my space, too.

Like many of my intentions, I was able to manifest this one because I trusted it would happen one day. One year ago, I moved out of my family home and into my own little sanctuary in Brooklyn, New York. As I reflect on my journey, the anniversary of my freedom, so much comes up for me. To be clear, I’ve lived in other spaces before, but temporarily. Each of these experiences offered me a glimpse into a life of safety, creativity, abundance, and spirituality. But I was an underearner for most of my adult life; I couldn’t afford to sign a one-year lease for an apartment in New York City until I was 35. My story isn’t just about attempting to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, though.

My story is about navigating a lifelong journey as a first generation immigrant woman of color who always wanted to make an impact in the world while honoring her needs. Somehow, one goal fed and nourished the other in the most unexpected ways. But that’s what happens when you choose unconventional paths: You never know where it will take you.

Excerpt from “Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good,” edited by adrienne maree brown

I was the third of four daughters, from a working class community in Sunset Park, Brooklyn; I was curious about the world and dreamt of travel and adventure. By the time I graduated from Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts college in New York City, in 2006, I had a résumé full of internships at the ACLU, United Nations, and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Human rights work was a part of my identity and my value system. The dream goal: a career at UN Women or an international NGO that focused on advancing women’s rights. But the field was competitive and, as I learned quickly, for those with privilege and access to resources. When I looked for post-graduate opportunities in the public sector space, organizations were seeking candidates with graduate degrees for roles that asked for long hours and offered low pay.

How do you build your savings, support your family financially, pay your bills, and make space for your own hopes and dreams in NYC? For a long time, I truly believed it wasn’t possible.

I listened to mentors and peers who advised me that I should “stick to what I know” when it came to choosing a career path after college. I chose to study political science and human rights so I made it work, but I wish I knew back then I had other options. I was knee-deep in student loans and wondered how I’d support my family financially and take care of myself with a nonprofit salary. I wanted my parents to be proud of me and my accomplishments, but reality hit me hard. When I moved back home after college (my family eventually relocated to Staten Island), I commuted three to four hours daily to the city for the next 11 to 12 years for work.

I also wish I knew back then that the nonprofit world wasn’t built to empower people of color.

On top of a stressful commute, I fully felt the challenges of the nonprofit industrial complex, which exacerbated my mental health issues. The insomnia started shortly after my first year at NYU, where I worked full-time and matriculated part time as a graduate student. Graduate school wasn’t exactly my idea, but my parents wanted me to be on a PhD track and fulfill their dream of having a hotshot professor in the family.

I’m one of four daughters and we have a collective responsibility to ensure our parents are safe and healthy. The immigrant experience is unique, especially when you’re first generation. My parents, their loved ones, and thousands of other Bangladeshis lived through a bloody and violent time in our country. Bangladesh gained independence only in 1971. And while that seems like a long time ago, the memories pass through the bloodline.

When we moved to New York City in the mid-1980s, “survival” was the center of our experience. To survive means to be careful and that means taking risks can, sometimes, feel unsafe.

From the moment we choose our first friendships, first romantic partners, and/or first jobs, young immigrant women have to decide, whether consciously or subconsciously, if our choices will be validated by our caregivers. After all, our first ideas and stories of love and security are rooted in our upbringing.

At the same time, I was fortunate to have immigrant parents who were supportive of our choices; yes, they had their opinions, but ultimately we followed our hearts. I was always inspired by friends and peers who worked abroad for governments and international organizations and I truly believed in the possibility that I could have that, too.

When, 10 years ago, I became the recipient of a 10-month paid fellowship with the American India Foundation, every part of my soul screamed,“Yes, yes, yes.” I had the opportunity of a lifetime to live and work in Kolkata, West Bengal. I felt a sense of guilt but, ultimately, my parents and sisters wanted me to have this experience. (Of course, if I had intergenerational wealth, worrying about supporting my family wouldn’t have been a real concern.)

The richness of that journey changed me in so many ways. I lived in this beautiful, old flat and had the most wonderful community in West Bengal. Spiritually, I felt connected to something beyond a job, an identity, or a sense of purpose. I was thousands of miles away from what was familiar to me: my family, my school, my hometown. I was no longer someone’s daughter, sister, lover, or source of professional support. With the mask removed, I was an empty shell.

What was underneath the ego that continually needed to fill its cup with successes and seek external validation? I realized my day-to-day personal wants — stability, a great job, travel, recognition — were really an expression of my underlying needs — to be heard, to be seen, to be loved, to be held, to feel safe, and to lean into what brings me joy.

Living in another space that wasn’t my family home and having this newfound sense of freedom shifted something within me. I remember sitting in my veranda with a cup of milky tea and listening to the monsoon rain, and feeling this ease I hadn’t felt in a long time. I didn’t have to worry about the future during those moments. I was present in my body. I was also able to reconnect with the adventure seeker within me who had gone dormant and needed to be reawakened. I remember feeling this deep sense of joy when I went on trips to places like Leh Ladakh and Darjeeling with my dear friends. Travel allowed me to be fully present. But more than that, it reminded me of what my younger self loved: freedom, play, and adventure.

Tea garden in Darjeeling (left) and a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Leh Ladakh (right), 2012

Other than that year, I spent a majority of my adulthood living with my parents. It’s been a source of joy, deep self-understanding, heartbreak, and healing. I have an immense amount of gratitude for all that my parents have done to keep me safe and healthy, at the risk of redefining their own personal hopes and dreams.

I can have gratitude and still choose to reshape the narrative I’ve been taught to believe.

In those years, I witnessed my Mom and Dad through their rawest selves. I witnessed their trauma selves and found the source of my own doubts, fears, and scarcity thinking. It allowed me to have gratitude and question my role as a caretaker, financial supporter, care provider, space holder, and conflict resolution expert. In addition to questioning the roles I played, part of rebuilding my story meant rethinking the kind of impact I wanted to make in the world.

I was taught to believe, as an immigrant woman of color, that much of my worth is tied to my job and title. When you expand that story, what you’re really looking at is an accumulation of wins. And when you look at that from a meta level, what you’re really looking at is a system rooted in white supremacy — a system that perpetuates the idea that our inherent self worth is connected to how much can we do to achieve a level of whiteness.

In the number of positions I held in the social impact strategic communications space, if I wasn’t pitching enough interesting story ideas, or placing stories in enough high level publications, or if my wins didn’t translate into funding, then I was made to believe I wasn’t working hard enough. In 2016, I left a full-time job as a senior leader at a growing nonprofit startup that didn’t honor my worth. At some point, when every molecule in your body tells you to leave even when loved ones think you should stay until a better opportunity comes along, you have to make difficult choices.

Trusting our own decisions is a learned practice for women of color, a journey that becomes easier once you learn to honor your deepest needs and desires.

In the years that followed my resignation, I felt the deepest highs and lows. The periods of anxiety from a negative balance in my checking account. The spiraling following one job rejection after another.

But despite the stresses, not having a full-time, salaried job allowed me the space and freedom to explore and get curious. On a creative level, I wrote and performed monologues and spoken word poetry pieces about topics I really cared about — mental health, being a Brown daughter, social justice, immigration, finding joy — and joined these incredible communities for artists of color. I was writing from parks under massive magnolia trees. I took on temp jobs to help pay the bills. I became curious about my own relationship with money and the energy it holds as a source of abundance and historical trauma. I would sketch out these scenarios in my journals with questions like “can I move out while working part time so I can focus on my writing?” I was rethinking the 9-to-5 life.

Words of wisdom from a friend and fellow healer, 2017

I explored creative resources like On Being, The Creative Independent, and Brain Pickings to learn about the human experience. I availed myself of donation-based meditation retreats and joined Buddhist spaces, where I met other kindred spirits who were seeking to learn more about themselves. I explored Reiki, energy work, insight meditation, and full moon circles dedicated to the divine feminine.

I learned how to listen to my inner voice and journaled often about the things that brought me joy. I was healing through my discovery of my deepest self. And the more I listened, the more opportunities came my way: people who supported me on my path, artistic collaborations, healers.

In silent meditation retreats, I noticed where my anxiety made a home in my body. It was uncomfortable but I was finally paying attention to my own body, and she needed me as much as I needed her. I began to introduce the concept of play into my life and tuned into my childlike self. Play showed up as unstructured time to roam around in nature. As a game of hide and seek with my baby nephew and niece. As the most delicious dance with a dear friend in an Ecstatic Dance movement session. And the more I played, the more I became in tune with my body.

I learned the value of resting and slowing down, allowing space between each in breath and out breath.

For years, I hated my posture and would force myself to sit straight, and it would obstruct my breathing. “Imagine a beam of light shooting from the top of your spine and out the bottom,” an Alexander technique practitioner shared with me. That visualization allowed me to reconnect with the energy of love within me. I learned to release preconceived ideas about how my body should bend and move — in a fast-paced city like NYC, it was always hard for me to catch up in fast-paced yoga classes — and just lean into what felt good.

I wasn’t interested in living to survive; I was interested in manifesting a life full of abundance, creativity, freedom, magic, and wonder. And the more I worked on aligning with that vision I created for myself, the more I began to transform into the person I always wanted to be: someone who could fully trust herself, take care of herself and live, breathe, and act from a place of love and authenticity. I learned what it was like to lean into what felt good for me.

A job opportunity came in early 2020 that felt right for me at the moment. After a few years of creating inner stability, I was open to possibility of outer stability. Shortly after I signed the offer letter, I followed my next big intention: signing my first lease in NYC. I crunched the numbers, so I knew I’d be fine, but I was programmed to always worry about money. I turned to my practices — therapy, meditation, nature, journaling, breathing, movement — to help me ground myself. They were especially helpful when I experienced my parent’s doubts and fears.

My therapist of many years once told me that by moving out, I was not only healing myself but healing my parents. “You’re allowing them to shift from taking care of you, as their baby, to taking care of themselves. They’ll need to confront their own old age, too.”

When I was getting ready to move out of my Staten Island home a year ago, I remember writing a letter of gratitude to my parents, to the space I called home for most of my adult life, the cherry tree in our garden, my animal friends, the plants, and my own little room. I thought about who I was through the evolution of my time there. How this home held space for the grieving, the breaking, the opening, and the releasing. How I learned to parent myself and uncover my many layers sitting on my cushion.

A few months later, we had a global pandemic. I wasn’t prepared to work at a new job entirely online and get used to living in my own place. But I learned. Over the past year, I’ve learned how much I depended on chaos at home to keep my nervous system stimulated and how strange (and boring) it felt not to have that anymore.

As we all collectively tried to navigate changes amidst the pandemic, I was figuring out sustainable and healthy ways to simply be by showing up for myself and my work.

I was and I continue to rewrite my story as a first generation immigrant woman of color who is healing and learning about herself. I’m learning how to notice when I’m operating from fear versus from my highest self. And these tools, practices, and skills were especially needed as I learned how to navigate burnout, shame, and triggers related to historical racism at my job. How does one navigate loneliness, anxiety, and depression while advocating for her needs at work? This past year has been a beautiful and difficult story, one full of celebration and surprises. But mostly, it’s been a spiritual journey full of teachable moments.

I learned that by listening to my deepest needs — choosing an unconventional creative/entrepreneurial career path, calling in abundance, living in my own space, prioritizing my healing — I was carving out my own path in my ancestral lineage as a cycle breaker, innovator, builder, and creator.

And this path is part of a cycle, because who knows where my choices will take me next? I’m learning to lean into impermanence and embrace uncertainty. Being open to all kinds of possibilities — the idea of being “open” to whatever comes my way — allows a sense of surrender that contradicts the stories of safety and survival I grew up with.

I resigned from the company earlier this year to build a coaching practice for freedom-seeking BIPOC and immigrant women of color. In Full Bloom Coaching grew from a culmination of my own experiences. It’s rooted in the philosophy that as women of color, we don’t have to carry heaviness and burden as a marker of our successes. Decolonizing ourselves means acknowledging we are full of gifts and that all we need is to believe it.

I birthed this company from that apartment and who knows how many months of deep self-doubt and uncertainty I experienced as I contemplated leaving a stable full-time job to follow my heart. I think what ultimately helped me in making my decision to go into full-time entrepreneurship was witnessing the journey of a client who wanted to move out of her family home and create a beautiful space for herself and her creative pursuits. Her joy was my joy and I’m here for immigrant women of color who are looking to belong to themselves fully by living and embodying their calling.

Because when we honor what feels good for us, we heal. And when we heal, generations heal.

Dedicated to my clients, to my dear friends — Arti, Angela, Annasha, Krupa, Kimberly, my sisters — and countless women who paved the path towards freedom for me. Dedicated to the many more BIPOC and immigrant women of color who are thinking of, or are, taking steps towards defining their own version of freedom. And finally, dedicated to my Amu (Mom), who is learning and unlearning, too. May we all be beautifully supported as we lean into what feels good for us, collectively. Build it up, break it down, build it up.

Born in Dhaka and raised in Lenapehoking (Brooklyn, NY), Jenn Pamela Chowdhury is the founder of In Full Bloom Coaching. As a Liberation Coach, she helps freedom seeking BIPOC and immigrant women of color who have been taught to sacrifice in service to others listen to their deepest selves with love and respect so they can honor the “yes” within themselves. To learn more about her coaching offerings and workshops, sign up here to join the In Full Bloom Coaching community.

Jenn is a meaning maker who believes dismantling systems of oppression starts with transforming our inner lives. Her own work in the social justice and global development space led her on a powerful self healing journey involving sacred practices to look within from a place of deep self awareness, curiosity, and care.

She is a certified Reiki Level II Practitioner and meditation guide, and has held numerous workshops centering on themes such as working with loneliness, embracing strong emotions, and defining one’s purpose. Her values are centered on anti-racism, anti-oppression, decolonization, joy, and liberation.

She writes and speaks regularly about the human spirit, healing, mental health, social justice, poetry, and other topics, and has been featured on Thrive Global, Barnard Magazine, at Open Society Foundations, the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, and through her own newsletter, Homecoming of the Human Spirit. She’s also written and performed monologues with artist collectives, including the Aseemkala Initiative and Yoni ki Raat, on topics such as mental health, social justice, and immigration at the Bowery Poetry Club and other venues. She was the closing act at the 2021 production of The Moth x Barnard College Alumnae Storytelling session.

A veteran of the social impact space, Jenn has been working closely with leading NGOs, nonprofits, foundations, and startups in multiple countries for 18 years on strategic communications and business development. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Human Rights from Barnard College at Columbia University and an M.S. in International Affairs (International Human Rights, Peacemaking, & Global Development) from New York University.

Her current favorite question, asked by Viola Davis at Barnard’s Commencement in 2019, is: “What is your elixir?” (Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” by Mary Oliver is a close second.)



Jenn Pamela Chowdhury
Human Parts

I help BIPOC identify their deepest needs and embody their calling through coaching, storytelling and healing practices