We sat down with Jon-Paul Vicari, an attendee of our Who Am I? GBTQ leadership programme, to learn more about him, his retreat experience and find out how he's using our teachings to drive change in his own life.
Who are you?
Wow, what a first question. My name is Jon-Paul Vicari and I am (in no particular order) gay, Lebanese, Italian, and proud. I usually tell people I come from a place of yes when describing myself because I say yes more often than not. It’s why Bethenny Frankel and I are meant to be best friends. Saying yes to many things in life is a privilege I am fortunate to have right now.
I live with Jordan, my partner of 7.5 years in Chicago, and our dog Roo and find myself often eating good food, reading good books, watching Bravo, and traveling. I tend to use comedy as a coping mechanism and have been living with depression as long as I can remember. I love being in therapy (I truly do) and have been taking antidepressants since early 2020 which has been both laborious and beneficial for me.
Friends and family are the most important thing to me and I am fortunate to have a great family by blood and by choice. After so long of not seeing people, I am working on being more present with them now and savoring every moment. Doom scrolling be damned, I want more meals together, more hugs, more laughs, more being vulnerable, and more memories. No day but today rings true even more so than ever.
For work, I'm currently in a sales role focused on helping organizations hire hourly workers across the US. I've also had the opportunity to serve on my company’s DEI Committee.
How did you find yourself doing what you're doing?
I found myself unemployed in late 2014 and spent several months figuring out if I wanted to leave retail and pursue other opportunities in sales. Luckily, I found a job with a great leader who was willing to give me a chance to enter a new industry. She and I still work together now at our current company too. I’ve loved being able to bring my skills to table in a completely different space while learning and adapting along the way.
What have you learnt throughout your journey?
Kindness and compassion are essential for me to be fulfilled in and out of work. Knowing and working with people who regularly display these traits as verbs rather than only adjectives has made me a better person. Being able to treat yourself with the same level of kindness and compassion you would give others is work I will do forever, it’s a daily habit that recenters my perspective. I think about this Teddy Roosevelt quote a lot in this context “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
Why did you get involved in the 'Who Am I?' programme?
The truth is, I was in a bit of an identity crisis and really unsure about what I was doing with my life in general. I was already impressed with the work We Create Space was doing with another organisation called myGwork, and when I read through the programme information, I felt an immediate sense of relief that there were other queer people like me who wanted to be supportive and supported in their journeys. I knew immediately I needed to participate and loved every second of it.
Have you used anything from our retreat in your life?
Since I attended in April 2021, I've used many of the lessons in my everyday life. One of the most impactful things has been breathwork. Despite not having much experience with it heading into the retreat, it provided me with immense relief and space to discover more about myself while healing other aspects. I've been practicing at a small scale throughout the day and worked with one of the retreat coaches in a 1:1 setting a few months ago.
All of the retreat work and relationships built were the spark I needed to get myself back on track with my mental health journey after feeling stuck for a long time.
What relationship do you have to the LGBTQ+ community?
I identify as gay/queer and use them interchangably for myself. I have friends and family across the full spectrum of identities within our broader LGBTQ+ community. Being able to see and validate our joint experiences as a community makes me feel connected to all of us across the world.
Currently I participate in a gay mens book club in Chicago and am a penpal with Black & Pink who help pair up LGBTQ+ people who are incarcerated with LGBTQ+ people who are on the outside. I find myself in a season of life where being queer and proud is more important than ever and supporting our community in anyway I can is my goal.
What's the biggest challenge you're currently working through?
Maintaining and building on the progress I’ve made over the past 18 months. Today I am the most me I have ever been in my whole life and I love being able to say that. My brain defaults to seeing progress as linear when in reality, progress is never linear. Being able to accept that and still put in the work for myself is a challenge but I’m ready for it.
Have you learnt anything new about yourself recently?
Part of why I participated in the 'Who am I?' retreat originally was to “fix” some things I felt were going wrong. During the retreat I learned that I wasn’t broken; I was healing. My brain and nervous system were afraid to release parts of the trauma I’ve held onto because I was afraid to see who I was without that in my life. Learning to let that go on top of hearing so many others say “you are worthy” helped me look in the mirror and believe when I said those words to myself.
How do you continue to 'Create Space'?
Well for one, I try to join the monthly regroups as often as possible. I love getting to see people from my retreat and meeting new people who have gone through this experience. It’s a beautiful reminder of how much support and love we have to give each other.
I’ll say it again, breathwork has been a transformative experience for me and while I am slowly working my way through how to incorporate it more into my life, having basics to rely on is amazing. I’ve been able to free up mind to focus on tasks, healing, being present, and physically feel better too.
Advocating for my well being at work and with others has been a significant shift for me by setting clear boundaries and bringing people into my experience instead of shutting them out. Lastly, reading. I have loved books my whole life and reading gives me a way to escape, learn, and feel in ways nothing else has been able to. This year I’ve read more books by and about LGBTQ+ people and all of the intersections that exist within our community is truly a gift.
Are you interested in joining one of our retreats?
Our 'Who Am I?' retreats take place throughout the year. We have tailored iterations of the programme to suit the needs of differing identity groups. Each person can attend the group that feels right for them. To stay updated about upcoming workshop and retreat dates, please subscribe to our mailing list here.