For over eight years, Jeff Perera has been working to help inspire new models of possibility for manhood: having spoken to men, young men and boys across Canada and beyond on how we can strive toward change within, and be part of nurturing healthier ideas of manhood where we work, live, study, worship and play. Today, Jeff is a Speaker and Facilitator with Next Gen Men, who work with young men and boys, as well as engage and educate men around conversations of toxic versus mindful masculinities. He has delivered two TEDx talks: ‘Words Speak Louder that Actions’ and ‘The Ladder of Manhood’. If that wasn’t enough, Jeff also writes over at Higher Unlearning, exploring how limiting ideas of gender impact men in everyday life. Jeff shares some poetic and inspiring words in his interview and ManTalks is honoured to have Jeff Perera as our newest Man Of The Week!
Age: 41 (but don’t look it! Being brown don’t let ya down!)
What do you do? (Work)
I am a Speaker and Facilitator with Next Gen Men. I’ve spoken to tens of thousands of young men, boys and men across Canada and abroad, for eight years, about our ideas of manhood and new models of possibility for men.
Why do you do it?
I realized years ago that how many of us answer the question of what it means to be a man, is at the core of so many of the challenges, issues and struggles that people of all genders face. Traditions and concepts of what manhood is or isn’t, impact everything; from our lives at home or work, or where we study or worship, as well as our relationship with the environment, our true self, and with each other. As men, working to give ourselves the freedom to be our best self, in turn helps nurture the world we want to live in,
How do you make a difference in the world? (Work, business, life, family, self)
What I have learned again and again is: The way forward begins with us, within us. There are many men who want to explore living a more full, meaningful, heartfelt life; embracing vulnerability and fear, and not facing it all alone. I look to help men open their heart’s eye and strive to see the invisible: how these toxic ideas of manhood are both the rope used to section off people of other genders in everyday life, as well as the chain holding men back from our whole humanity. My hope is to help inspire others to genuinely begin their journey from head to heart, and from heart to action: showing up in their own lives, and the lives of others. My role is to help convey to men and boys that change must be ongoing within us, but that you are not alone and that we can take this journey together.
What are 3 defining moments in your life?
– The day I realized the person I wanted to be: as a little child witnessing my father (who was a violent tyrant at home) back down and hide in his car from a drunk man who wanted to fight him.
– The day I saw my father’s dead body.
– A quiet moment when I decided to leave a 9-5 job because I wanted to own the impact I make, and what those waves to continue to be after I’ve left this world.
What is your life purpose?
I want to be the lesson in action, and inspire others to try as well. I want to hold a mirror up for others, so we learn to truly see our role in everyday situations. That starts with role modelling the process and looking in that mirror ourselves. I want to be a gentle voice inviting you into this conversation, but also push and provoke you: make you comfortable with discomfort (that place where our real inner growth happens.)
How did you tap into it?
Too many men have a void in their lives: not having emotionally present models and mentors. I call these models of possibility ‘Maps to Manhood’, someone who you can talk to or just learn from by seeing how they navigate life. I decided to aspire to be the example I was looking for, fill the void for myself and others. That process has brought into my life amazing men from whom I learn from and unlearn with.
Who is your Role-Model or Mentor?
Muhammad Ali. We can learn from anyone and everyone (and need to always listen for the lesson) but the life he lived was his message to us. Ali was the voice telling us to get back up, to stand up. Ali taught us to answer the bell, rise up, and get into the ‘Ring of our own Life’. He said: “True success is reaching our potential without compromising our values.” He demonstrated the will to work and work, battle yourself and all circumstances in order to achieve your goals, and be ready to sacrifice it all for what matters. I strive to be half the man he was.
Do you have any daily habits? If so, what are they?
I mentioned mirrors earlier, I take a moment to look in the mirror every day. It is my reminder to not just see my physical self, but my entire self. To be present and mindful in each moment as much as I can be, and try harder than that, in order to own everything I’ve done and didn’t do. I want to focus not the impression I leave with others so much as the impact I have on others. Trying to talk to myself using loving speech also!
When do you know your work/life balance is off?
I talk more and more these days about ‘Mindful Masculinities’. When I am truly striving to be present, show up, enter the Ring of my own life: in everyday, simple moments I can tell when I am not at my best. We all have those ‘engine light’ or ‘oil change’ symbols light up on our inner dashboard: those moments when a quiet voice whispers “you need to take a break” or “put the email away and go sit with your child for a bit”.
Humbly, I would like to submit that the pursuit of ‘work/life balance’ is a fruitless chase that sets us up for failure. Instead, I believe the key is seeking to find harmony within every moment in Life. This is a fluid state where we seek to maintain amidst the ever-changing highs and lows. We are in constant motion, our lives are never truly in a stand-still state until our last breath. Life is like crossing a tightrope towards our destination, as we carry all our life’s relationships, projects, aspirations, challenges and responsibilities in our hands. The goal is to constantly seek harmony within the present moment, both when it is quiet, or when we face the gusts of Life’s winds of challenge… all while moving in a forward motion. This is our endless work: staying tuned in, learning to adjust and thrive, all while seeking to be one with this very moment.
Vulnerability is a challenge for most men – share a vulnerable moment from your life with us.
I want to be the person that reaches out to you when things are at their lowest, not someone who shows up when you are riding waves of success. I think we need to start doing that for ourselves, with ourselves.
In the very near future, I seek to openly talk about my mistakes and lessons learned. I think it is time we opened up as men and owned our shit. Taking ownership of our actions, behaviour and impact. I am writing a piece about this topic, in which I wrote: “To Men everywhere, this isn’t about the ‘Day of our Reckoning’, this is about the Day of our Awakening.”
In 2015, I started a year-long journey to explore and own my past actions and reputation, and ask myself hard questions. I did a lot of listening, talking with women from different periods of my life: colleagues, friends, acquaintances, women I’ve interacted with in community work, as well as women I dated in the past. I wanted to better know myself through the narrative others have of me, based on my impact in the community. This wasn’t solely about me, my hurt feelings or my guilt, but more about learning of any hurt or harm I may have caused.
What did you learn from it?
As a result, I started having much deeper, vulnerable conversations with men in my life, modelling how we can help one another do this emotional work together. Sharing my journey helped me open up conversations with men, as we discussed regrets, shame and fear of talking openly about mistakes, and how we need to do this work together. Instead of leaving women in our lives to do all the heavy emotional lifting for us, we can share in the emotional, healing, self-awareness work amongst other fellow men.
Ben Okri said “Stories can conquer fear. They can make the heart larger.” We can humbly share our experiences together as men, to help our own healing and learning, and others too. I started a monthly gathering in Toronto: a private circle of men I knew trying to be positive role models in our communities. There we open up and share, and listen to one another. No performance, no judgements, not as a PR move to salvage our name after a mistake made. Raw, real honest truths and buried fears. We need to model doing emotional labour together as men, where there isn’t reward (i.e. opening up with the goal of achieving romantic or sexual pursuits).
Next Gen Men has started monthly gatherings in Calgary, and soon other cities like Toronto (which I will be organizing) called ‘Wolf Pack’. (http://nextgenmen.ca/our-program/wolf-pack) These will be spaces where men can have these conversations together, open to people of all genders. Wolf Pack aims to tackle challenges of social isolation amongst adult men by helping foster social connection and new friendships through vulnerable and supportive conversations around topics of depth.
If you are or were going to be a mentor for another man, what is one piece of advice you would give him?
I am looked to by some as an ‘expert’ on healthy masculinities, but anyone who says they have the ‘quick-fix, follow these three easy steps, just-add water’ solutions to being a better man is working a con. The path toward being your better self (not better than someone else, but better that who you were yesterday) is a lifelong journey. There are no shortcuts, no quick solutions, we have to roll up our sleeves and develop the resolution to truly face ourselves, with love. A self-love that is accountability, transparency and humility.
How do you be the best partner (Boyfriend/Husband- past or present)
Do you support any Charities or Not-for-profits? (Which one(s) and why?)
Let me tell you about three, starting with the one I work for!
Next Gen Men (www.nextgenmen.ca) is a youth-led, nonprofit organization focused on building better men through youth and peer engagement, education and empowerment. We believe that by engaging, educating, and empowering our peers, we can ensure that the next generation of men will make a positive impact on their communities.
Reclaim Your Voice (www.abusesurvivalstories.com) is a nonprofit event series which provides a platform for men and women who have experienced domestic violence, psychological and sexual abuse, to reclaim their voices. Combining raw testimonials from survivors with inspirational spoken word pieces and motivational speeches, Reclaim Your Voice is a positive and healing experience that uplifts both the mind and the soul.
FYOU: THE FORGIVENESS PROJECT (www.thefyouproject.ca) is a movement that started after rape-survivor Tara Muldoon did not find justice in the justice system. After realizing forgiveness would have to come from within, she created a platform for youth and young adults to speak openly about what it means to forgive. FYOU is now a team that runs programming and workshops internationally. The entire movement is comprised of youth and young adults.
If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
‘Sure Looks Good To Me’ by Alicia Keys.
Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
I see myself doing what I am doing today, but in different and ever-evolving ways; hopefully having learned more and grown each day from now to that moment in time.
What legacy do you want to leave for future generations?
I hope to be seen as a person who left it all in the ring. I want to be someone who inspired others to reach deeper and do better: not just in my words but my deeds and actions, and the impact I had on others.
What One book would you recommend for any Man?
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
(Also: Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood by Carlos Andrés Gómez)
If you know a Man that is making a positive impact on the world, we would love to hear from you! Contact us at [email protected]