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Exclusive interview with author "Habiba Zaman"

Habiba Jessica Zaman has a Master’s degree in Professional Counseling specializing in trauma. She is the therapist and owner of North Star of Georgia Counseling. With 15 years of experience working in the counseling field, including advocacy, guidance and education, she believes that as a person becomes more aware of their fears, perception, desires and strengths, they can make successful life changes. She is author of 13 publications and seven books, many of which have reached the Amazon Bestseller Lists and have won international recognition and awards. Habiba is of Bangladeshi and American descent. She has two children and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her family.

She currently released Beautifully Bare, Undeniably You, a book about the journey of discovering one’s truest self.


Tell us about your journey as a writer.

My journey as a writer began in the most unexpected way. I would have never imagined I would be labeled as a published author if anyone had asked, even five years ago. Writing the first book, Beautifully Bare, Undeniably You was thrust upon me by a colleague and dear friend Shalon Irving who is the other author of this book.

We met at a conference many years ago and she was part of other outreach programs I had offered for women’s empowerment off and on for about two years. In that time, we had spoken about the need for growth and knowledge of self in order to achieve any kind of change in our lives and how this understanding may be a common belief, and yet how to achieve it is what eludes all of us.

We learned a lot about each other and how we have used our knowledge and experience in my field of mental health and her field of public health, and she was excited and determined to collaborate on specifically what it means know one’s identity and the “how to” of achieving it. She was tenacious in this pursuit as she believed the message we have the capacity to share, should be readily accessible to the masses. She would be in my waiting room in between sessions, or after I would be finished with work, and she convinced everyone in my office that this should be the path to follow. She believed in me, my work, and my specific way of teaching, so she did not stop until I acquiesced.

I am one of those humans who prefer pen to paper over typing which led to the process taking forever! She would laugh and tease me in that I belonged more in the 1920’s than modern day in my reluctance to embrace technology. The ability to edit in real time in the google drive boggled my mind when I first saw her changing words that I had just written as she was sitting just across from me! That is how our process went for the first few months until she had enough of the number of changes I would make every time I would read a chapter I just finished. I can easily say that I wrote three different versions of each chapter until she took over. There were times when she told me to just speak to her as I would with my clients in session and she was my stenographer. This was our process when we were together and when I was working alone, she was determined that I would write a chapter and then immediately submit it to her for editing and that was that. From then on, every book or article I have written has been with that mindset; pour out my thoughts, teachings and emotions onto paper and never look back.

The process of writing this book and creating a number of these techniques also pushed me to change and grow through these steps in a similar way to how the readers would also be experiencing it. I started the process unsure of everything that was not my knowledge base- psychology and explaining the human condition was not an issue- it was believing in my voice and the story I had to share, my confidence in teaching in a way that those reader would find value and worth in what they are investing their time in. Who we were when we started this book was not the women we had become by the end of it and that in itself was the greatest gift and lesson I have received in my journey into becoming an author.

You have written quite an impressive number of books; does one stand out that you want to tell us about -- one extra special to you? Why?

Honestly, I am immensely proud of all the collaborations I have had the privilege to be a part of and share my voice though them. As much as they all have a specific history and significance in my life and where I was as I shared my narrative, Beautifully Bare, Undeniably You will always be my first love. This book and experience in writing it represents so much more than simply sharing knowledge. It is a physical representation of what it takes and what it took to recognize a need to make a change in one’s current existence, to the person and life we are wanting to create. It is similar to the phoenix rising from the ashes where the uncertainty, doubt, and fear can seem excruciating and yet, once the process is complete, the core of who you are can never be shaken again. We did not just write the book, we lived it, worked tirelessly through it, cried for it and our hearts bled for it. Shalon passed away 3 weeks after the completion of our manuscript and was not able to see it come to its fruition. This book for me, will always be associated with not just the fun, challenging and intimate process we went through but all the love, faith, and belief she had for me as a person.

How would you describe Beautifully Bare, Undeniably You?

Beautifully Bare, Undeniably You is a book about the journey to discovery of one's truest self. This book and the style in which it is written fills the gap left by many “self-help books” and addresses the needs of readers by instilling in the reader a sense of understanding and perception of support based both in evidence-based techniques as well as in real life experiences. Moreover, the format of the book not only tells you what you should do but also includes guidance and suggestions on "how". Following a therapeutic process, the reader is guided along a path to gain a more comprehensive understanding of who they are and the factors that have contributed to their current state of being. Each section represents a different, yet interconnected, stage along this process that includes the following: a therapeutic or theoretical explanation of the given stage in the process, one or more techniques identified to help reader successfully navigate the process, and at least one vignette that represents a time in the lived experiences of one or both authors which exemplifies either our struggle or successes during our journey.

Why did you choose to include song lyrics in the book?

Music is an integral part of my daily existence. I have always processed my experiences and emotions through the melody and lyrics. It was a way to put words to the complex thoughts and charged feelings that were tangled into a web of confusion, pain, hope, devotion, or love. Mostly, it was a feeling that I was not alone, and someone somewhere had once felt as I do now. Music and song lyrics are healing, soothing and empowering for me and it was my hope that the lyrics chosen for the book would be a sneak peek into what the next chapter will hold.

Is there much of your own personal story in the work? If so, did you find yourself feeling vulnerable at times with what you were sharing?

The vignettes are a raw, exposed, and vulnerable window into the human condition and more specifically a window into our souls. How could I possibly hope or expect our readers to be able to face their truths in this way if I were unwilling to do so myself? Feeling vulnerable is an understatement. We would read them aloud to each other and visibly squirm and cringe at how emotionally charged and raw they were. There were no pretenses or guards present in those writings though we have spent a lifetime sheltering our hearts from the world. We would marvel at the complete honesty we shared and laugh out loud at how ridiculously difficult it was to sit with those emotions.

One of the primary messages in Beautifully Bare, Undeniably You is the acceptance of yourself, sometimes this is easier said than done, what quick advice would you offer?

Acceptance of oneself is perhaps the hardest challenge to overcome in a world where we are constantly being told what we have to offer is not enough. It is a message that is internalized from early childhood through the grades in academics, competitive games where the worth is measured in achievements, societal norms for beauty, body shape and appearance, or at times by our families or caregivers that often unintentionally give the impression that acceptance (which children equate to love) will come from meeting the expectations they set and define for us. I wish there were an easy answer that would erase all of those messages we carry within that hinder how positively we see ourselves.

My only word of advice would be that no matter where we have been or the choices we have once made or the path we have taken, we can always turn around and start anew. We are NOT trapped in those decisions or images we have created for ourselves. We made the choices based on who we were and the needs we had at that time, and it does not have to be who we remain. The only person that can give you a sense of stability and security is YOU. As much as it pains you now to face these fears, know that it is taking you one step closer to the life you do want. One that reflects your needs and values so that those existing within your world, can be there effortlessly. You will work, grow, learn, and laugh together. There will be shared experiences and shared understandings where you will not have to fight to be heard, seen, or accepted. There will be a simplicity in existing so all of your energies can go towards undiscovered adventures enveloped in love. For in honoring and loving yourself, you can then create a world to give AND have the same efforts given back to you.

What books have influenced you?

More than specific books, I have been more influenced by the authors and their style of storytelling. Kristin Harmel, Alice Hoffman, or Mark Haig are the ones that come to mind. Their stories, albeit fiction, give a very raw look into the struggles of the human condition. It is a slice of reality we can all related to in theme, even if not in direct experience. You follow the characters hoping that they will beat the odds and find a better existence, and, in a way, it was a mirror to what I had hoped to create for myself as well.

What would you like readers to take away from reading your book?

Written in a very honest and authentic voice, our hope is that readers will be able to relate to our experiences and realize that they are not alone; others have walked a similar path and have not only survived but thrived. This book and the style in which it is written manages to fill a gap left by many “self-help books” and address the needs of readers by instilling in the reader a sense of understanding and perception of support based both in evidence-based techniques as well as in real life experiences. Moreover, the format of the book not only tells you what you should do but also includes guidance and suggestions on "how". Readers of self-help and personal development books want change, and I am confident that our approach can help them achieve that ever-elusive lasting change.

What can we expect from you next?

I am currently working on a book called Learning to Love, which follows the same modality as Beautifully Bare, Undeniably You of mixing therapeutic techniques with personal or relatable experiences. It will begin with taking the reader through the steps of learning how we have come to love others as well as ourselves, to breaking negative or reoccurring patterns that no longer serve the life of relationships and love we are wanting to create to finally what a healthy and secure relationship looks like and how to foster it.

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