When I say that Invisible Children ruined my life in the best way possible, I don’t just say it because it’s a nice phrase. The past four years have been the hardest of my life, in ways bigger than exams and essays and wandering out blindly into the “real world” after graduation. The funny thing about being enlightened, and the one that no one warns you about, is that you suffer so much more mental and emotional pain as a result of being a more aware, more empathetic, and more humble human being.
If you haven’t caught up on the story of my life, go ahead and read The Moment That Made Me: Part 1. Go on, I wouldn’t want to ruin the story for you.
Now you might be thinking, wow, this sounds like a terrible thing, why would I want to deal with all that extra baggage on a day to day basis? But I would argue to say that I am living much more now than I ever was before. This experience helped me come to two important realizations:
1. This is my only life.
Why would I spend it just going through the motions of what I think I should be doing? That not only sounds boring, but also unproductive. I strongly believe that if you do work you care about, you will work harder, you will work quicker, and your work will be better because of it.
And for those of you that are shaking your heads at the impracticality of it all, this doesn’t mean you have somehow have to find this amazing dream job with a nonprofit or for your favorite sports team or one that lets you travel across the world. A lot of times, finding a job you care about just means one where you can support their ethics and work environment. A small business. A company that has a ping pong table in the break room. One that encourages creativity and sharing ideas instead of stifling them. Or maybe it means you get the courage to break off on your own and stop feeling like it’s “just too far-fetched.”
2. I need to start thinking bigger than myself.
Seeing the suffering in other parts of the world that one evening and even more so with current events today made me realize not only that it’s selfish to develop all your thoughts and opinions solely around your own wants and needs, but also, in doing so, you are lacking forward thinking. We can see on a grander scale how “me me me” thinking has plagued the United States and the world already. Global warming is setting up future generations (and even this generation) for catastrophic consequences everywhere from the 6th global mass extinction to an increase in horrible and devastating natural disasters. We knew it was coming and we were too greedy to stop burning oil and look for alternative, possibly more costly options. We refuse to cut back on our excessive meat consumption, thus releasing incredible amounts of methane through grazing agriculture. We’ve known that discrimination and racism is wrong for over 100 years, yet somehow so many kids still grow up thinking it’s okay to judge someone based on their religion or the color of their skin, and even kill because of it.
I could go on but I think it’s unnecessary. The root cause of all of these things is a lack in forward thinking, because why should we care what happens to the world after we’re gone? Why should I, one person, feel responsible for helping people in a country devastated by a natural disaster halfway across the globe? To me it is all connected. No one wants to say that they don’t care about future generations or people who are suffering in another country. Most people would probably strongly refute it. But when it comes time to take action, to show up, to change your habits, to donate just a little bit of your paycheck, we often hold back. We don’t take that action that we say we support because “oh, I just donated XX amount to this other organization last month” or “well just changing my eating and waste habits aren’t going to make any difference in the grand scheme of things.”
Guess what? If everyone made these changes, it would make a difference. Not only would you encourage people around you to make little changes in how they live too, you would be setting up better and more sustainable habits for your children and future generations. That is how we create change. Saying your own habits and actions don’t matter is an excuse and it’s selfish and just generally not true.
So I want to leave you with a few words of encouragement based on what I’ve learned over the past four years.
When in doubt, do.
Learning shouldn’t stop once you’re done with school. We’re better people if we continue challenging ourselves and trying out new things. But fear of failure, laziness, and fear of being outside of our comfort zone often scares us into inaction. Saying “yes” is often higher risk, but the reward is so much greater and it keeps us moving forward.
Ever heard the phrase, “the world is your oyster”?
Take control over your life.
It’s impossible to be conscious of every little consequence of our day to day actions. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t matter or that we shouldn’t try. Next time you go out shopping, consider looking for locally made or fair trade products, so that you aren’t indirectly supporting sweatshops, poor working conditions, and unfair wages. Do you really need a giant hunk of meat with your dinner every day of the week? If so, can you purchase from a local farmer’s market instead? I’m not a vegetarian but I swear tofu is actually good, guys. Think a little bit more about the waste you are creating when you purchase items. Try to find one with recyclable, biodegradable, or just less packaging overall. Or consider if you really need the object at all. We are plagued by this drive to buy, buy, buy all the time, but it didn’t used to be that way and it doesn’t have to into the future. Small changes mean something. They add up. And everyone making small changes creates a movement.
US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers, speaks about how influential young people are in society and why they should take greater action on issues they are passionate about at Invisible Children’s Fourth Estate Leadership Summit.
Be more empathetic, stress less.
I’ve found that when I am more open to considering and trying to understand other opinions and actions that I disagree with, I tend to be calmer, happier, less angry, and less stressed. This applies to almost every situation, even when I think those other opinions or actions are absolutely absurd. Because I’m not necessarily changing my opinion on the absurdity, but I am choosing to take a more thought out, less aggressive approach. Let me give an example. Road rage is a serious and kind of terrifying thing. Driving up and down 81 for three hours every time I came home from college over the past four years caused me a lot of stress and a lot of anger. Because so many people are just terrible and angry drivers. And terrible and angry drivers make me a terrible and aggressive driver. And one day, driving home again on 81, I just decided that I was going to stop. I wasn’t going to get angry at bad or aggressive drivers anymore because I didn’t like how it made me feel or act. We can choose how we feel and how we react. It made a world of difference. I am more relaxed, and I’m a better driver because of it. It doesn’t mean I don’t still think people do stupid things on the road, but I try and be empathetic when possible and take control over my own driving so that someone doesn’t get angry at me for doing something stupid or aggressive.
One of the most important ways I’ve applied this tip is politically. As passionate as I am about my own views, a huge portion of the population views things differently. And for the most part, that’s okay. The majority of my family has hugely different political views, and they are great, well-intentioned people that I love. Promoting, explaining, and supporting your just beliefs is good. But being entirely close-minded to other beliefs and opinions is not good. I would argue that it can be devastating. If we aren’t willing to change, adapt, and compromise, we will never make progress. And the world (both the physical Earth and the people around us) are going to change and adapt and leave us behind. So empathize. I love this video by RSA , The Empathic Civilisation, that shows how we are hard-wired for empathy and how that does us good.
Value your own worth.
While there are a handful of people that value themselves a little too much (I’m looking at you, Mr. Trump), I would say the vast majority of people undervalue their skills, their opinions, and their impact. I have always done this, particularly when it comes to pricing my products and services, which you can read more about in my blog post, “What it’s really like graduating from college with a degree in ‘Art.’”
Why do I do it? I naturally assume other people are more of an expert on things than I am. I took a beginner calligraphy course on modern calligraphy recently, and while I had a great time and learned a lot, I realized that my skills were almost, or could be with a little practice, just as good as that of the instructor. And that’s not to put her down, she was awesome. It’s to say that if I took more progressive action on selling my skills, then I could be just as successful as she. I just haven’t made that jump yet.
Another reason I undervalue myself is that I don’t want to come off as cocky or arrogant, but I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t that black and white. Confidence lies between insecurity and arrogance, and that is the goal we should all shoot for. It makes us better people and we become more valued by ourself and those around us.
Valuing you own worth breeds positive confidence which breeds success and action.
I live by the words: The future of the world hinges on our ability and willingness to stop at nothing.
Always take an active role in your own life.