|Me with a partner during an exercise at a recent retreat
I attended. Participating- not facilitating- events like these
over the last several months has been good for me.
“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but… life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” – Gabriel García Márquez
Over the last twenty years I have been concerned with writing a script for a new world, and helping others write their own. I concentrated on our collective journey, built on interdependence and deliberately focused on changing the world. Important successes came from my efforts, and transformation has occurred. Today, I know I changed the world.
About six months ago I undertook a process of deep self-examination designed to enhance my professional development. However, it quickly became apparent that this process was about my personal growth, as well.
My career has occurred during a rich period of social action in the United States, one when institutional efforts were embodied in programs like AmeriCorps and service learning, and supported by large foundations, politicians, and well-established national nonprofits and international nongovernmental organizations. While being involved in all that process, I frequently heard Gandhi’s matra, “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.” Today, after 20 years in, I am beginning to understand it.
All this time I’ve focused on superficial changes in my own life reflecting my philosophy about the roles of young people throughout society. I have watched my language and honed my behaviors; I have rallied for systems changes and challenged peer apathy. The entire time, though, while leading workshops focused on social change and youth alienation, I have neglected to address the oppression I faced as a young person and have continued to face as an adult. I have owned my whiteness, my maleness, my many privileges afforded by a predominate culture that affects and predicts and seemingly necessitates hatred. However, until six months ago, I hadn’t faced the inabilities that have hampered my own successful living today.
So for the last six months I’ve been doing this work. I have named the situations, people, circumstances, and other realities that challenged me. I have drilled into my own psyche to drag out some painful memories, and come to face some lasting legacies. Old connections have been severed or transformed; new wire has been laid, and different connections have been made. Facing the truth of pain, I have sought to draw out new meaning and purpose in my movements, and have learned a lot. I have faced a lot, and all of it has made me who I have been, and who I am. It will continue to form my conception of me, too, to some extent.
This has been a radical journey for me, one in which I’ve been able to take ownership of my own path, recognizing where I’ve come from, and carefully begin laying the stones ahead of me, one at a time. It’s been a little precarious, and as my close friends and family know, I’ve struggled a bit. They have been there to support me through this time though, and I have ceaseless gratitude for their generosity.
Right now I do not have absolute certainty about where my path will lead me. However, instead of forcing myself to lay a narrow path, I’m looking at a wide open plain of opportunity. I am more committed than ever to living another part of the vision of the Mahatma, who also said, “My life is my message.”
Today, I get what that means for me. I believe that we all must DO SOMETHING, only now I’m doing it in a different way: I’m changing my own life to change the world. I know that as I emerge from this growth space I am entering the playing field from a new frame, a new perspective. Facing myself has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. Have you met you, today? When the time is right, you will. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed sharing a little about me – thanks for reading.
Addendum: Reflecting on this post, I came across a Thoreau quote where he said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” That is what this recent body of my personal work has been, putting foundations down. From here, I will continue to build, rebuild, and evolve my castle to the next big thing!