You Will Not Change the World

When I was younger, I remember reading the quote, “Those who are crazy enough to change the world are often the ones who do,” and I was instantly inspired. My pre-teen self was convinced that I would change the world because Bill Gates or whoever said that quote told me I could, and who was I to argue? And even as time passed, I held to that idea firmly because anything can happen if you really believe, right? And even though my concept of what it meant to change the world evolved and grew just as I did, the overarching idea of being able to accomplish change remained the same. I was hopeful that with the right mindset and the appropriate goals, I could fulfill this dream.

I’ve come to learn that the biggest problem with being full of hope is not the soul-crushing reality that the world is an unpredictable place and anything can change in the blink of an eye and there’s nothing you or I can do to stop that. No, it’s the way people around you insist fervently that, for means unique to them, your dream will not come true. And believe me, I’ve heard every thought, opinion, and idea, ranging from the well-meaning, “That’s nice, but why don’t you consider (insert alternate “reasonable” goal here) instead?” to the not-so-subtle “You don’t really think you can do that, do you?” And I don’t know about you, but the biggest struggle for keeping my dreams alive is the fight with which I have to maintain in order to not succumb to those who think their ideas are somehow more realistic or reasonable than mine, as if “reasonable” is the force driving me to hope in the first place.

But reasonable does not get you to heights never before seen.

Reasonable does not break records and encourage others to try harder.

Reasonable does not lead to great change.

I know that the doubt that shrouds my mind is not my own; it’s merely reflections of others who were too afraid to follow their own dreams and curiosities that they no longer see the point in others following theirs.

And maybe they’re right. Maybe you or I will never change the world. Maybe it is a lost cause and a dream that large is meant to stay just that: a dream. But the way I see it, the simple act of trying to create change is sometimes enough – and maybe that alone is all it takes to change the world.

So no, maybe you won’t change the world, but you can sure as hell try.

Enough is Enough

I’m not one to lose my temper or raise my voice because anger is an emotion I rarely feel or give in to, but lately I have been angry all the time. And I’m angry because I simply don’t understand.

I don’t understand how when I tell people that part of my job includes me teaching in the county jail, the reaction I get is never “Oh good, those people deserve a good education!” but rather “You should invest in a gun,” or (more often) “Can’t you look for a new job?” as if the rights people are entitled to is dependent on whether or not they sleep behind bars.

I don’t understand how my choice to teach in a different country is seen as negligent towards my own country and offering help is only selfless if it occurs within certain confines. “Help” is only acceptable so long as it ensures that the majority maintains the status and popularity they have upheld for so many years. “Help” is only praised so long as it occurs within safe boundaries, despite the fact that the majority of the people in need of help need it specifically because of a lack of safety or security. “Help” is only help if it is approved of by a particular group of people, otherwise it is a waste of time.

I don’t understand how the students I work with, all of whom have some sort of disability, can break down in tears in the middle of class during a science lesson because they got an answer wrong. All because while they were being pulled out of class and not learning the same things as their peers, they were also missing out on learning how to believe in themselves and bounce back from mistakes. They had spent so much of their lives being told what they can’t do and letting their disability define them that when the time came for them to believe in themselves, they didn’t know how.

I simply don’t understand. And believe me when I say I’m trying to. I’m trying to practice empathy every chance I get and be mindful of the fact that people will act and think a certain way based on their own experiences and their own worldview. But when I go to work and hear about abuse and blatant racism in prison, then I go to my other students and hear about how their disabilities have led to them being stripped of opportunities, then I go home and listen to ridicule, doubt, and fear about my decisions, then I wake up the next morning to hear about yet another mass shooting, this time in my own hometown, I am more than just at a loss – I am enraged.

I don’t want to live in a world where money is more of a priority than humanity.

I don’t want to live in a place that advertises “all men are created equal” but forgets to mention that there’s a fine-print explanation of who qualifies for equality.

I don’t want to live among people who live in apathy while demonizing empathy.

So, I’m angry. I’m angry because we’re not doing enough. I’m angry because in all my efforts to understand, I have been enduring a hopeless search for insufficient answers. I’m angry because the system is broken and all we’re doing is patching holes in the roof instead of strengthening the very foundation that’s causing the structure to fall apart in the first place.  

I hope you’re angry too and I hope you let that rage fuel you in the fight for change.

Enough is enough.

When Fear is Knocking…

“When fear knocks, hope goes to answer and faith is at the door.”

I work with adults trying to earn their GED/HSE (many of whom struggle with some sort of disability) or adults learning English as a second language. One student in particular has gone through a lifetime of trauma that has left her struggling to get back on her feet but has also left her with a lot of wisdom. While we were finishing up a poetry lesson, she began talking about her journey and sharing things she does to stay grounded and get through each day and this quote was one thing she brought up, after hearing it recently at a Bible study:

When Fear knocks, Hope goes to answer and Faith is at the door.”

Ever since then, it has completely consumed my mind.

When Fear knocks, Hope goes to answer and Faith is at the door.”

We all feel fear – that’s undeniable. But the level of fear we each go through is different and particular to every person and every situation. Sometimes fear is simply knocking on your door, giving you the opportunity to answer and send it away. But other times it’s whispering through the walls, making its presence known but refusing to be found. Or, maybe it’s stomping on the ceilings, causing the pounding in your head to match the pounding on the roof while always staying just out of reach. Regardless of where the fear is or what it’s doing, it’s there. So, what can you do?

Do you fight it?

Do you send your dog to the door to scare it away?

Do you drill nails in the wall to shut it up?

Do you hit the ceiling with a broom to knock it off?

How do you get rid of fear?

Easy – you use Hope.

There are a lot of things I’m afraid of. I’m afraid about relationships falling through. I’m afraid of jobs not working out. I’m even afraid of completely ridiculous things that have literally no explanation, like hyenas. Regardless of what I’m afraid of, the fear is there. And I’d be willing to bet that you have your own fears, too (some more rational than others). Sometimes the fear can be overwhelming – I know the fear is irrational but for some reason I can’t seem to shake it. But then I remember my trusty friend: Hope.

Hope doesn’t care about rationality because Hope itself isn’t always rational.

Twice a week I work with one student in teaching him English. When I first met him, he was incredibly shy and lacked confidence in his knowledge. Most of the time I asked him a question, he answered, “I don’t know,” and waited for me to give him the answer because he was afraid of being wrong. But lately, I will ask him a question and he’ll say, “I don’t know, but okay,” and tries because he hopes he is right. And ladies and gentlemen, that is the answer to defeating fear.

You don’t have to know. You don’t have to understand. You just have to fight one unknowing and irrational thing (fear) with another, better unknowing and irrational thing (hope).

Faith itself is scary, but don’t let it disguise itself as something that it’s not. Send Hope to the door and watch as what you thought was Fear transforms itself into something positive – something scary but for all the right reasons: Faith.

The Test of Fire

For some reason, I’ve been seeing a lot of side-by-side success stories from people who I have admired for their openness and vulnerability. People have been posting extreme highs and lows at a point in time on their journey – photos of them with swollen eyes and splotchy faces as they wrap up a mental breakdown caused by a mishap in their life, sitting next to a picture of them with a toothy grin and gleaming eyes as they have accomplished some great feat. I would always look at these photos with an understanding that no goal is reached with ease and even the people who seemed to have it all have felt the most humane feelings: loss and failure. So, when I sat in my bed last night after only two days’ worth of an exhausting week with an uncontrollable fit of tears, I couldn’t help but think whether or not this was only a part of my own success story.

For a second, though, before I go on, I’m going to explain something:

I am, in every aspect of the word, a dreamer. Sometimes I think it’s my greatest quality, other times I think it’s my most detrimental quality. Regardless, it’s the most prominent thing about me. My mind runs a mile per minute, but it’s not always wandering frantically, worrying about this or that. Often times, it’s off in its own world thinking about the exciting “what-ifs” in life. But when it comes to dreams that mean a lot to me, not only will I seriously dream about them, but I will seriously pursue them. Whether it’s the travel I’ve done, the school I’m attending, or the job I’m trying to get, I have dreamt hardcore about making these things happen and you can bet that I didn’t stop until I made them happen. But you can also bet that while the accomplishments of each of these things were great, sometimes that fallbacks felt greater.

I say this because as I was sitting in my room looking like the before photo of a before and after success story, I knew that this was a feeling I had recognized: it was the feeling of walking through fire. It was the heat of a flame instilling the fear of failure into my mind, a fear that I had no idea how to work through. But I also knew that if my dream was serious, if it’s meant to be, then it’s golden. And as the Chinese proverb goes, “Real gold is not afraid of the test of fire.”

I think in so many parts of our lives we experience the test of fire. For me, I experience it most in regard to my goals and plans. For some, it may be experienced most in relationships or other personal circumstances. But I knew that no matter how I felt last night or any other time where I’ve felt lost or hopeless, I had no choice but to push deeper into the flame. I am confident that who I am and what I want at its very core is golden. While I may feel the heat every step of the way, and some parts of my life that were disguised as gold may melt away, I will ultimately walk out unscathed because the test of the fire is nothing compared to the grit in my heart.

The Moment My Life Changed

I remember specific moments where my life had changed. The minute I bought that plane ticket to go halfway across the world; the time I chased a dream despite the many obstacles in my way; the moment I kissed that boy knowing the only two possible outcomes were happiness or heartache. I knew. In every moment I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that life would never go according to plan, and no matter how much you try to bribe your way into a better outcome, the dice have already been rolled and there’s nothing you can do but play the cards you have. I knew that they were course-altering moments and if I were in a movie, they would be the scenes that can be identified by a change in music, forcing the audience to feel one way or another. I knew.

I knew that in all the emotions I could have felt in every moment that my life had changed, the only one that pounded its way across my head, knocking into my skull time and time again to make itself known, was fear. It wasn’t the type of fear that held me back – binded at the wrists and ready to succumb to the innevitable outcome that I had no choice but to follow. Nor was it the fear that boiled my blood and left adrenaline coursing through my veins like a drug that couldn’t be stopped. It was a different kind of fear. It was fear that caused my heart to pound just a beat too fast and my mind to quiet like the world around me as it focused only on the moment I was in. It was the feeling you get when you explore a new place on your own – afraid of what could happen but curious and thrilled at the possibilities ahead. It was the moment on the track just before the gun is shot; the intensity of the musician as the conductor lifts their arms; the readiness of the actor as the curtains open in front of them. In every moment there was fear, but it was the fear of the beginning that puts everything else into action. I knew.

I knew that this fear, while not blinding or adrenaline-inducing, was one I would come to know and love because it meant my life was moving forward. While I never knew if that direction was one that would end in a triumphant roar of the audience or a defeated fall on my knees, what I did know is that I would be better off because of it. The victory would inspire me to go even further while the defeat would teach me to hold my head a little higher.

I have learned not to be afraid of being afraid – an irony that took me more time to learn than I’d like to admit. My mind has been trained into understanding that the greatest type of fear is the one you feel just moments before a change; moments before you push past the comfort zone you once set for yourself and fly into a new territory that has been waiting to be explored by you. Because the only two reasons that you can be uncomfortable with where your life is at is because you’re either staying in your comfort zone where you don’t belong, or you’re pushing past it where you’re not used to. And I would rather feel the fear of moving forward than experience the loss of standing still, and this is something I know.