CultureEducation

“I honestly believe if people traveled more often, there would be less conflict because there would be more understanding.” I said this in my Youth Spotlight last week, and I meant it with all my heart. Traveling is a powerful educational tool for everyone and, I believe, is especially eye opening for minority youth like myself. Let me tell you why.

With cultural tensions spewed across the news and social media platforms as of late, people seem quick to grab onto fear before attempting to peacefully resolve a misunderstanding. We are all guilty of being fearful sometimes, but let’s remember, fear is only a result of unfamiliarity. For example, you may be terrified of insects until you watch the Discovery Channel and learn the many ways they help protect us from even scarier things like low crop yields and a massive buildup of animal waste (no, thank you!). Suddenly, you’ll think twice before stepping on the little creatures that are more helpful than we think, and this is all thanks to a bit of new knowledge.

The same concept goes for people. In my personal experiences as a young minority woman traveling, I have often found myself in places where no one looks like me. For some of you, whether Black, Asian, Hispanic, a lovely mix and so on, this might sound familiar. It can be awkward at times, but always eye-opening and beneficial for all parties involved. Travel is absolutely transformative for minority youth in three major ways.

First, it allows those unfamiliar with your culture to become more familiar. When I traveled to New Zealand a few years ago, I never saw another black person during the trip, aside from the few traveling with me in the tour group. This doesn’t mean black people don’t exist in New Zealand; I just never crossed paths with any. During my home stay with a Kiwi family (the native minority population in the country), they told me they’d never had any black friends before and I said I’d never had any Kiwi friends before. At first they were timid to ask pressing questions about my culture, but eventually conversation began flowing as I told them about ridiculous stereotypes that exist in America, the daily struggles faced, and about my personal family history. They reciprocated by telling me about theirs. As native New Zealanders, many of their experiences were similar to mine, as a black American. Who would have known? By the end of the conversation, we could all say we were friends. Pretty good ones, at that. Just think about it – if discussions like this would happen more frequently, there would be much more respect than conflict.

Not only does traveling teach others about you, but it can also teach you about your own culture. Every time you go to a new location, you unlock a part of yourself you didn’t know existed. For example, when I went to Paris for the first time in high school, I learned about how many black Americans in the 1920’s hopped the Atlantic and settled in the City of Lights. Many did this because they felt race was not as much of a hindrance to living a happy life in Paris as it was in America. There were more job opportunities, a booming arts industry, and less violent racism. I found it so interesting to learn about how people like me lived in other countries in the past, and are still living there today. Traveling to Paris expanded my mindset and, in a sense, gave me a newfound sense of my own identity within the world and its history.

Last but surely not least, travel has the power to make the variety of race seem minuscule compared to the unity of humanness. What I mean by this is that through exploring new areas, speaking to new people, immersing yourself in a different society, and catching a glimpse into how others live, similarities across cultures are more evident than any differences could ever be. We all struggle to find ourselves. We all get lazy, grumpy, giggly, frustrated, happy, and jealous at times. We all laugh at our own jokes, have secret crushes on people who don’t know who we are, and have blood flowing through our veins. You get the point. But mostly, we all want to just be happy.

So, whether you are thinking about traveling to another country, a new town, or a new school, I want to encourage you to go for it… for yourself, and for all of us.

Image: Jay Mantri

HealthLearnWellness

Nature has an incredible way of creating and rebounding. There are countless lessons we can learn from nature if we just look close enough. At times, it’s hard to accept what happens in our lives. We begin to draw inwards, closing ourselves off from what’s going on. Looking outside, however, could be just the thing we need to help turn things around.

Burying Vs. Planting

When you think about burying versus planting, two very different meanings arise. While the former implies death or stowing away, the latter suggests the opposite with feelings of new birth and growth. Yet they are essentially the same action. The process of digging something up allows for many things to happen. It is preparation for both endings and beginnings, decay and development, vulnerability and hope. We often times bury things in our own lives. Pressing our fears, disappointments, and anger into the backs of our minds or the depths of our hearts in order to hide and forget that they are there. We bury goals when they seem out of reach to save ourselves from being exposed to embarrassment or regret. We cover up as much as we can but by doing so, are mistakenly blinding ourselves from nature’s true process at hand: the growth of perspective.

Sometimes it is necessary for one thing to close for another to open, whether it’s letting go of certain ideas you have grown up with, choosing to say goodbye to negative people, or moving on from an upsetting event. Experiencing any level of loss reminds us of the value of those around us, the time we have, and the opportunity to seize every moment. Burying and planting come hand in hand, and it’s learning the rhythm between them that can help us adjust our thoughts and become hopeful for whatever comes our way.

The Ripple Effect

Like the proverbial pebble dropped into a still pond, the impact of our actions can reverberate outward into reaches far greater than we know. Knowing our capacities to influence the people around us, there should be a conscious and cautious effort towards making that influence a positive one. So much of what we say and do can be channels of inspiration, encouragement, and support for others and even ourselves. Being the first to forgive can help start mending a broken relationship. The mindset you choose to have in the morning can alter your whole day. Journaling can turn into writings for a future novel. Sometimes there are clear intentions with our actions and sometimes there are not. After all, the only thing we have true control over is which pebble we choose to throw. It’s at least understanding the scope of our impact, the fact that our behavior in the present can sway events in both directly and indirectly, that we can begin acting in ways that are most likely to bring positive change.

Timing

Human beings are constantly fighting against the one thing that nature whole-heartedly accepts, understands, and obeys: life’s timing. There are birds that consistently follow migratory patterns throughout the year, flowers that only bloom in favorable seasons, and fish that survive in shallow streams until they’ve grown enough to swim into deeper waters. Nature always follows the progression from waiting to changing. People find it difficult to wait and are uncomfortable with change. It seems unnecessary sometimes to have to postpone plans, or move from one place to the other, or spend time working for others when we could be working for ourselves. All of this, however, is exactly how nature survives and thrives. It’s a lesson we can all learn from. There is a sense of collaboration with time itself when we allow it to just happen, when we accept that certain seasons must precede the others. Just as one chapter in our life can be dedicated to preparation and reflection, the next can be for action and transformation.

Nature is one of life’s most important teachers and its curriculum will always be the same. It’s about embracing the light and the night, knowing how to rest and store our energy, and blooming into our best selves whenever the time is right.

Image: Grzegorz Mleckzek

EducationSkills

We live in a success-glorifying society. We also live in a world in which people now have nine-second attention spans. So what do we get? A life that demands increasingly profound achievements coupled with the need for immediate social recognition. We condition ourselves to perform at our best when we are successful, happy, and strong. So when life throws the unexpected at us, we second-guess ourselves, stumbling through negative situations and berating the choices we have made. Have you ever really considered why we are so fueled by success but shaken by setbacks? Or why it’s so difficult to go through life when we have hit a low point? One root cause of this is the underlying fear of weakness. An even bigger problem is the fact that people associate weakness with vulnerability. Breaking news, folks: they’re not the same thing.

Vulnerability ≠ Weakness

For those of us on the constant chase for perfection, it’s a call to action to recognize that there is a huge difference between being vulnerable and being weak. Rather than suppressing your vulnerability, own it. Moments of regret, anger, or confusion should not be seen as moments of weakness, but rather moments of redirection and potential for clarity. Re-think those times in your life when you felt like giving in or giving up. Sometimes it’s during those perceived “weaknesses” that we are exposing our true strength to overcome.

Forgiveness ≠ Weakness

Forgiveness should not be seen as acceptance of defeat. People think that if they give someone a second chance, or if they are the one asking for amends, that they are compromising their own beliefs. This is not the case, however, if you allow yourself to view forgiveness as a way to both take control of a situation and let go of negative feelings. “When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the future.” – Bernard Meltzer

Not Knowing What To Say ≠ Weakness

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s during an important meeting or an intimate conversation with a friend, we’re sometimes caught off guard or can’t verbalize our thoughts properly. Don’t beat yourself up over not having a scripted life. It doesn’t make you any less of an employee or a friend. It takes courage to acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Take the pressure off yourself of trying to always be polished and ready. Some of the most powerfully-minded people are the ones that can embrace quiet moments.

Making Mistakes ≠ Weakness

Imagine if we lived in a mistake-glorifying society. Mistakes would be recognized and worked through in a more transparent way. People would be just as candid about their failures as they are about their successes. When you mess up, when you do the wrong thing despite what your gut is telling you, when you thought you were being helpful, when you show up late or don’t show up at all, you feel like your weaknesses are on full display for the world to see. Realize that you can blame your weaknesses, saying you didn’t have the right resources. Or you can separate your vulnerability from weakness entirely and identify it with the strength to change instead. You may have done something wrong but you are ready and willing to learn from it.

Vulnerability = Strength to Change

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

– Madeleine L’Engle

Image: Dustin Scarpitti

Culture

There is something magical about a New Year. Not only do you get to say goodbye to the old, but you get a metaphorical clean slate. While it’s not always easy to let go of all of the mistakes you’ve made and start anew, January 1st is the day that begins a new chapter in your life. If you didn’t like the previous year, now is your time to make some changes and do things differently. This is why people come up with a list of resolutions. They say things like “this year I’m going to be a better person” or “this year I’m going to start being more active.”

While these are both great aspirations, it’s not necessarily a good idea to decide to make lifestyle changes because you closed one 365 page book and are now starting a new one. It takes a lot to change. Saying you’re going to do something now means nothing if you couldn’t do it a week ago or even a month ago. I have a lot of friends who post their resolutions on social media every year and people like them and comment how they want to make the same changes, but I can’t help but notice that their resolutions are the same as ones from last year.

Again, there is nothing wrong with change. Change is healthy. Especially when you genuinely want to better your life by working on your health, choose more carefully who you let into your life, or even by coming to the realization that some of the choices you make aren’t the best and you want to do something about that. Whatever the case may be, change is something that we as young people will experience throughout our lives, particularly during the early stages. We don’t have control over all of the changes that happen, but we do have control over some.

So take control over your life.

If you think that you already have control and you’re one of those people who lives by the whole ‘New Year, New Me’ mantra, then I’m afraid that you aren’t in control. I say this because, if you were in control, you wouldn’t need a New Year to want to become a ‘new you’. You would change when you want to change without resolutions or the allure of the New Year being a clean slate.

I won’t deny that there are people who genuinely decide to change in the New Year because those people do exist and their resolutions are more than statements to them; they are actions. If you want to change, then that’s wonderful. But don’t do it because it’s a New Year. That’s like wearing pink because it’s Wednesday. Maybe that’s not the best comparison but the point is that don’t say you’re going to change your life because of the time. Say you’re going to change because you honestly want to do it; after you come to the realization that you want to make changes, turn those wants into actions!

Many people say they want to lose weight or travel more or do this and do that on January 1st, but then 365 days go by and they haven’t lost anything, they haven’t travelled anywhere, and they haven’t done all of the things they said they were going to do a year ago. This is not to put anyone down – we all encounter obstacles that keep us from doing the things we set out to do, and that’s okay. It’s life. But, with that said, it’s important to strive to be impeccable with your word. I talked about this in another post, though I think it bares repeating. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you say that you want to do something, then do it! I know that some of the things we want to do requires work and pushing through any and all obstacles and, above all, time. But that’s okay.

It’s okay if you can’t achieve your goals in a day, or a week, or even a year. That’s not the point of change. Change is ongoing, so don’t be discouraged by time. And don’t let it control when or even why you want to begin the process of changing something in your life, either.

Just do it.

Image: New Old Stock

Culture

The day you turn 18 is monumental. You become a legal adult. But for most of us that have passed that key birthday, we’ve also discovered several harsh realizations about growing up.

Almost everyone has heard it: “College will be some of the best years of your life.” This may be exciting for incoming freshmen who are about to embark on a life-altering journey, but what about college seniors who are working on job applications? What is there to look forward to if your best years are already behind you?

As a college junior, I have no desire to believe that college will conclude the best years of my life. I believe that your college years aren’t simply defined by your age, but by your experience. For many people, college is their first burst of freedom…their first attempt at learning responsibility. What makes college so exciting is simply the intense opportunity for personal growth.

I felt the weight of this responsibility when I became captain of my tennis team during my sophomore year at the University of Nebraska. After just one summer, I went from being an overwhelmed college freshman to assuming a position teeming with responsibility and prestige.

As a self-professed control freak, being team captain is probably just what I needed. However, Uncle Ben said it best: “With great power comes great responsibility.” People who are seen as people of importance are often put on a pedestal. More is expected of them than others. But what no one tells you about being on a pedestal is that it is an awfully lonely place to be.

If someone asked me if I was prepared to be captain that year, I would’ve answered with a definite “no.” If they had asked me the same question about this year, I would’ve answered “probably not.” Although I’m one step closer to being prepared, I’ll never be completely there. Preparedness isn’t something tangible; it’s a state of mind.

When a person decides they’re ready to get married, are they really ready for that kind of commitment? When a couple decides they’re ready to have a baby, are they really ready to be parents? Can anyone be prepared for such life changes? And what defines being truly prepared?

There came a moment during elementary school when I realized that adults aren’t always right. With that came the realization that parents aren’t always right either. The loss of magic I experienced in that moment was very similar to the emptiness you feel when you discover Santa Claus doesn’t exist. It’s facing another inevitable reality.

But there’s also a kind of relief in realizing adults can be wrong. All of a sudden, they become human. That pedestal that you had them on has diminished. The expectations you had of them, as well as your future self, have vanished. They no longer seem invincible. All at once, they become much easier to forgive.

We’re all waiting for that epiphany. That moment when we suddenly feel more responsible, more worldly, more prepared than we were the day before. It’s both daunting and refreshing to know that day will never likely come. There’s no book to tell you the best way to survive a marriage or the correct way to raise your kids. Just as with anything else, that part of your life will be defined by your choices.

It’s much easier to understand your parents once you’ve walked in their shoes. It’s also much easier to understand your boss once you acknowledge their position. Whether it’s choosing a college, moving to a new state or making a financial investment, any big decision in life is difficult to make. And the more you grow, the more difficult choices you are forced to make.

Our culture has a fascination with age. That’s why the day you turn 16 assigns you a responsibility that you weren’t supposedly mature enough for the day before. It’s the same as the day you turn 21. But how many 20-year-olds do you know that could be drinking? How many 22-year-olds do you know that shouldn’t be?

The day you turn 18, you don’t feel any different. You’re the same person you were the day before, with the same level of experience and intellect. The same holds true between your 20th and 21st birthday, your 34th and 35th, and your 59th and 60th. The truth is, nothing changes. You’re simply one day older.

What makes you an adult isn’t that monumental day that you surpass 17. What makes you an adult is your assumed level of responsibility. All the times you’ve chosen to keep your mouth shut when it wouldn’t have been wise to speak. All the times you’ve made a sacrifice for someone that could do nothing for you. All the times you’ve had the courage to admit that you were wrong.

But just like any other type of growth, it has to start within you. You have to want to grow. The question is: who in their right mind actually wants to grow up? Wouldn’t almost everyone like to remain a carefree kid for the rest of their lives?

The answer lies in just another inevitable truth: one day you will grow up. And one day, the world will ask things of you that they expect of an adult in the same way you’d assume your dentist knows how to fill a cavity. The secret lies in trying.

There’s the common saying: “Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.” While some people like to stick to their ways and coin them “successful,” others understand that change is the only way to improve upon something.

Just like you don’t know how fast you are until you run your first marathon, you’ll never know the power of admitting you were wrong until the words actually escape your mouth.

Image: Lee Scott

CultureLearn

365 days, 6 hours, 45 minutes, and 48 seconds. That’s how long it takes for our Earth to revolve around the sun. This revolution (and the rotational tilt of the Earth’s axis yada yada…) causes those changes in season. We know the seasons well and we expect certain things to happen in accordance with their personalities. In the colder seasons, we can see our breath hit the cool air and make the necessary changes in wardrobe. We turn our headlights on early on our drives home from work and prepare ourselves for the vigor of the holiday season. Beyond these changes, however, are the subtle lessons we can all learn from the stories that these colder seasons tell.

Autumn to Winter – Accept and embrace change.

The yearly dance through meteorological phases does not stop. Ever. As the earth is always moving, we should too, with the knowledge that the only predictable thing is that things will change. Everyone has to make adjustments in their lives to accommodate other people and rising situations, and becoming aware of the pattern of changes can help people become more resilient to unexpected events. We all get thrown off from time to time when things don’t go according to plan, but accepting and embracing circumstances as they come is the first step in regaining balance and stability. Changes happen, and we reroute. Onward and forward.

Temperature drop – Coldness can be a very good thing.

The power of coldness is twofold: It’s harsh at times but can also bring people together. Whether it is snow, or rain, or gloomy skies, there is something about coldness that exposes a vulnerability within each of us, serving as a reminder that it’s okay to rely on people and things to keep us warm. It is fitting to have that sense of needed camaraderie amidst all the celebrations and traditions happening towards the end of the year. Allow the cold to signal a time for you to put your “relationships on fire.”  Visit relatives, keep in touch with friends, and be the first to call.

Fallen leaves – There is a time for everything.

If only trees could talk. Any deciduous tree out there with barren branches and its leaves sprawled on the ground, would be the first to tell you that losing is a part of life. The trick is learning that loss is necessary. It can be necessary to start anew or to grow in the future. Sometimes we lose jobs, or competitions, or spaces on people’s calendars. We lose hope and we lose energy. These times in which we feel hollowed out should be seen instead, as times of restoring. The effects of losing something lets people reevaluate what matters most to them. Emptiness permits a blank slate to reflect, prioritize, and set new goals. While there may not be an immediate upturn, it will happen. Given the right conditions and mindset, it always does.

Although we may shiver a lot more and have to chase daylight to get things done, treasure these colder months for what they’re worth.

“All seasons have something to offer.” – Jeannette Walls

Image: Samuel Rohl

Skills

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” There is no proof that Mahatma Gandhi ever said these exact words, but either way, you are familiar with this quote. It was used in the valedictorian’s graduation speech, a few of your professors paraphrased it in their lectures, someone retweeted it on Twitter, it was printed across a cute shirt on the bargain rack at the mall, or maybe you’re just the kind of person who likes to collect inspirational quotes.

Whatever your story may be, there is no doubt that you’ve encountered this quote at some point in your life. However, your familiarization isn’t what’s important. This is solely because nine times out of ten people will look at that quote, think it’s inspirational enough to share on social networks, and go on about their day smiling at all of the likes and retweets and favorites they get from their friends and followers.

I’m not saying everyone is like that but how many people do you think will actually be the change that they wish to see? Now, that quote is obviously open to interpretation because we all want to see different things. We all have our own definitions of change and what we’d like to see change. But if there is one thing we all have in common, it’s this: we all live in an imperfect world. It seems like every time I go on the internet or turn on the TV, something horrible is happening. Even if I’m not aware of it, I still know that somewhere in the world someone is living in poverty or trying to survive in a war-torn country.

If you’re reading this article, that means you have access to the internet, which means you have a computer (or a smartphone), and that already makes you a little more privileged than a lot of people around the world. This is not to say that we don’t all have our own life struggles or that we’re all well-off, but I am saying that we have a duty to fulfill. Because while we all might not live in war torn countries or have to deal with poverty, it doesn’t mean that those issues will go away if we don’t think about it. The horrible things in this world aren’t fairies. They won’t disappear just because we say we don’t believe in them or because we aren’t forced to encounter struggles in our everyday lives.

So what is the point of all of this? Well, to put it simply, as young people (it doesn’t matter if you’re in high school or in college), we owe it to future generations to set a good example for them and to be the change. All change is change, so if you wish to see less animal abuse in the world, volunteer at an animal shelter, help fundraise for organizations whose missions are to end animal abuse. Whatever cause you’re interested in, find a way to become a part of it, because chances are there is a way that you can contribute. If you’re not really into joining any causes, you can still volunteer and make a difference in your community.

Look for local chapters of Habitat for Humanity. Put in time helping restore or build a home for a family in need. Pick up trash around the neighborhood, clock in some hours at the community center or an afterschool program or anything your heart desires! I’m not saying that doing any of these things will put an end to all wars or get rid of poverty forever, but as I said before, we live in a world that is imperfect and bad things happen everyday. Why not try to do something good to counteract the bad?

Volunteering is important because not only will it impact your life, but it will ultimately have a positive impact on the lives of others. No act of service is too small or too great. Poverty will not go away in one day and neither will famine or sickness. I don’t expect it to but I do expect to try to work at doing what I can, as a young person, as a college student, to make sure that I do things that honor the change that I not only wish to see but the change I want to see as well.

You have the power to influence others in a positive way. If you start to volunteer for a cause or an organization, one of your peers or family members might be inspired to get involved or to tell other people about it. That’s how movements are started. That’s how change happens.

If you’re like the queen from Alice in Wonderland and you don’t want white roses, paint them the color that you want them to be. In other words, if you don’t like the way things are, do something about it. Paint all of the things that you want to change red!

Also, the next time you come across the quote “be the change you wish to see in the world,” forget about liking it or sharing it or retweeting it; choose to live by it instead.

Image: morguefile