This time last year I was sitting in my room in NY thinking about the last 365 days/my Senior year in College. I spent half of my year in Italy at the American University of Rome. The whole year was phenomenal, filled with a seemingly limitless amounts of success- speeches on multiple continents, new projects in new countries, and fast friends from the world around.
I was churning out work. Coming back I thought I’d be blazing to a whole other level of impact with my duo-life: full-time Student & Social Entrepreneur. Instead, I found myself asking tougher questions that I could not answer–an equation for unease. Rome planted the seed by allowing me the time and space to inflect, stepping back from the everyday routines and getting a better outsiders angle on both my life at home & the social problems I was working to solve.
I found myself in search of truths. Turning to others to gain their perspective found me looking more inward, recognizing that they didn’t have the answers I sought. As I brought these questions to youth leader friends of mine, I realized that it disturbed their primary principles–principles they had depended on being true and right. Things that, if wrong, would shake the foundations of their work.
I often have these conversations with two questions at the start: “why?” & “Does it make a macro difference?” With Race: Race & privilege seems over simplified. Is it? If so, why? and Is simplifying it making a sustainable difference in race relations or policy? | With Economics: “Your work seems like it demonizes Capitalism” Is it that simple? If so, Why? & If we switched our model tomorrow would it create a difference? | On Education: “Your work says that any means other than public education is the devil” Is it that simple? If so, why? If we made every school public tomorrow would it make the difference?
The roots for foundations like these are Binary.
For example: Capitalism is good or bad. Corporates are Good or Bad. NGOs are good or bad. Government is Good or Bad. Public schools are Good or Bad. TFA is Good or Bad. Charter Schools are Good or Bad. Teachers Unions are Good or Bad. The color of your skin makes you good or bad. Privileged or not privileged.
I do not agree with binary thinking. I think it leaves us one step away from paradigm paralysis. In a country that’s built on politicized actions, it’s tough to not be prey to this model of thought. The world I want isn’t one where people are A’s or B’s. It’s a world where you are whatever the hell you want to be regardless of wherever you came from, but I found us getting further from that and I needed to think outside of it.
So I graduated, passed up a few offers, resigned from some of the boards I was sitting on and decided to take my own sabbatical. I headed to a country which I knew had a history of holistic thinking and holistic thought leaders–a place diverse and far enough from my comfort zone to shake things up for me, India. I knew that I could research my ideas and massage them at their core while experiencing some of what my parents and ancestors did growing up- the sights, smells, and sounds.
Many advisers questioned my logic and offered the opportunities that I’d miss as collateral, but these questions were greater than any opportunity. Moving away for a bit would be about something greater and much deeper. No position is worth compromising your desires. I put my work on hold to come back fresher and stronger. There were questions I had that needed to be answered-Questions that I needed to seek answers too in order to feel like whatever I was doing was worthwhile.
And now I’m in Month 4 of my 6 month India trip. I’ve been researching & consulting all around India to get a better understanding of how youth issues are tackled. I’ve been able to give talks all throughout India on my experiences in social entrepreneurship, innovation, social media for groups like the US State Department, Google, NDTV, Digital Empowerment Foundation, Toby Yohannan Never Enough Ministries. I was even lucky enough to fly back to Europe a few weeks back to share my thoughts on Intergenerational Leadership with a group of deeply-ethical global leaders called the Synergized Earth Network.
With 2 months to go I feel great. India has been a time to divorce myself from the negative things in life long enough to self-reflect and formulate serious tools and strategies for tackling those tough –not so binary questions that may shake foundations, but will be meaningful things for the world.
In 2014 that translates to
(1) More travel. Plenty of reasons to travel.
(2) Ask better questions.
(3) Make “not that busy” cool again– More Relationships and time for friends/family/self. Momma that means you too!
(4) READ. Alternating between fiction & non-fiction. Biographies are a charm. Books are beautiful.
(5) Read the Bible. Pray. Live Christian values. Be a light
In his book, Reason for God, Tim Keller says everyone has a God shaped void within them. It’s an endless blackhole that we often try to fill with anything but God. When it’s filled with God there’s a strength and joy that’s near unshakable.
(6) Have relationship with God.
Man made religion. God made relationship.
The death of Christ is all about love. “For God so loved the world that he gave up his one and only son so that you may not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. That includes Gays and Trans folks too. Compassion is hard, but it’s important. You may not agree with their actions, but in the Kingdom we are all just children.
(7) Learn other faiths. Understand their values. Share love
In such a diverse world it’s important to know and understand the people around you. We’re a lot more similar than different. PS Ravi Zacharias claims that atheism or intellectualism is also a faith. (Lets make science and faith work together?)
(8) Have more conversations around action
I do love the podium, but I think we’re beyond that. Great minds should be invited to dialogue and ideate because in reality, we all have something to offer. Together we’re a lot stronger than alone.
(9) Shift the dialogue
Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself for I am large therefore contain multitudes. -Walt Whitman (Things aren’t black & white. People aren’t good or Bad. We can change this)
(10) Gain training & Mentorship for growth in the workplace . Learn from accomplished people in fields I’m interested in.
Cheers to 2014. Wishing you and yours a wonderful one. Everyone asks, I will too. What was your 2013 like & what are you doing for your 2014?
Marvin Mathew, signing out.