Let Your Interests Guide Your Impact
Have you ever wished you could clone yourself, create a dozen of you so that you can accomplish everything your heart desires? Me, too.
If you're anything like me, the world lately has been pulling you in a million directions. Even before the seismic effects of the election in November 2016, I was feeling overwhelmed. There is so much that we need to do. I remember listing all the causes I care about in a conversation with a life coach last summer, their names tumbling out fast, faster but not as fast as my frenzied mind thought of them.
Eating disorder awareness.
The list continues.
Eventually, the river of my mouth ran dry, and there was a pause on the other end of the line. "What if you had to pick one?" she asked, slowly. "I can't," I blurted out, "it's impossible to choose. They all need me." Thankfully, my coach didn't accept that answer, and pushed me through an exercise in which I had to select just one cause to which I would commit myself. The importance of the activity was not which one I chose, she explained, but rather that I chose at all. Trying to make decisions based on where I would have the most impact is fruitless; there will always be another movement tugging at my sleeve, worthy of my attention. She reassured me that putting in work on what makes me feel most alive will generate the most positive change.
Fast forward to many months later, and it seems the cause I chose that evening is not the one for me, having fallen away as my life got busier and I pursued others. The wisdom of needing to choose, though, has stuck with me, even as I've started to slip back into my old patterns of focusing on too many things and therefore truly focusing on nothing. I came across a numerology book last weekend, and the description for my birth date felt like reading my therapist's notes: "Taking the lead may appeal to you more than obeying orders does. If you attempt to do too much, however, you are in danger of taking on more than you can master and may end up accomplishing very little." I read excerpts of the full analysis to my partner on Monday night, feeling restless and indecisive as I often do. His response floored me.
"Trust your interests. Trust that if you follow them, you will create the impact you want to make."
His advice was effectively the same thing that my coach said, but hearing the counsel in such simple terms was a revelation. Having known me for seven years and each of my lifestyle changes, he pointed out that every lasting impact I've made has been a result of organic, irrepressible excitement. My advocacy around mental health, which would've seemed ridiculous to me in the throes of my eating disorder. My study of human rights NGOs, when I had been convinced that I wanted to be a diplomat (shudder). My job in public health, the daily work lightyears away from anything I ever thought I'd do and yet more fulfilling than I ever imagined. My veganism, after I used to tell people I'd go vegetarian but certainly never vegan. My public decision to stop taking hormonal birth control, which I'd taken for nine years without much consideration at all of women's health. My nascent efforts to go zero-waste, when I used to regard environmentalism with a cool detachment. And finally, this blog, which I had thought about since I was a teenager but convinced myself was a frivolous and unnecessary pursuit. Every enduring impact I've made started with pure enthusiasm, a spark that flamed into action and fueled permanent changes in my life and my community.
I am still a stranger to trusting myself. Years of fearing that I wasn't good enough, secretly suspecting that I had some unforgivable flaw, prove difficult to override. I make progress every day, but every time someone entreats me to trust my instincts I feel like I'm getting away with something wicked. Don't you know, I want to say, that I'm not supposed to do that? Haven't you seen all these mistakes I've made, all those times I sabotaged my own well-being? And yet- progress means that I'm now able to quiet the doubts long enough to move forward. Long enough to make a choice, and do what I feel called to do in the world. For the time being, that calling is to write this blog and to support other's health. I trust that because this work lights me up, it will also light up the world.