As You Begin…

Orientation LeadersWelcome back for another school year! We look forward to growing and experiencing another year along with you all. With that, we are bringing the blog back for another year! We would love your voice to be featured, so please click here for some info on writing for us! And now, without further ado, please enjoy our first post of the semester!

David Hellstrom

My 18-year old son went away to college this year.

Before he left he said to me “isn’t this where you sit me down and tell me everything I need to know before I leave – you know, the words of wisdom speech.”

My first response was to laugh. “I don’t think that’s how it works, son. My guess is you need to find out all of those things by yourself. I am not sure how helpful I would be.”

But maybe he was right. Maybe that was part of my job as a parent. Not to say “this is what you need to learn” but to say “this is what I have learned. Take what is helpful, disregard the rest.”

So, to my son, and to my students, and to anyone walking in the world, here are the things I want to share with you as you begin a new journey

1. Be curious.
There are a lot of vital ways to show up in the world: with intelligence or creativity, with empathy or compassion for example. And all of these things are fabulous in their own right. But if I could choose one thing to lead with it would be curiosity. May you find everything to be worthy of further inquiry. May be you be driven to discover more. May you be more interested in asking questions than providing answers. Doing this will not only provide you with an interesting life, but people will be attracted to your human spirit as someone who cares about others and the world as much as themselves. “Seek to understand as much as to be understood.”

2. Say yes to as many adventures as you can.
As you enter into this phase of your life you will be seduced by the power of achievement. It will feel good to get A’s in classes and take on leadership positions in organizations. You will want to work to get a great internship which will be followed by working hard to get into a wonderful graduate school or get placed in a great job. Don’t get me wrong – all of these things are important and valuable and have their place. But it is not the only thing worth putting your heartbeats into. If you get invited on an adventure – try to find a way to say yes. What makes up an adventure? Here are just a few.

Go home for a weekend with a roommate or friend. Study abroad. Road trip (almost any road trip will do.) Take a class for no other reason than it looked interesting. Skydive or Bungee jump. Celebrate a cultural or religious holiday that is not yours (with a friend/acquaintance from that community as guide). Attempt to meet one of your heroes. Live for a month on $5 a day. Just to name a few!

3. There are three things that restore the human spirit: good sleep, big laughs and authentic forgiveness,

You are about to be inundated with stimuli. People, parties, things to get involved with, clubs to join, road trips to take, shows to binge-watch. Oh, and there’s also classes and homework (and you might need a job). There is too much to do in a 12-hour day. There is too much to do in a 16-hour day. Which is why many people make (what seems like) a logical choice: have 20-hour days.

Here is another possibility. Do less. Make the kind of choices that can be fit into a 16-hour day. To act otherwise would just go against a ton of data that says if you don’t sleep and you don’t eat and you don’t exercise you will struggle to be happy. And even though you might get more done you won’t get more done well. Don’t fall for the hype that “only the weak sleep.” If you want to be your best self – your best self shows up when rested.

Say yes to big laughs. Put yourself in positions where water, milk (or beer) comes out your nose because you are laughing too hard. Be joyous whenever you can.

And then there is forgiveness. There will be times, perhaps many times, when people hurt you. Sometimes it will be accidental. Some times it will be on purpose. In almost all cases, however, underneath it all it was never really about you. It was about that person feeling scared, feeling unworthy, feeling that the world was unfair to them. If possible – respond with empathy and forgiveness. If possible, be the person who works to mend and hold on to relationships – even if in the moment it appears that you are the one being harmed and the other person should do the work. If you can (and I know that sometimes you won’t have the energy and desire to do so) be the one who can say sorry first, who can reach out, the one who looks to restore connection.

But also know that your primary acts of forgiveness will need to be given to yourself. You will make mistakes. You will have regrets. You will always be your best self. You will have moments of doubting your own worthiness. And you will need to gentle forgive yourself and commit to being better, stronger, more patient in the future. Don’t deny or run away from your actions. Make amends, and embrace your humanity with gentleness and forgiveness.

4. The world is bigger than you. Always try to see the world through as many perspectives as possible.

One of the greatest aspects of going away to school is you are about to meet hundreds of different people from hundreds of different lived experiences. Try not to be intimidated by that fact, but rather excited by it. Here is where that aforementioned curiosity will come in handy.

• What are the things that you believe are true? Can you imagine different beliefs and truths being held from perspectives and lived experiences other than yours?
• What are your definitions of success/talent/power? Where did they come from? Can you imagine other definitions holding equal value from other perspectives?
• Your brain is going to want to classify different perspectives and ideologies as “better or worse.” Can you step back and begin to just see them as “different paths” that don’t need to be judged or evaluated?

In order to learn as many perspectives as possible, you should spend as much time with people and communities that are different than your lived experience. It will be tempting to do this from a distance, by gathering information via reading or watching from afar. While this is a start – in the end you will always learn more from people and communities. Immerse yourself as much as you can. Share conversations (and meals!) with people who have different lived experiences than you. Listen to people’s stories. Stay in homes rather than hotels.

Lastly, please know that The United States of America in one country of 195. For good and for bad, the US is big and loud and fast and furious and a more than a bit self-absorbed. But it is also not quite as evolved as it thinks it is. More importantly, it is only one worldview. Think about the other 194. Think about the other perspectives.

Know also that your generation more than any other can actually make the choice to live and work in another country. This doesn’t mean you should. It just means it is worth pondering the possibility.

5. I have never regretted anything I did for love.
I have mixed feelings in telling you this. Because almost every one of these “do it for love” moments will likely be incredibly impractical, make little sense, and maybe even at times be downright stupid. But do them anyway. Because here is where the memories are formed.

If you are attracted to someone and you think he or she is interesting, ask them out (respectfully). You might get a no. But you might get a yes. If your favorite band is playing a concert, go to it. If you have to drive 6 hours, still go. If you don’t have enough money for a ticket, do what you can to get some extra hours at work or just live frugally for a couple weeks to make up for it, but go. If there is a class or a seminar on a topic you love but it isn’t required for your major, still try to find a way to fit that class into your schedule. Sometimes it is the poetry or philosophy or art history or graphic design class that teaches you more about thinking than anything in your major. If one of your good friends has a grandparent that passes away, find a way to go to the funeral. You might miss class, you might miss work but if you love your friend, go.

There are numerous other examples that I could give you, but the bottom line is this: if there is any aspect of love in the equation, always choose it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

6. Be vigilant about your future – but not anxious of it.
You have worked hard to get here in school. Congratulations. But it won’t be long before you will start hearing yourself asking questions. What kind of major should I take? How will I ever get hired after graduation? Do I need to go to graduate school? All of these questions might lead you to think that unless you become the perfect student with the perfect grades you are wrecking your future.

Try to let that go. Your future will unfold exactly as it should.

If at all possible – do what you can to stay on top of your world; be responsible, be diligent, and try not to dig yourself into any holes. But at the same time, try not to ne too anxious about what the future may hold. You can only plan so much – and much of what you are trying to envision in your future is based on what you believe to be true now (or even in the past). Be open to new opportunities that may come in the future that you can’t even imagine yet.

7. Be kind.
There is not too much to say here as you don’t need to overthink this. Be kind. In many moments there is the option to show kindness – in your words, in your reactions, in your reaching out with empathy or understanding or with help. Sometimes a simple smile changes the mood of a situation.

In order to maximize your kindness, you will often have to let go of competition, of feeling you have been taken advantage of of reacting without thinking.

So work on letting these things go. Try to be that person who is kind and try to make a habit of this your whole life.

‘Looking back on my life I have a deep regret for the fact that I think I was just too kind to others,” said no one ever.

8. Practice self care as needed.
In the end – you are the vessel and instrument of all the hopes and dreams you plan to accomplish. You need to protect that resource. There will be times in your life when you seem to have abundant energy and an indomitable spirit. Maximize your energy when you are in that flow. There will be other times when you may feel the burdens of life, the weight of unfairness, the fatigue of the journey. Do what you need to do to work through these times. Remember the motto of the ultra-marathoners: “Run when you can, walk when you need to, try not to lie down.”

Try to also be aware that not everyone’s life is a journey down the same path. There will be some people, especially those from marginalized communities, that will need an extra layer of self care because for them navigating the world can be just exhausting. Be empathetic to their pain, even if you don’t feel it. Give them the grace to step back from moments if engaging in an oppressive system hurts too much. Then try to work for a world that has less oppressive systems.

9. Remember, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But never at the expense of someone else’s happiness.
There were a lot of things that the USA Founding Fathers got wrong (and after all, they were somewhat limited as they didn’t include the perspectives of any Founding Mothers). But they also got some things right. And one of them was that fundamental to the human experience was the gift of life, the hope for liberty and the ongoing exercise of the pursuit of happiness. And you should celebrate these things – and feel grateful that you have the chance at life and liberty. And yes, you should use your talent and skill and desire and motivation to pursue happiness – however you might define that for yourself.

But there is one piece that I feel was missing, that I hope you add to your own belief system. As you pursue your own happiness – make sure you do not do so at the expense of someone else’s happiness. Every time you have a decision to make about “how will this serve me?” try to also ask yourself at the same time “how will this affect others?”

One thing to keep in mind. We live in big complicated systems. Because of that – sometimes you have to look a little deeper to see how your own pursuit of happiness might affect others. This is especially true about big things like education, housing, the workforce, the judicial system. Dig deeper. Here is the second truth about big systems. It is really easy to come to the conclusion of “I am too small or not powerful enough to have any effect at all. No matter what I do it won’t make a difference.” That is understandable, and even may or may not be true. But don’t make your decisions solely on what impact and result will occur. Also make decisions that align with your values and beliefs and represent the world you WAMT to create even if (currently) you don’t have the power to make that creation possible.

10. Know that the mention of your name will mean something in the world.
We walk in this world. We interact with others. We move forward in manifesting our own futures as well as live and protect the communities we have chosen. All of this makes up our presence – or how we show up in the world.

Because of this – when people hear your name – they will have a reaction. Something will come to mind. They will think “oh, he is really interesting” or “he is really smart” or “he is really funny” or “he is really kind.” They might also thing “he is really selfish” or “he is not a very good listener” etc. And they might even hear your name and think “hmmm…. I really don’t know anything about him.”

To be sure – you can’t (and shouldn’t try) to control all the narratives that might be out there. But you can live the kind of life that when people hear your name they think “oh, he seems like a wonderful spirit in the world. And I am curious to know him better.”

So, that was really, really long. Thank you for listening. There are things that I have come to believe strongly in the world. They are experiences and moments that have impacted and shaped who I am and become a part of me. And I can’t wait for you to have a similar experience.

Be curious. Life is worth exploring. People are worth knowing. Love is worth feeling.

I’m looking forward to watching you make your own list.

David Hellstrom is a member of the Minor Staff as well as a Teaching Specialist.  He is co-author of the upcoming book “Engaging Young Leaders.”