I have known what I would call my first installment of “Building on Tomorrow” for some time now. Similar to all of the best columns that I have written in my life, it was born from an effort to understand raw emotion. The first time this feeling and I collided, I know I must have been talking about the summer that has so recently moved into my rear view mirror.
It was truly revolutionary. My sister took one of the first great leaps for womankind in what I know will be a wonderful career. By taking part in a prestigious research experience for undergraduates facilitated by the National Science Foundation, she acquired a ridiculously solid understanding of all that math stuff. Also, she found the inspiration to apply for an internship position in statistics for next summer. That’s right, people are already looking to pay her the big bucks next summer. She couldn’t be in higher demand, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
On the other half of my 2/3rds, my brother also found an outlet for his interests in the ever-engaging, ever-thrilling Ozone zip line. There, he facilitated zip line tours of various sizes, performing all of the mechanical and safety procedures and chatting up guests until his jaw was sore. It was beautiful to think that he was being appreciated for his deep knowledge of the natural world and for the tales of his artistic endeavors that undoubtedly rose to the surface during his time in the trees. He would take double-booked days with a smile, and seemed to always come home with a fervor for storytelling. I was equally glad and proud to witness his summer.
Myself? This summer was a transformative experience, and no less than the best thing that has ever happened to me within the world of employment. As a camp counselor, I enjoyed the full privilege of facilitating growth in the children who came within my sphere of influence week after week. They grew past fears they had harbored for years and made relationships with nature and other people without technology serving as a mediator. We grew together. At camp, I also felt respected and valued not just for my knowledge but for my character. I can’t imagine I could find a better home for next summer.
Doesn’t this sound like a beautiful arrival for The Three, each in their own way? In my opinion, there is no better way to build on tomorrow than to begin with a wonderful arrival today. We all search to do just that, to arrive at a greater understanding of who we are. To achieve that first building block upon which all of the other pieces of tomorrow will rest. This summer was that arrival, and it has given me a calling that will be waiting for me after graduation day in 2016. Imagine the weight of a hippo rolling off your shoulders. Never carried a hippo on your shoulders? What have you been doing all of your life? On second thought, just imagine relief. The relief of self-discovery.
Building on tomorrow begins with building on yourself, independent of any other framework or relationship in your life. Think on that. That means: independent of your status as a daughter, son, brother, sister, friend, fiancé, wife, husband, employee, etc. If the elevator you’re riding crashed and you were stuck with nobody but me, myself, and I, would you enjoy your own company? Have you chased after the dreams that will make you happiest in the arenas of employment, relationships, and adventures? Have you allowed any of your relationships or supposed obligations to stunt your personal growth? Why? Fear? Guilt? Confusion? Have you ever had the thought that someone else’s happiness was more important than your own?
If you answered “Yes” to that last one, I know exactly how you feel. You are what I call an “impact person,” one who really does not feel complete unless the people around them are happy or, at the very least, at peace. You believe you are capable and perhaps even responsible for creating that happy environment. You live for the impact you might have. And there are certain points in your life where that is entirely appropriate. Who doesn’t want to leave a great big smiling footprint (Can footprints smile? You get what I mean) on this world?
However, there is a point in your youth and during other moments of transition and self-discovery when you are more than entitled to what so many will mistakenly label as “selfishness.” You might have to break a heart in order to further discover your own. You might have to turn down good company on an adventure to take time to better understand the beauty of solitude. People may label these things as selfish, distant, or asocial. It certainly has happened to me, now and then, and that is the small price you will pay for a stronger, steadier building block (YOU!) on which you will build your tomorrow.
Let me distinguish between selfishness and protection/care of yourself. Selfishness, in my opinion, is when you seek some advancement or gain for yourself at the price of another’s happiness and with little to no empathy. That last phrase, again in my opinion, is the only thing which provides the distinction between the two. In your attempts to nurture your own personal growth and accomplish your own aspirations and dreams, it is likely that you will at times be forced to seek out the best for yourself at the price of another’s happiness. But, you will notice. You will care. You will attempt to the best of your ability to feel for the person who will be affected by your choices and will modify or postpone (but not give up) your attempts to enjoy personal freedom by being as gentle as possible in the transition. You will not be unfeeling, but you will not waver from your choice. Nobody can blame you for believing in better.
All this is not to say that you cannot perfect that first building block, yourself, by flourishing within the arms of constructive relationships. I highly believe that the advice and companionship of those who see the world a bit differently than we do can be the key in learning how to develop your own character. But, I think it is also vastly important that if you ever end up alone in that elevator with time to answer the question “Who am I?” (After, of course, asking the questions “Which way is up? Am I broken? Do people even know I’m in this thing?”) you can give yourself a satisfactory answer.
So, friends, I hope you will continue to build on yourself. I hope you will consider if someone were to ever accuse you of selfishness that there is no wrong in protecting and caring for your own development as long as you do so with an empathetic heart. Building on yourself is the first step towards building on tomorrow.