"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Howard Thurman, a leader in the civil rights movement back in the 60's, once said this. One of my best friends from college, MC, repeated these words to me on her recent visit to Maui. They stuck in my brain like hot pink bubblegum on a sidewalk in summer and wouldn't budge. We had been having a discussion on our future plans and where our lives were at, and how we were feeling about it all. It was a standard catch-up sesh between two recent college grads who were on very different, and yet remarkably similar, paths after graduation. We were both finding our place, determining where to place our feet for our next steps, carefully calculating pros and cons and trying to make things connect. It's a beautiful thing, being young and attempting to "figure it all out."
But I absolutely adored this Howard Thurman quote. It made things seem a little simpler and more straightforward to me. I've been feeling incredibly overwhelmed with the rapidly depleting health of the world's oceans and the environment in general, and frustrated with myself for not living as sustainably as I could be. There's a million things I want to learn, a million things I want to help with, so many issues and concerns I want to address and overcome. But it's overwhelming. And that's where this quote ignites me. Perhaps, if we stopped asking what the world needs, and instead ask ourselves what makes us feel most alive, we find a bit more peace.
The answer to that question - what makes us come alive - is different for everyone. However, we are all interconnected. It's indisputable. We are links in a chain, and every action and every choice that we makes affects someone else. We all have a role. And we can make the biggest impact when we are acting the role that we are meant to do, instead of pushing ourselves into someone's else's role. As the Taoists would say - we need to find our "uncarved block." What we're meant to do, and who we're meant to be.
"Everyone needs to be engaged; everyone has a role to play. Maybe it wasn't about getting up in the morning and shouldering the worry of "how is all of this going to work out," maybe it was about rolling up your sleeves and getting to work - doing something you loved that played a role."
This particular quote is from a book I'm reading right now called Ocean Country. It's about one woman's journey on her path to discerning her role in the ocean conservation movement. She figures out that for her, it's about being a writer. But she meets many other links in the chain throughout her research - fishermen, chefs, researchers, marine biologists, interns, ecologists, divemasters...the list goes on. All of these links are needed for the chain to connect.
I am excited that my butterfly brain landed upon these thoughts at a time when I was starting to feel hopeless. In my line of work, I'm faced with some harsh realities every single day. I yank trash and fishing line out of the oceans regularly. Some days when I'm lifeguarding for a group of snorkelers, I find myself surrounded by bits and peaces of plastic that have blown in from who knows where. When I'm snorkeling myself, I encounter more and more bleached corals and in the back of my mind, play stories that I've heard from passengers who came to Maui decades ago and saw "so many more colors and fish." I see whales with bodies that have been scarred by boat props and entanglement. And it hurts. I want the ocean to be healthy. I want to snorkel in these Maui reefs again and see what those who came decades ago saw. I want life and vibrance for the world, for the soil, for the birds and the whales and the still unidentified fish species who are out there somewhere, living their fishy lives. I want to end overfishing, reduce nutrient pollution, and curb carbon emissions. I want to create more Marine Protected Areas. I want more renewable energy. I want to move to zero-waste systems. Compost. Reduce. Reuse.
But I'm taking a step back before I get sucked into the huge swirling vortex of issues we are facing. Because panicking myself will accomplish nothing. We as a society need to find a new reality. And we need to work together to do it. I'm excited to continue on my path to becoming the strongest link in that chain that I can possibly be. Right now, that path has me working as a naturalist and teaching folks about conservation and marine ecosystems. In two years, who knows. But I'm finding what makes me come alive. Because the world needs the passionate. The fighters. The believers. The world needs those who say nothing's impossible.
Let's do this.