I tweeted once that I was doing my favorite thing. I work and have become friends with some of the most interesting people I’d ever met. People who dream big, who will go where they need to to find answers, who put in the hard work to make statements worth stating, and produce contributions of worthy impact. As a result of what I do, I get to meet people like this all over the world, from cruise ships to retreat centers to hotels to conference centers, but what I find to be most fortunate of my life are the people that I get to see everyday.
So, my favorite thing to do is to have conversations with those people that I work with, the people around my cubicle, in my group meetings, and those trying to build things similar to what I want to build. I often angst about missing an outing for food or some good conversation on topics of the world, technology, and media.
I’m half-way through my fourth year here, and I’ve been lucky to overlap with so many impact-prone people. I’m not too sure where else in the world I’d be able to know people of this sort, but graduate school, if anything, teaches how to separate substance from the chaff. Taking this path through life, I find myself surrounded by people who have high standards, and as a result, I am learning to expect more from myself.
I’ve grown the most in trying to be a person of substance. I’ve learned that lasting impact is a result of substance. With so many good ideas and creative marketing, it’s easy for just about anyone to get the spotlight these days. Grad school doesn’t seem like a matter of who is the smartest or not, it’s a matter of being smart enough– smart enough to know what matters in the midst of too much information.
I find myself constantly inspired. Often, it is when someone in my group builds something cool. Life is far more interesting when you realize that you don’t have to be a spectator. These days it seems so hard to break people from their spectator mentality. Even though grad school feels lacking in direct impact, impact is at least something that’s on the minds of the people here.
So, sometimes, I dream of running away and making direct impact, but I’m learning that I’m never as ready as I think I am. I should take advantage of the valuable experiences of people here already doing the things that I’ve wanted to do. Substance wasn’t something that I sought, but something that I’m realizing that I should seek more.
For sure, I’ve learned to adopt some of the strengths of the people around me. Many of these influences I didn’t have before moving to Santa Cruz, so there’s been some catching up to do. If I were to describe my life before Santa Cruz, I’d say I was a kid who wanted to see all that was possible in the world, but had no one to really show me how to do that. In fact, I felt that desire often extinguished by people who didn’t see the point.
Haha, it’s not been easy. It still isn’t, but I have a hard time turning back. It’s easy to want to impact the world. It’s easy to find out what everyone else is doing. It’s easy to have some good ideas. It’s even easy to try a few new things here and there.
What’s hard is not knowing where to start. It’s hard to break into a community of scholars. It’s hard to put ideas into convincing words. It’s hard to figure out how to do something that no one’s ever done before. It’s hard to describe things that may not exist yet. Arriving at substance can be so daunting, and often seems fruitless.
I suppose I come at this with the mentality that doing something that no one’s ever done before is more important than doing things that people already know how to do. Such advancements aren’t as straightforward and rarely occur by accident. Probably an important lesson is that this work is not straightforward for anyone, and that’s ok.
I think I’ve finally made it, where the playing field feels level for once. Getting here has been nothing less than exhausting, but it never takes me long to catch my breath and get back on my feet. My most valuable lesson in graduate school is simply learning that “this is how the world works” and “this is how it works most efficiently.”
In my experiences, I do believe that the playing field is uneven, but not in the way that most people describe it. The advantage comes in understanding how the world actually works. That knowledge is something that educators don’t seem to teach very well yet. It is something that some people are lucky enough to inherit from those who “get it” or people who are relentless enough to endure finding out for themselves.
I consider myself in the relentless camp, haha, but I’ve found that I’d inherited much of that understanding from the friendships that would only be possible in a group of people who live out that understanding in their lives. Building systems is often hard, frustrating, and directionless, but if you keep building, you’ll find substance– if you don’t, you won’t.
Truly, my favorite thing is talking with people who understand how the world works and people who are hungry enough to learn more and prove it. That realization is my Christmas blessing!