“So, what do you do?” Salla asks, as we traipse through Vieux Lyon and La Croix Rousse, and marvel at the Bohemian buildings in the distance, seeing straight into the living rooms from the lookout.
I grin. This is always a hard one.
“Well, I could say that I facilitate workshops for young people – that we use art, theatre, song, dance, story, games to explore global issues and our purpose in them, that we explore questions of Who Are We (personal and generational narrative/identity), Where Are We (socio-environmental challenges), What Has To Change (unexamined assumptions, worldviews) and What Do We Do Now (taking action) but what I would really want to say is I create spaces of love. Of presence, play, introspection, too, of aha moments, of holy shit moments, of magic moments, but spaces of love, first and foremost.
“But nobody would understand what that means, anyway,” I add.
She laughs. “I think that sounds absolutely wonderful. You should just say that.”
“Say what?” I ask.
“That you create spaces of love.”
I smile and shrug, “I dunno,” I say.
I’ve been around sponsorship documents and hard-edged educators and teachers for a while.
Salla grins. “Mmm,” she says, “Spaces of love. I think it’s absolutely wonderful.”
While I was in France in November 2015, I had three important revelations about myself following our conversations that week:
- I’m not very good at receiving.
Salla, the Finnish CSer who hosted me in Lyon and has a heart as big as the sun pointed this out – because she’s like this too. We seem to find it very easy and comfortable giving and giving and giving and loving and so on…but we suck at receiving. We feel guilty when we receive…because we are always thinking about ‘how do I give back’ even when the person doesn’t expect anything back, even when the joy for them is just giving and seeing our faces light up. So rather than gratitude, we have guilt. We find it easy to reach out, to ask for help and receive that when given…but surprise receiving is harder. And it’s similar when we Couchsurf or volunteer at places in return for food/accommodation; we get this internal guilt complex thing – like “Did I do enough in return?” or “Am I working enough?” or “I should be doing more for my keep.” I think it comes from fundamentally not wanting to be a burden on people and the planet, or maybe fear of being seen for who we (think we) really are – someone who is ‘not enough’ – this might be imposter syndrome? Surprisingly, it hasn’t really applied so much in tight friendships or relationships – maybe because the whole giving/receiving thing becomes moot when ‘you are the whole universe’ and so are they and so the universe can’t really give/receive, can it? It already has everything inside!
These are the opening lines to my whole travel diary before going away:
I can’t stop crying.
I don’t want to leave. I don’t feel ready. I feel sad and anguished and so, so unworthy. My parents do everything for me but I barely spend time with them, even when I’m there, I’m not really there. I’m not present. They are, they’re there whenever I need them, they bought me a fucking $7500 worth of gear – granted, over the course of many years – and travelling stuff after all – something I could never have afforded in a million years – and something I’ll never be able to pay back and that I’ll always be freaked out about losing. I feel like they do so much to enrich my life, to contribute, but I cannot give back in return. I feel overwhelmed. A sense of overwhelming gratitude and the sadness that comes with that, as well as a sense of overwhelming shame, unworthiness. I don’t feel worthy of their love and kindness, I don’t know why they keep giving it. I can’t give back. I have nothing to give back, not even my presence; I haven’t had that for a long time. My mind is split into a million pieces right now and so scattered; I’m barely present with each thing in front of me.
As Rosenberg says, however, “Receiving with grace is the greatest giving.”
- I’m a perfectionist and a procrastinator.
Things seem to have to be ‘perfect’ before I jump on to beginning them, which is why…I never feel ready. Yes, I jump on to doing things, but when it comes to actually performing, I’m never quite ready and instead of using what little time I have left to get a bit more ready, I totally freak out and start getting frustrated/sad/stressed (and become even less ready). There are a few things that for me don’t have to be perfect when I do them such as public speaking, going for an impromptu long walk or running WakeUps – these things are comfortable, automated, easy. But things like biking down the Death Road, hitchhiking 1000km around France, anything that is vaguely outside my knowledge and comfort/growth zone, I think about it and I think about it and I think about it and I talk about it (with a LOT of people) and I research it and research it… As Estes in Women Who Run With Wolves writes, “The ego is never ready.”
And I think I’ve figured out the easiest way to go about this is to Just Do It before I can think twice about it, just dive in, to just pay for the bike rental or – as it was in the case of South America – to just book the one-way flight ticket on impulse. I was sitting in the airport in Sydney when I made the final call and I booked the ticket completely while in transit in Saudi Arabia last year, on my way to Italy. I’ve learnt I’ll never have my shit together and that’s okay; I can still have epic fun anyway and make wonderful connections.
It’s really interesting doing the reflection again (this carries on from the diary extract above, right before I left):
I feel overwhelmed because of how much work I have to do – still – even after working dawn to dusk, researching, finding, buying, trying, testing, contacting, learning and I haven’t finished it yet, not even come close. I don’t feel ready. Not in the sense of having the stuff, but in the sense of having the state of mind to be going. I wanted to learn more Spanish than I have done up to this point – I can talk but not well, and probably not for a long time. I wanted to really work on ME for awhile, like Baksho said, to honour myself, just do things for ME for a while, but my health has turned to custard. I lost 4kg. I barely have an appetite, I can’t eat more than 1 meal a day and I’m freaking out about how I’m going to explain this to my host families Without hurting them. I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t want to be hurt. I’m freaking out about being mugged or held at gunpoint or scammed or messed with. I hate living in fear, especially when there is so much love around me and obviously coming my way. I feel frustrated that I have so much stuff to do that I barely have time to see anyone I’ve loved and cherished and grown with – my friends and mentors – while here in Auckland and I am more or less sneaking out, slipping away.
I feel exhausted and drenched out and suffocated and I want to scream.
I don’t want to hear “You’ll be fine, you’ll have an amazing time, you’ll love it there.”
Do you understand they are asking me to facilitate and I can barely speak Spanish?
I don’t want to hear, “Don’t trust anyone, keep your wits about you, don’t make friends, don’t get too close to anyone…”
If I wanted to do that, I would never leave my room let alone the house. A stands for Adventure and Adventure is the opposite of Television.
I don’t want to hear, “Well, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to, you know. Or you can come back anytime. Don’t treat this as a punishment or that you HAVE to do this.”
My German friend, Jana, asked me a really interesting question the weekend she visited me in Paris – not an unusual one, but interesting because of how I automatically responded:
She said, “Do you want to have kids?”
I said, “I don’t feel ready. I don’t feel like I have the emotional intelligence…yet.”
Case in point.
“It doesn’t all have to be perfect before you start, you know. You can figure it out along the way,” she said.
She’s right, of course. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It never is.
But I guess – insofar as another human being’s life is concerned – I want it to be Pretty Damn Close.
- Imposter syndrome (or a really crap memory)
This one deserves a whole point in itself. Most of the time I walk around important events like “Who am I to be here?” and only realise why I’m there when I realise others who are there aren’t on the same kind of facilitation/GenUp/permaculture buzz so I kind of feel useful again and reconnected to my purpose.
But in general in life, I have this thing where I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything worthwhile – just this vague and persistent sense of…not ‘unworthiness’ but just ‘un-usefulness’ until I remember the faces and conversations I’ve had and the feedback I’ve received that have made it all worth it. When I think about what I’m doing on the planet in generalities, it feels like not even a puff of smoke, but when I think of anything like GenUp or the people who I’ve cried with or watched cry and held or been held by, I know it’s what matters, what sustains me, what keeps me going. Those moments of love and change.
People ask me, “So you finished uni last year, what have you been doing since then?”
And I’m like, “Er, um, ah…I don’t know. Nothing really.” And I grasp at straws and I try frantically to remember what I’ve been doing and I blurt out, “I’ve been facilitating a bit and travelling,” but the truth is I can’t seem to be able to haul up in my memory any decent recollection of what I’ve actually been doing, materially. So I say, “I’m kind of on my spiritual journey, allowing time to slow right down,” and hope that can pass off as some kind of smart reason for having done basically nothing this year.
Which is actually hilarious now that I force myself to go through a process of reflection on the year for the Queen’s Young Leader’s Award ‘Leading Change’ course:
- Ship for World Youth Global Young Leaders Development Programme NZ and ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) seminars (January 2015), Japan – 200 youth, 12 countries, 1 month
- Greening Our Society Symposium Speaker, The University of Auckland (February 2015), New Zealand
- Beta Gamma Sigma International Honour Society (February 2015), NZ
- Green Jam Keynote Speaker, Youth Sustainability Conference, Auckland Council (March 2015), New Zealand – 200 youth, 25 schools
- MAD Make a Difference Youth Eco-Leadership Camp, Generation Waking Up and Infinite Game Facilitator, Auckland Council (March 2015), New Zealand – 50 top youth, 25 schools
- United Nations Secretary General’s GEFI (Global Education First Initiative) ‘Global Youth Advocacy Workshop’ on GCED (Global Citizenship Education), (April 2015), Korea – 50 top youth globally
- Pachamama Alliance UP2US GameChanger Intensive (April 2015), international
- Orientation Aotearoa Generation Waking Up Facilitator (year long programme for young changemakers), Welington (May 2015), New Zealand
- MITx course – U-Lab: Transforming Business Society and Self (May 2015), edX
- Manawatu Guardian Guest Editorial (May 2015), New Zealand
- United Nations Youth Congress UNcensored Guest Speaker (July 2015) Bolivia – 500 youth from Latin America
- Madidi Travel Volunteer – eco-tourism and conservation in Rurrenabaque (Amazon Jungle), Beni (August – September 2015), Bolivia
- Generación Despierta Youth Leadership Intensive (September-October 2015) alongside Centre for Education and Local Council, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia
- ‘The World Does Not Need More Successful People,’ SangSaeng FOCUS article, UNESCO APCEIU tri-annual publication (September 2015), distributed worldwide
- Siembra Juventud GCED Facilitator Training (October 2015), Bolivia – training facilitators of a national GCED programme reaching 5000 youth
- 9thUNESCO Youth Forum Futures Knowledge Lab Peer-Facilitator (October 2015), France – 500 youth, 150 countries
- Conference of the Youth COY11 prior to COP21 GenUp Facilitator (November 2015), France – 3000 youth, 180 countries
- Queen’s Young Leader’s Award ‘Leading Change’ year-long course (November 2015), University of Cambridge / Royal Commonwealth Society
- Volunteering with Ship for World Youth Peru Alumni Association (SWY AA) at impoverished youth centre, Lima (December 2015)
I don’t understand why I can’t remember what I’ve been doing? It’s like this all the time: I remember faces and conversations and arty moments stunningly well but I can’t seem to be able to articulate it in conversation…perhaps because it’s finite game stuff and I’ve been living infinitely…
I don’t know. If you ask me what I’ve been doing in the last few years, I’d just look at you blankly.
Or maybe part of the reason for feeling like an ‘imposter’ or whatever is because my subconscious is also remembering all the ‘almosts’ and ‘maybes’ that didn’t happen, all the other things I hoped and dreamed and planned (and applied and was rejected) for that didn’t quite work out – the things where I left, where I said goodbye, where I walked away, rooted in my own needs and values.
Anyway. I have some internal work to do. It’s a gift and blessing that I am travelling…and have all the time in the world to work on the inside.