“Create your future from your future, not your past.” –Werber Erhard
If you’ve seen The Departed, you’re familiar with the scene where Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) looks on wistfully at a state police graduation ceremony and Barrigan tells him: “What are you looking at? Forget it. Your father was a janitor, and his son’s only a cop,” implying that Sullivan should aspire only so far because of the job his father held.
Fear sometimes leads me to view my life—the place I’m trying to get to—like that. When I was an undergrad, neither of my parents had a degree from a 4-year college (soon to change—love you Ma!). The same during my master’s program. So going in, I had no idea of what I was supposed to look like in those worlds, what connections I needed to make, what tools I needed to succeed. That is, while college plans were a given, my folks didn’t have friends who were scholars or doctors or writers—that world wasn’t second nature to me.
I accomplished what I came to do in both places and pat myself (and my family / support system) on the back. But I aspire still to do so much, in my own social/institutional educational pursuits as well as for the community (African American, national, and international).
Self-doubt and complacency, though, creep in. I think, “Well, my 9 to 5 is cool. Got money in the bank. I should just ‘enjoy life.’ My job keeps me busy enough without worrying about the next mental challenge.” And then, “Am I aspiring to ‘the next thing’ as a way of not facing my present reality? This is adulthood—going to work, paying bills, weekends are yours—am I trying to escape that?”
I always answer myself with “Today is good, but it’s not enough.” It’s healthy to have an appetite for more than what is in front of you—even when it might scare you to make a plan of action. I don’t mean that in the material consumption sense, or in the wandering lust sense. I mean it in the lifelong education sense. Did great minds such as James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, or Henry Thoreau worry about how their dedication might’ve been viewed as quirky or obsessive, if it aligned to the models of success around them?
Blessed with my family’s roots, I am a hybrid. I am carving a life for myself: scholar un-silo-ed in the way I improve the world, reading avidly, environmental justice expert. An emotional and mental world that includes adequate conflict resolution skills, more gentleness, a better listening ear, driven by the daily realization that there really is no reason to be afraid because the only limitations present are my own. Changing the knee jerk reactions that hold me back one at a time.
Creating new worlds, enjoying the process, and challenging yourself: So what does the road to a place where Cynthia is an author, professor, and framer of the environmental justice issue—keeping her ear to the ground but actually working to control the national debate? I’ll tell you when I get there.
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” –Michelangelo
Are you manifesting one of your dreams? What will it take for you to sculpt something out of nothing?