Something I have become increasingly aware of over the past few years is that inspiration and passion are often accompanied by a great deal of frustration. Late last night I arrived home after spending the weekend at Wild Goose festival in North Carolina. Wild Goose, as I have mentioned before, is a yearly faith, arts and justice gathering; for me it is a hotbed of inspiration filled with incredibly passionate people from diverse walks of life all in differing points on their journeys. It’s fantastic. As you may know, it’s been difficult for me to find faith-oriented spaces that feel authentic and comfortable for me, so once a year Wild Goose gives me the opportunity to bask in a sense of community and shared values with all kinds of amazing people! Then I come home to find a surprising number of emotions and reflections waiting to be unpacked. So, here is this year’s bout of reflection-induced word vomit.
This year I was given the opportunity to speak, alongside my dad, twice at the festival. Although I have years of stage experience, speaking in a context where I admire so many of the other speakers was exciting, but also made me pretty nervous. I was surprised when, after our first talk, people came up to talk to me (something I have watched happen to my dad for years) to ask my advice on the topics we’d addressed in our interview-style presentation lead by the amazing Mickey ScottBey Jones. We had discussed intentional living in the context of engaging with issues of race, poverty, and injustice in our neighborhood as people with great privilege. Specifically, we shared our journeys in becoming awakened to issues that primarily affect our neighbors of color in ways we hadn’t even realized. Figuring out how to engage with and love my neighborhood is something I have thought about and grappled with extensively. I wrestle a lot with questions like, “How do I do this while I am busy with the commitments of being a college student?” and “How do I find ways to engage with those around me that feel safe? How do I take into consideration that I am a young woman and can’t necessarily interact with everyone the same way my dad does, while still trying to live into a sense of overall safety and provision?” It’s hard to admit, when asked for advice by people who have just spent an hour listening to me and my dad talk, that I haven’t really found the answers yet.
This is where the frustration of inspiration and passion comes into play. I was excited to speak. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity. I hope that I was able to provide some insight or encouragement that was helpful to the people who heard me… But when it’s all over I almost feel a bit fraudulent. Being fairly idealistic and very verbal I am great at talking the talk. I can discuss matters of justice for hours and feel passionate and engaged with the subject and the people I am talking with. However, at this point in my life, the walk that I am trying to walk to live out my convictions isn’t very exciting and doesn’t involve grand actions or ongoing integral involvement with certain movements or organizations. My actions are personal–a series of individual choices I am making about how I live that may not even be perceivable from the outside. It doesn’t feel like enough, but from what I know of myself, nothing will ever feel like enough until I am able to shift my understanding of what “enough” is. This will likely involve me learning not to compare myself with others, as well as convincing myself that it’s okay to be a work in progress and not have it all figured out yet (oof, that’s gonna be a lot of work).
I want to encourage others who may be in a similar position as I feel myself to be, especially students and young adults that it’s okay if you’re not in the position to become a professional activist (or the whatever equivalent for your passions is) in your 20s. If you are, that’s fantastic, good for you, keep fighting the good fight! However, caring deeply about issues of justice, but not being able to drop everything and become an activist or community organizer or movement leader doesn’t make you a hypocrite. That is probably really obvious to some of you, but I have to constantly remind myself that there are lots of ways in which I am making personal decisions that reflect my values and that are setting me up to do the thing that I believe are most important.
A quick (but not that quick, let’s be real, brevity is not one of my strengths) example of where I am currently feeling this tension most acutely is in the job I recently got working at Peet’s coffee. As someone who has only ever worked for nonprofit organizations until now, and who is passionate about fair trade and ethical sourcing, working at a large, corporate coffee shop (that only sells one fair trade blend) isn’t ideal and is something I struggle to feel okay about. However, I am also very committed to be able to pay my share of my college tuition and graduate without debt so that I have the freedom to do work that is meaningful to me without the impending doom of college loans. Not to mention, being able to take courses on topics like the history of race relations in the US and getting to study inspiring activists from history has been incredible formative and valuable in shaping my views and understanding on lots of issues I am passionate about.
So, does the value of my education and the ways in which I believe my education will allow me to engage with the world and help others balance out the questions I have about working for a company I don’t wholly agree with? I am not actually sure. I am trying to remember that it matters that I am putting time and thought and energy into living in a way that resonates with my values and sense of purpose. I am trying to remember that I am working hard in school, in my relationships, in my daily practices , to become the kind of person who will do the right thing and take the big leaps of faith for what is true and what is right when the times comes. And no, that doesn’t feel like I am doing enough. But maybe that’s okay? Maybe that’s what will keep me striving for better.