Category Archives: Change Makers

Blow Your Own Damn Mind

I try not to use too many four letter words on this blog, but I read this quote earlier today that I think you all need to read: “Once in a while, blow your own damn mind.”

I’ve been circling around this very idea for um, I don’t know, years? It’s the concept that keeps us chugging along when we’re tired at two a.m. but also humming with the buzz of a character’s actions taking shape in our Word document or sweating over a week-long DIY project in the hot summer sun.blowyourmind

Nothing particularly awful would happen if we didn’t push a little harder. We might wake up tomorrow feeling a little less awesome, but for that second it wouldn’t feel catastrophic.

I’ve seen seven movies in 2013 already (not all of them in their entirety but the majority). And though they’ve all been different, their storylines spanning hundreds of years of human existence, the same quite beautiful message keeps popping from one to the next:

This life? It’s going to be up for you when it’s down for someone else. Your actions won’t always make other people feel like rock stars. You might—OK, definitely will—lose people who you cannot fathom losing: whether it’s their life, their time or their respect.

And even if you’ve got it all figured out, whatever that means, somebody you know is suffering something unbearable.

And when you realize that, it’s pretty darn hard to wake up and feel like you deserve goodness in your life. Because if your best friend smashes in her car or your husband gets fired or your sister gets pushed around, you want to fix it.

Sometimes we can, but sometimes we can’t.

That’s what all seven of those movies taught me this week: that sometimes, you can’t feel bad about how your life looks right now but damn it if you don’t try and do something to blow your own mind.

I think that’s what 2013 is about: this notion that we cannot control the universe but we can control ourselves and if we want something—for our own or our friends and family or strangers halfway around the world—we better do something mind blowing to make it happen, because nobody, and I mean nobody, is coming to hand us hope and happiness on a silver platter with a shiny, polished lid. It just ain’t happening this year.

What I’m really dying to know is this: what are you doing to blow your own mind? What are the people around you doing?

If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m madly in love with cool projects started by hardworking and passion-driven individuals, and I never ever get sick of hearing about them. So please, enlighten me (and the rest of the readers) and share it. Whether it’s you or your best friend or a stranger whose YouTube channel you stumbled across six years ago, I’m interested. And I know others are as well.

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Whispered Help And The Jelly Of The Internet

I have learned fairly quickly, in just two years, that we become our visible selves. Not our lonely selves or our internal selves or even our midnight by candlelight selves. We become the kind of selves that are stacked side-by-side with the other selves we see sitting in our Twitter feed and our email chains. We become the kind of selves who are measured in what we have told the world.

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If that is true, I have failed. I have failed to tell the world that I am the kind of self who knows only how to be quiet and care too much and try. I have not pretended to be an illusory human being who whisks in and cleans up other people’s messes. I have not pretended to have it all figured out so that you might trust me more with your own pain and trials.

My regret is not in painting myself accurately, but in believing that everyone else does the same. In believing that we are not the people we are when the laptop is shut, that we are only the people we can become when we create something for the world to see.

But I know it differently.

The people I have lost too soon, the ones who have died suddenly and over just a short expanse of time, have shared in themselves this character trait. And perhaps it is a product of the older generation, one that I worry we’ve lost, but this trait tells us to be not just extraordinarily and outwardly and loudly passionate, but to whisper our help, our talents, our trials and tribulations.

Do not stand in front of 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 followers and tell them that you have done something wonderful, it says. Stand next to the ones you love most and lift them up and expect that no one, not a single soul, ever breathes a word of it.

I worry that we have learned it backwards. I worry that we, or maybe just me, have ingested the hard-to-swallow notion that we are our projects, our creations, our big bad world-shaking efforts. That we cannot quietly sit in the library and write letters to petition government rulings or bend over pots on the stove and stir some magic into meals for the homeless—or just our ailing neighbor.

I worry that we do good because it looks good, because it gets talked about, but not because we are compelled to alter the status quo. Not because we desperately seek to feel our knees give out when the child we’ve fed comes running toward us and we sweep her in our arms, twirl her around and feel love deeper than all those retweets and likes and mentions.

Before I ever wanted to be someone big and bold and fierce, I was just a little girl who made friends with a man who taught me to do what I did not because I was particularly good—in fact, I was downright awful—but because I could not envision an alternative.

I worry we do things because we feel obligated. We create because otherwise we’ll be forgotten. We spread ourselves like jelly on the Internet, leaving our mark like sticky residue on keyboard keys, sweet but not full of what we really need.

My hope, today and tomorrow and years from now, is that every project and creation and calling is not saturated online because we must not drown and dissolve, but because it itself is remarkable. That we do not feel compelled to bring to life every midnight dream because we cannot do it all. We cannot all be Mother Teresa.

Some of us have to sit quietly and work tirelessly and understand that visibility bears no correlation to our goodness, that hard work will always be hard work, especially when it goes unspoken.

I hope we haven’t yet lost that, but I worry.

Make Eye Contact With Your Goals

“What does your system look like?”

3, 2, 1… crickets.

The truth is something I have separated into categories. Like grocery lists that label the must-haves and deeply-desires and only make room for the latter when the budget says it’s a-okay.

Truth #1: My work is dedicated to reminding people that truth is strong and binding and hope-inspiring. That truth brings us together as human beings.

Truth #2: My personal life is dedicated to ditching the truth like I’m taking the last exit before the tollbooth charges me for trying to push forward into my honesty.

Truth #3: These two truths are in direct conflict with one another.

I sat down with Hannah lovely-girl Brencher on Monday night to sort out my life. She does these things called Brew Sessions for big, mind-spinning ideas. And originally, I asked her to help me move forward on something huge and, frankly, scary that had been sitting in my head for months. But a week before our session, I started to see how anxiety-inducing that big ole project was.

So we brewed a better way to put my life into those grocery list categories.

The scariest part of beginning something is setting goals for it. I used to be this champion of goals, always pushing pushing pushing toward something bigger. I used to write my goal times for the 800-meter dash, 5k mile splits, my place on the cross country team. I used to own a planner dedicated to how many medals I’d take home each May and whether I’d learn how to do ten back handsprings on the high beam without falling or whether I’d stick a layout full on the TumblTrak.

I stopped consciously acknowledging those goals when they didn’t come true. When time and my mind got me in a chokehold and I had to go home a failure.

I ran dozens of races in the three years I was on the high school team. Only two ever felt like flying. Only two ever let me take control and forget about my thumping heart or my numb legs or the ache in my thighs when the hill with a name was just too high to tackle.

Hannah’s session scared me into remembering that goals need to be set if ever we want to see progress. I had stopped writing them because then I could never say I failed. But in doing so, I also couldn’t say whether I succeeded.

I am not the world’s greatest storyteller. But I went to school one morning in April 2007, and before the first bell rang, I leaned over to my best friend.

“Last night,” I said, “I decided to write a novel.”

Six months later, I had finished it. Two years after that, I shipped pieces of it to agents who requested hardcopy samples. I do not have a book deal. My writing was far from ready. But I learned a lesson that I keep avoiding eye contact with: that we can commit to something massive and see it through. That those weeks I spent writing until two a.m., sending chapters off to a friend, kept me accountable.

There is nothing good in not setting goals. There is no self-satisfaction in how far you’ve come. We are measurable creatures with measurable dreams. We must, must, must see them through.

I Believe In Storylistening

I think we (and by we, I mean me) have this implication that you start a website and you’ve mastered something. You know it good and hard and you’ll spread your knowledge like a fountain of water on a hot summer day.

Every so often, I feel like I have to remind my readers of something small but important: I do not have it all figured out.

If I ever tell someone I mastered college, I give you the full right to slap me upside the head. Because it’s just not true.

It’s because I crashed and burned and picked myself up, found the hydrogen peroxide in the medicine cabinet, and let my scars heal that I founded HUGstronger.

It’s because those scars tear open on Monday nights when I break my $30 printer and it’s the last in a string of missteps that leave me feeling like I have nothing figured out.

It’s because I believe in life-long learning. I believe in storylistening. I believe in believing in something so much your heart aches when you realize how many thousands of people are sitting in front of their bedroom mirrors, pinching their love handles or scrunching their eyebrows or contemplating just ripping the thing out of the wall altogether so they don’t have to look at a failure.

It’s a word I use too much. More than I deserve to. And certainly more than any single person reading these words deserves to.

I knew this when I was in sixth grade and almost let fear paralyze me from doing what I loved—competitive gymnastics. I knew this when I cut up my knees every week trying to hurdle fast enough to qualify for the championships.

I knew this when I opened my browser one night in December and thought about what it might feel like to be more than a failure. To be somebody’s backbone for a second. And how it might feel to say you started something that let someone else sleep soundly through the night.

I have never slept soundly. Maybe you haven’t either. Maybe we are just wandering through this world, putting our fingertips to work on the things we find most important, and we shouldn’t be apologizing because we’re still figuring things out.

Do you think the professional marketing blogger knows what next week’s trends will look like? Does Apple know how long it’ll be until people stop buying iPods? Does Nike know if we’ll forever want to be impulsive and active and just do it?

No. Most certainly not.

All we can do is storylisten. And digest the idea that we do something not because we have it all nailed down but because we so badly wish we did and how can we sit back and not push forward? How can we stop growing?

We can’t. Please tell me, we can’t.

Turn Your Passion Into Action: 10 World Changers You Need To Know

I wrote a rather lengthy post on making your goals actionable and what college taught me about planning my life into manageable chunks, but this sentence pretty much sums that up. When you wake up in the morning and want to change the world, pinning pictures of chalkboards with cursive type telling you to “Be the change,” will change nothing.

The change you so desperately want begins the moment you swim in it, losing yourself to the tangibles, the planning, the step-by-step measurements that guide you like a yellow brick road to your very own Oz.

I’ve been blessed to know or follow or stalk (to put it honestly) these 10 world changers and they all have something in common: passion met action.

Nate St. Pierre

What doesn’t Nate do? He’s the founder of ItStartsWith.Us, and his story is the epitome of why you have to make the leap from writing your goals down to doing something about it. At a workshop with his company, he finished the phrase, “Next year, I will…” with “change the world.” And he has. Each week, the members of ISWU receive a 15-minutes-or-less mission to complete and discuss. He’s since handed the baton to Joshua Opinion, but he’s staying busy with his latest project: Mixup (The Web).

Katie Colihan

Replacing Lauren Dubinsky (see below), Katie took over Love Bomb (another of Nate’s projects). At one point, Katie had as many as five jobs. She now monitors the thousands of love bombers who literally pour their hearts into blog comments for a nominated individual each Thursday.

Lauren Dubinsky

Almost 18 months ago, Lauren wrote me an email about this project she had in the wings. At the time, she was struggling to define womanhood and put it back together after society had taken a chunk out of it. What she ended up with was The Good Women Project, a Christian blog that takes dating and marriage and singleness and working and being a woman and mentors those who need it. Now, thousands of women look to the site for hope and honesty.

Hannah Brencher

A year ago, Hannah opened her love letter project to the world. She had been writing letters and leaving them on subway booths and library shelves for strangers to find since October 2010. Now, More Love Letters has its own website where thousands of subscribers receive a monthly email to bundle up handwritten notes and turn them into a package of hope for those in need. She’s now a freelancer, too.

 Tammy Tibbetts

I haven’t met Tammy, but she falls into the “friend of a friend” category. Up until a few months ago, she had Seventeen.com’s social media on the brain. Now, she’s full-time working on She’s The First, her nonprofit dedicated to sponsoring girls’ education in the developing world. Like Hannah, she’s living proof that what you love can become what you do—all day long.

Emily-Anne Rigal

I was first blown away by Emily-Anne because she’s so young: only just entering college next month. But besides that, she is wise beyond her years. She turned her own pain and bullying experiences into a national nonprofit, We Stop Hate, where teens around the country can band together via YouTube to spread words of encouragement for each other. She’s already been interviewed by Oprah, too.

Eryn Erickson

Eryn makes being 4’11” seem empowering (I’m 4’11”, too). She’s not only a musician with her own fan base. She also took self-love to another level when she started So Worth Loving, a clothing line that reminds people of their own self-worth and beauty. From small beginnings, taking mailed-in shirts to spray paint the words “so worth loving” on them, the site now churns out its own merchandise and ran a campaign in May called MayYou.be.

Nina Ainembabazi

Nina found her way into my heart through More Love Letters. She’s got her own agenda for activism, though. She’s taking the reigns for Marist College’s Heal A Heart, Remove The 1, an organization that seeks to crush the statistic of 1 in 3 young adults being in an abusive relationship.

Morgan Hendricks

Morgan and I worked together briefly in high school. Even then, she was driven. I should have known she’d put together a massive self-love campaign: Team True Beauty. She’s one of the co-founders and has backings from celebrities in all sectors of the entertainment industry. Even Channing Tatum, which certainly makes me feel good about my body.

Adam Braun

I’ve never met Adam, either, but his Zeitgeist talk on purpose is nothing short of mesmerizing. And he’s connected with She’s The First in the past, as he’s the founder of Pencils of Promise, an organization dedicated to building schools in the developing world. His life-changing moment came in the form of a young child in one of the countries he visited telling him all he wanted was a pencil. Pencils, Adam now knows, can not only educate but raise funds to build more schools in third-world countries.

What excites me most about this list isn’t that I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with many of these people. It’s that there are thousands of other examples of people who are turning their passions into careers and fueling movements during the late hours while the rest of us are asleep.

Truly, that is where your change resides. Not in pinboards labeled with inspirational Ghandi quotes, but in plans that outline actionable goals for building schools and designing clothing brands and writing stories that attach heartbeats to causes.

Who else am I missing? Share in the comments, please.