Yesterday I had the privilege and honor of being a part of the selection committee for the 2012-2013 Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship. It was an honor to be asked by my fellow Rotarians for whom I have so much respect, but it was also a privilege to meet and speak with the candidates – two wonderfully accomplished female students from a nearby college.
I could write an entire post about Rotary International – what it means to me and its value and importance in the world. But this post is about something else. This post is about a chance encounter with two women who not only embody my personal passions and ideals, but who reminded me of both my younger self – the idealistic girl I once was before I lost my way, and the woman I have since become for having chosen to embrace this journey I am now on.
For as long as I can recall, I have always wanted to make a real and lasting difference in the world. I have been drawn to economic plights and inequities around the world and the need for sustainable solutions. I have been submerged in geopolitical issues of race, gender and religion, recognizing from an early age the need for global literacy, cross-cultural awareness and communication. I have observed the challenges of various sociopolitical systems and been sympathetic to issues of human rights and social justice.
I had a dream, buried deep within me, that embodied all of my childhood experiences growing up around the world. I had a dream, that for a time during the college/graduate school years and the early years of my career, rose up from within and found a voice, overshadowing all else. I was ambitious, focused, and determined. I wanted to make a difference in the world and no one would stand in my way; that is, until I abandoned these early dreams of my heart, trading them for peace and security, marriage and family.
The thing is, when a dream is planted firmly in our heart and can be traced to our earliest childhood memories, it doesn’t just die, no matter how much we may try to ignore it. Perhaps our priorities shift; perhaps we realize that our heart is large enough to encompass more than one dream. Certainly, for example, I am blessed to have my children who have brought and continue to bring immeasurable amounts of love and joy in my life. They are, without question, an expanded part of my dream as well. But shifts and expansions are not the same as letting our dreams die or burying them under layers of fear and compromise and denial. In the end, we either die a slow death along with our buried dreams, or they rise up again with a vengeance, determined to have their place in the world.
In recent years, I resurged my lost dreams through community work promoting global content in local schools; work which directly led to my involvement with Rotary and the subsequent opportunity to interview and speak these two young ladies. They were the final candidates being considered for a significant scholarship to study abroad for one year and to serve as an ambassador to Rotary International on behalf of the United States. To even be considered is no small feat. These young women both had ‘A’ averages from one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country, a long list of community service initiatives, multiple international endeavors, foreign language fluency, personal presence and speaking skills, and a total commitment and passion to their cause(s). One was a talented artist who wanted to empower women globally through art, while the other wanted to continue her research into peace and conflict resolution, having already spent time abroad successfully working with youth in Israel and Palestine.
There was a committee of five and two final candidates. Four men and one woman, one of whom had been in Rotary for over fifty years. We challenged them on every level. We questioned their motives, their assumptions, their values, and how they would represent Rotary and the United States. We tested their understanding of Rotary and of the responsibilities before them. We asked them to consider how they plan on implementing their vision. Both of them responded with a degree of grace and maturity that inspired us all. Both of them stayed true to their dreams, yet gave thoughtful consideration to how their vision aligns with the values of Rotary. They demonstrated, through their accomplishments, poise, grace and commitment, that in order to be ready to create and influence lasting change without, they must first lead from within.
While the interviews were about the accomplishments, intentions, and maturity of these two candidates, I got more than I bargained for. Way more. This weekend I was also reunited with my younger self who got lost along the way. Through these young women, I saw the girl I once was and the woman I’ve become. I saw more clearly than ever, that my once forsaken dreams got lost only by the limitations and fears of my own mind and heart. I was reminded that while idealism must be tempered with experience and a heady dose of pragmatism, there is still a place for it all. Most importantly, I realized that my younger self simply needed to learn a few lessons in order to really be ready to live my dreams…that I had to be willing to discover and embrace who I am within, in order to live and effectively lead out loud.
I feel privileged to have crossed paths with these two young ladies, both of whom share the same idealism and passions that once fueled my own dreams. I feel honored to know them, to have learned from them, and to have been able to offer up a few words of my own wisdom, too. My earnest prayer is that as they step forth into the world, they do not lose their way. As new dreams emerge or expand, I hope they will have the courage stay true to their heart and trust its compass, even as the idealism of their youth becomes tempered with the inevitable heartache and pragmatic doses of reality along the way. I wish them the very best of luck, knowing the luck is indeed what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
As you reflect on your own dreams and vision for your life, what have you done to prepare for them? Are you as clear about who you are and the values you subscribe to as you are about the dreams you are pursuing? If you had a chance to meet your younger self, what advice would you give him/her?
Postscript: On this Mother’s Day, I feel blessed not only to have expanded my dream to include my beloved children, but to be able to finally give them the gift of my authenticity and to watch them grown in the strength and beauty of their own. Could there be any greater gift than that?