Empowering Others: Offering a Helping Hand

A young boy sits on the curbside of a filthy street, a run-down home belonging to a single mother in the background. A girl is working her third straight shift, trying to make ends meet. She is too poor to move away but yet can’t make enough money to stay. A man walks the streets. Down on his luck, he wonders when something will break his way. A woman looks at a photo of her two kids that she never sees. She works all day – all night. She hopes one day that they will understand why. In another day, another place, nothing would be out of the ordinary about these people – all good people. However, due to circumstance or just seemingly having life pass them by, they are down on their luck and they question their hope for the future.

All of these stories are fiction yet fact. They do not allude to one singular event, but rather the collective events that happen in the corners that we don’t see or do not look to find every day. What gets missed is the fundamental idea that each person has value to them. Each person is someone. They only have to believe it. By having more individuals who believe in themselves, we can perhaps better our world – even if only by a small amount. This is done through empowering people to believe in themselves and allowing our humanity to be a guiding force in larger decisions, such as policies aimed at preventing instances of inequality and unequal opportunity.

The power of self-belief and knowing that those around you care about you and see the worth in you is a powerful tonic to the human condition. While there are lost souls in this world and not all people have goodness in their hearts, there are many who do. Yet they live in a world that was depicted above. Many have become lost souls who have had their potential imprisoned under the guard of lost hope. Maybe that hope, that potential only needs to be unlocked. Maybe that person only needs an opportunity where they can see the light and look yonder to the edge of the horizon. Maybe once they see that horizon and what lies beyond it, they will see their worth and spread their wings and fly.

The person who believes in themselves and uses the power that they find within themselves is a strong person. There is a line from a movie I once saw that I feel sums this up, where one character realizes that he and those around him are stronger than they appear. In fact, he realizes that by believing in themselves, those who are oppressing them know that they are powerful as well.

The lesson to be learned here is that when others give us the opportunity to grow and we discover how to believe in ourselves, we are stronger than the force that seemingly keeps us locked within its walls. We are strong enough to break those chains and spread our wings and fly. Hopefully the course that we fly is one that leads to the world being a better place and not one of darkness, where a race – the human race – finds itself ceasing to exist, brought to its knees by the evil force of hatred.

How do we help empower people and unlock their potential? Ladies and gentlemen, we are the answer. We, by our actions that we take towards one another, dictate the course of our society – both in our personal interactions and the policies that we influence. We help empower people until they soar like the eagle or tear them down until they are reduced to the powerless dust on the sidewalk through our actions. If we want to change the picture painted in the first paragraph, we must look at ourselves in the mirror. If you want to empower people and allow them to grow and see the worth in themselves, you must believe in them. Perhaps, if we take those small steps, more people will believe in themselves and allow themselves to grow. Perhaps, if we look as to how to help the cause of all people, our policies will be more fair and impartial in regards to opportunity.

So, let us believe in one another. Let us be the shining ray of hope and be a lighthouse to those drifting in the rough sea, searching for shore. Ultimately, we are one race and the future of our society depends on us building each other up, not tearing each other down. Let us hold a hand out for our fellow man and help every man and woman reach their full potential. That is how we build a society that begins to free itself from the chains of inequality. That is how we build a better tomorrow for all.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

~ Robert F. Kennedy

Life Pivots – Finding Yourself

“Hardly anybody recognizes the most significant moments of their life at the time they happen.”

― W.P. Kinsella

This line is from the book Shoeless Joe, written by W.P. Kinsella. Why does a quote about not realizing significant moments at the time they occur seem so important? Because there is a lesson to be learned from it. There is a story to be told from it. We all experience it. Think back on some of the important moments of your life. Did that moment strike you as significant? I know mine didn’t.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

– Steve Jobs

Many are familiar with this quote from Steve Jobs. The idea that we don’t recognize what we are going through in the present. It is only in the past that we see how all things connect. So, I have presented two quotes. Why? What is the meaning?

A few weeks ago, I attended a work event where we listened to a panel of speakers. The speakers were talking of finding their purpose and their journey. The concept of “pivots” came up. In this case, a pivot was generally a career change or a changed outlook. As I sat and listened, I began to think of my own journey. My pivots were not fun to go through at the time and I certainly didn’t realize their significance at the time, but they helped me find my purpose of helping others, teaching others and inspiring others in an effort larger than myself. The more I thought about my journey and finding my purpose, the more that I realized that a pivot was really just another word for a sports concept that I had learned – adaptability. As I sat in that audience, I though of three “moments” that have defined my adult life and path so far.

Moment/Pivot # 1: Staying in the Valley
When I graduated from college in 2010, I graduated with a B.S. in Sport Management. I also graduated into an economy stuck in a recession. Long story short, there were not many job opportunities in the area – especially in sports. In fact, at the Career Fair, I had two job opportunities. These two jobs were the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps, the latter in which I spoke with a recruiter and answered questions for before backing off for various reasons. Now, I could have moved to a city and found a job in athletics. However, that wasn’t what I wanted. On top of that, I made a conscious decision to stay close to home to help out with my older brother, who has disabilities. I started to adapt and pivot. I started looking at a vocation that was in my blood – agriculture – and graduate school to re-train myself.

Moment/Pivot # 2: Starting a Business
After graduating from graduate school, I still had the same problem that had plagued me coming out of undergraduate – a weak job market. Public Policy was not in wide demand either. I have always been one who looks for purpose in what I do. Formalizing my agricultural business was a step towards adapting to my new situation and towards setting myself up for the future.

Moment/Pivot # 3: Higher Education
My career path has not been straightforward. There are times, still, where I wonder how my dots connect. I often joke to people to not try to connect my dots because they will get dizzy. I have worked as a cook, a para-professional, a land surveyor, a coach/sports coordinator, an insurance technician and as a higher education staff member. I have learned something from all of them, but has it been a confusing ride. Towards the end of the insurance job, I was in a bad state. Mentally, I was hurting and for the first time, I completely lost myself. I had to adapt. I had to pivot. I committed the professional cardinal sin and quit a job without having anything lined up with my self-esteem in pieces. I did a lot of soul-searching and decided that I would run my business. I had to square with myself that, professionally, I might have a low paying job to live on as I ran the business. I came to accept that. Fortunately, I had my second tour in land surveying present itself. Those four months were a defining time in my life. Land surveying allowed me to find myself and become me again.

At that time, something happened. Getting back into UMass-Amherst had always been my dream and I was applying to jobs left and right – usually minimum wage jobs. No bites. I applied for a job at my alma mater, the Isenberg School of Management. I ended up getting that job. That, too, has been a defining pivot in my life – getting into higher education. It is this job that allowed me to be present for the speakers that I listed to that night a few weeks ago.

Why do I tell these stories? Because I can help others with them. In the final analysis, we each have one purpose on this Earth – to leave the world better than when we first inhabited it. How we accomplish that objective is not a straight and narrow path. There will be times that you get lost. There will be times when the dots do not seem to connect. But always believe that you can find your way. Believe that the dots will connect. It is not always easy to believe – indeed, there were many times where I lost my way. But I have found my purpose. I try to be the best friend, employee, co-worker and teammate that I can be so that we can accomplish our goals. I hope that I have maybe even made a difference to a few people in their lives along the way in the same way that they have made a positive impact in mine. I have had to pivot and adapt to do so and so can you.

What roads have you journeyed?