Sunday, November 23, 2014

What TEDxJacksonville means to me

Many of you have heard me talk about my work with TEDxJacksonville but I don't think everyone understands the role it plays in my life. I was first introduced to TEDxJacksonville in the summer 2012 when a dear friend decided to move to Colorado. Jessica was my saving grace in Jacksonville. I had been a resident for a little over six months and was very unsure if I could call this city my home. I met her before I moved and our friendship made me believe I could make the city mine. She knew that TEDx could serve to be my portal to other likeminded people and help me keep my sanity.

She was right. I joined the organization in its first year, when it was known as TEDxRiversideAvondale. I thought I would get to meet some interesting people and help as needed but I ended up getting immersed as soon as Asghar and I got back from our honeymoon. I met so many dedicated change agents, many who I proudly call friends now. They helped me see the city’s potential. They made me realize that I could get involved and actually be the change I wished to see.

Moving to the bible belt was my choice but I assumed certain things would be a given in a moderately large city like Jacksonville. I thought there would be tolerance and diversity. I thought the city would be open to new ideas and innovations. The reality was different. The city faced many challenges: no human rights ordinance, racism towards a respectable member of the human rights commission, lack of accessible public transportation and a lack of a vibrant downtown, amongst many other things. In many ways it felt like I had gone back in time and the city’s citizens were choosing to live in a bubble and ignore the progress being made in other cities across the country

But it wasn't  just about the city. It was also about me. I didn’t realize what being a change agent really meant. Growing up in New York, I took the city’s policies and amenities for granted. As a teenager, I volunteered at the library and in soup kitchens and assumed that was all that was needed from me. I didn't think about the big picture. I was comfortable with the little I was doing and spending my remaining time with friends and family exploring the city. I wasn’t challenged.

TEDxJacksonville made me realize that leaving my comfort zone was the best thing I could ever do. When there was nobody around for me to spend time with, I actually spent my time figuring out where I could be most useful. I finally got plugged in. I learned about the city and its resources and treasures, its pitfalls and challenges. But teaching myself wasn’t enough. What was I going to do with the information?

I realized that sharing my views and newfound inspiration with other was the best thing I could do. Providing this information in simple and entertaining TEDx events allowed other citizens of Jacksonville to get plugged in and decide where they wanted to help or at the very at least enabled them to learn more on topics of interest and allowed them to make decisions for themselves. It completely takes over my life between the months of August and October and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It allows me to help brilliant people with powerful ideas have a platform to share them with others. The best part is seeing all 350 audience member leave the live conference feeling hopeful, encouraged and believing they can lead or at least support the change they want to see. 

I have seen myself and my city transform over my three years as Jacksonville's resident. I have witnessed everyday people influence the culture and help challenge the norms. I have seen myself transform into someone who sees the power of ideas and the potential all around me. It is so easy to be a naysayer and assume things will always be difficult to change. But change starts with small shifts and its ripple effects have the power to go beyond what we ever imagined. 

To everyone who sees all the wrong around them, I challenge you to actually do something about it instead of running away from of it or assuming that it isn’t your problem. I promise the feeling of accomplishment afterwards will be unlike anything you have ever experienced. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What is your dream?

I recently attended a conference and got a question that was a pleasant surprise from the usual networking repertoire. Over casual lunch introductions, instead of asking me what I did for a living, I was asked “What is my dream?” Harold and I had never met before and the question initially threw me for a loop but after thinking about it I answered happily. My response led to a 30 minute conversation I will never forget. 

Harold and I spoke about ambitions, dreams, goals and what gets in our way. He reminded me that it is very easy to add up the reasons why we shouldn't do something but when you actually start to believe in yourself by simply charting out the how it can be done, the process can be reassuring and encouraging. 

Harold and his wife decided to quit their jobs in their forties and take their toddlers on an around the world trip a few years back. His friends, family and neighbors thought he was crazy and questioned their decision every step of the way. Once the family of four returned from their trip, the skeptics were now confused, envious and sometimes even encouraged by the journey. They were initially unsupportive because they idea challenged the conventions around which they've built their own lives; learning about Harold's journey pushed them to get out of their comfort zone.

He reminded me that you need to find the people that are motivating and supportive of innovative ideas. Once you do, you will flourish. 

I left our conversation reminded of my experiences pre and post Cambodia.   Some of my friends and family did not know how to process my decision, and encouraged me to make the safest choice. Some think it was a phase and do not quite understand why I did it, but they also wont ask why.  When I saw Harold again at the end of the day, I gave him a big hug because our conversation reminded me to be proud of my decisions and excited for my future.

The next day I heard the story of Robin Davidson and her solo journey in Australia, from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean in 1977. The pictures and anecdotes left me speechless, teary and amazed. Everyone told her she was crazy, would die, would never make it and was wasting her time. She document her journey in a book named “Tracks” and I can’t wait to read it.  Just the snippet I read made me want to fly to Australia to meet her and hear her stories.

In case you were wondering, my response to Harold’s question was “to open a non-profit in South Asia that addresses the cultural challenges related sexual assault” and “to visit a 100 countries in my lifetime."

It is so easy to get immersed in our day to day life that we go from task to task without even thinking about why we do what we do. Passion allows us to keep going while maintaining a positive outlook. Doing things we love is meaningful and rewarding. But we have to have dreams to aspire to, to motivate us and most ultimately to be truly content with the mark we leave on the world. 

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude- Maya Angelou

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