When I sat down to write this blog about my experience on the Latin American gap semester two years ago with Thinking Beyond Borders, I wrote drafts on top of drafts. I wrote about how amazing the seminars are that challenged my preconceived notions. I wrote about how my trip inspired me to change my course of study and professional pursuits. I wrote about my amazing group and our adventures. I wanted it to be great. No matter what I wrote, it didn’t seem to justify my experiences and the lessons I learned. It didn’t honor my program leaders and mentors, Isaac and Kelly, and it didn’t demonstrate to my group members, Adrienne, Emma, Anastasia, and Kenny, how grateful I am for them. It didn’t respect the lessons I learned in seminar and in the field. So, I decided to start this blog by quoting my favorite article from an opinion piece by David Brooks published in the New York Times. It’s called the Moral Bucket List:
“About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.
When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.
A few years ago, I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.
It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?
We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.”
I encourage you to read the full article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/david-brooks-the-moral-bucket-list.html
As I reflect on my gap semester, I find myself nostalgic. I can smell my host mother’s cooking, I can hear my group singing our favorite jams in a crammed bus as we travel towards our next adventure, and I can feel my happiness from my times abroad. But, I also feel sad. Sad that some of the best times of my life have passed and I can only now live through them in memories.
Maybe that sounds dark, but I promise you, I am grateful because every day since I got back from TBB, my outlook and perception of my life and the world around me has changed for the better. TBB inspired and challenged me in many regards of my life. I discovered my personal philosophy was a product of my own biases and I had to be willing to have an open mind to get everything out of my time abroad. I promised myself to be vulnerable and take risks like I was encouraged to do with TBB. I changed my way of living when I got back and I am all the better for it.
During my time in Guatemala, my host family made it a point to have dinner together every night for two hours. Two hours. They called it sobremesa. It was strange for me to sit around a table, laughing, sharing stories, dreams, and talking about both personal and societal challenges. I had never experienced anything like this. We didn’t talk about superficial things or complain. We were engaged and shared something powerful. Something I’ll never forget. I grew up in a divorced household in the U.S. and the concept of family dinner was foreign to me. Growing up, I was under the impression, family meals were important, but just because you had to go through the motions. They were a means to an end. Instead of engaging in real conversation with those closest to me, I always thought dinner was a time to eat and say thanks and move on. Move on to more important things that would allow me to be successful.
I now know my idea of success was flawed because of my TBB experience. Spending time around my group and those in other cultures, I realized I want to live for my eulogy virtues, not my résumé virtues. I want to live for a eulogy that will commemorate my character, not my accomplishments. TBB gave me the power to look into the mirror and be proud of my vulnerability, fear, and failures. It showed me it’s ok to be human because it’s what makes us beautiful.
I like to think TBB made me an old soul. I learned some deep lessons about life that I carry into my relationships and professional endeavors. My lessons give me tranquility that allow me to move through life with a big smile, grateful for the opportunity to exist and to have the opportunity to get to know others rather than only focusing on professional goals that will force me to forget what living is all about. It is nice to be successful, but it’s more important to be a good person who often achieves even greater things for the world and themselves.
In all sincerity, TBB surrounds you with among a community of moral, curious, inspiring people. It surrounds you with people who will not only push you to innovate and achieve, but also help you develop your character. You meet people every day who are motivated by their eulogy virtues and still accomplish those résumé virtues. They take risks and challenge notions for the sake of curiosity and passion. They progress and learn to truly make a difference. When navigating this crazy world, they steer towards the unknown and unexplored roads. They create shocks in the earth’s surface and currents in the world’s oceans that benefit the rest of us. The aftermath of their thinking disrupts, but leaves a beautiful and sustainable mark behind. Its origin is hidden in humility.
TBB taught me that you do not build your life by being better than others, but growing and being better than you used to be. It taught me to accept that, as David Brooks says, life has treated me much better than I deserve.