Shape the Future
Owning Your Influence
From the first moment we are conscious of our own existence, we pick up on how the world works. Because we are born feeble, we endow our parents with the burden of preparing us for life as they already know it to be. They show us not just how to survive, but how to be at ease with existence. They pass on what they have learned so we will be able to navigate the world without them. The ideas they implant linger with us throughout life, making their unfinished business our own. They create our culture.
The irony of this sad situation is that independence cannot be taught by someone who has not first obtained it. Emotional maturity cannot be demonstrated by someone who isn’t fully self-expressed. Effective instructions for living can’t be imparted by people who haven’t learned how to live. The unsurprising result is that most of us will become stunted in childhood. We spend the rest of our lives capping our abilities because of developmental influences from our impressionable years. Few are able to use the pain of early years to propel into personal greatness.
For children, no time ever passes without a plan for its occupation. Culture prescribes how every developmental milestone will unfold. By the time children reach adulthood, they’ve yet to experience a life without instructions. Social demands interrupt the search for one’s identity. Paradise, once lost, is rarely found again. Some pick it up a few decades later when they realize something is deeply wrong in their lives. Most die never having lived at all. When growing young people cannot express themselves without restraint, they develop a nagging sense of spiritual emptiness until they die.
We have all had inadequate upbringings because we were not given the tools we would need to discover who we were. We face a crossroads: either learning from the mistakes of the past or repeating them with our own children. The passing of values to the new minds concludes the self-discovery cycle, yet it is the step most often overlooked. Parents and educators have important jobs because they tell us how we should think and what we should believe. Most of them do not realize the importance of their role in human development. We believe what they teach because we have nothing to contrast it. We simply cannot imagine existing any other way, resulting in a population that has no idea what it means to learn of their own accord.
Cultural upbringing ignores the will of the child. It assumes the collective knows what is best for the individual. Group identity overpowers individual awareness throughout its unfolding. Collectivized learning corrals the individual to exist within the limits of their own cultural identity. By restricting diversity in individual learning, we also restrict the depth of the individual. People are prepared for life as functional members of an arbitrary social paradigm that will be replaced with another every generation.
During my first trip to Europe, I was employed by a combination nursery and preschool in Genoa, Italy inspired by the unconventional teaching philosophies of Maria Montessori. Before taking the job, the school director emphasized how different the structure of learning and level of freedom given to the children were compared to conventional schools. Their mission was to give children the opportunity to guide their own learning from the earliest age. They only wanted teachers who embodied this philosophy, which is why they were eager to work with me.
When I arrived in Italy, the childcare reality was starkly different from the picture the director had painted. The children, as young as two years old, had tight schedules for each day with specific hours dedicated to specific activities. Though they told a better story and operated with bigger smiles, I still operated as part of a structure that existed to define how early childhood would be allowed to play out. Even under the most progressive of circumstances, it seemed impossible to escape the limiting effects of schooling institutions in formative years.
Authentic education is how a mind comes into healthy maturity. It is the self moving from futility to power over the span of a lifetime, fueled by passion and curiosity. It cannot be forced without confidence. A mentor needs to ignite this curiosity in young people, inspiring them to explore the fullest capacity of their experience. They are a coach and guide for this personal evolution, overseeing the initial discovery of identity. The immature child is just like a tourist in a foreign country and their guardians are tour guides introducing them to their way of life.
One thing is certain. Everyone raises their children in a world different than the one they were raised in. You cannot prepare them for the challenges they will face using your lessons. Only if they value humility will they meet the demands of perpetual change. This can only happen when parents conquer their allegiance to the dead past. Parents and other mentors must embrace neoteny to become childlike learners again, questioning everything they thought to be true. It requires a total allegiance to honesty and the determination to never ignore new information that invalidates cherished beliefs. They must hold the innate curiosity lost as we grow too comfortable.
To influence another life is to invest a part of yourself into the identity into someone else. That investment returns daily through the demands learners make upon teachers to encourage them to grow too. Children have much to teach adults, so long as they can view things through their undeveloped eyes. Children can unlock our emotional capacity, which is why immature adults can be so uncomfortable around them. They expose the parts of us we work to hide. Every child is pleading for adults to show them the world is safe to express themselves. Pass on what you have learned without pressure so that they may find their own identities.
The fallacy of influencers is they believe it is their job to implant others’ minds with the same ideas they have come to believe over the course of their journey. Such an attitude is the enemy of progress. Everyone begins the journey anew in a different time and under different externalities. Some will take up the mantle where you left off – but it will not be exactly the same. Adaptation means solving today’s problems today and laying the ground for whatever tomorrow’s problems may be. If we cannot get out of the way, we will replicate only the problems we are prepared to solve.
Those who are secure in their own identity do not need to force it on others. Everyone naturally wants to share their values with those who will listen, but only broken people try to turn others into copies of themselves. When you take on a leadership role, you help others become who they are, not to become more like what you have discovered yourself to be. That is the reason I cannot tell you that travel is the path to the transformation you need. That it was my ideal path has no bearing on you. You must discover this for yourself. Arbitrary importance given to yourself is a form of subtle narcissism. The final battle, and the one so many people come so far just to lose, is getting over yourself. You are, in one sense, the most important thing in the universe and also utterly insignificant. When you can accept these dual truths, you will be ready to take the world where it needs to be, in its own way and time.
The details of how you will accomplish this hardly matter. They will be different for each person’s abilities and environment. We all must figure out what we are suited to do through our unique experiences. We can all help other people break free from the barriers of culture in some way. My path showed me that my greatest assets would be my ability to communicate important information and persuade people to attempt new things. I foresaw that I would spend my life exploring the possible outlets to that happen. The way you create influence will be a product of what you are. You can stand proudly in front of the world, ready for them to accept or reject you as you are.
Everything a person ever does is in service to their conception of self. Therefore, you can only introduce ideas that the people in your life are ready to hear. The listener must want to receive your offering. Maybe you have an idea of the lessons you are trying to spread, but don’t know how to make them heard in a noisy world. You can’t always see how to be unique and impactful without sacrificing your authentic identity. The people who scorn or ignore you may be the ones who need your influence the most. The only point of leaving your home behind is to become a human being worthy of living in the world. By doing so, you also make the world worth living in. That is how you move past humanity’s great struggle against itself so you may live to see where the story goes. There’s a scale model of society’s ills playing out in the theater of your mind right now. Solve the riddle of your delusion about who you are and what you stand for.
The world at first rejects whatever does not belong within its molds. But, in time, it will respect anyone who stands firm and proud in front of it as themselves. The world places such people into a category unto themselves – a landmark for what others can become. Observers will unconsciously emulate you because your existence shows them new limits to what is possible. In everything it touches, your influence will bring a little more order into the universe. In the end, you either become someone worth living as or you never really live at all.
This is my hope as you depart from my words – that you will take the lessons here and run them through the laboratory of your own life. A principle applied under different conditions produces unlimited results, none more complete than the last. Every new life is a chance to try again, each identity a different method. Every act is a signal put out for others to receive and interpret. Persist long enough, and you will attract the people who need your influence to move on from the obstacles they hold. It’s a reciprocal bond enabling each party to expose greater parts of the whole. Culture is not the enemy when it creates growth for the individuals who compose it. It evolves with us as an ally against the unknown trials of tomorrow. We each grow stronger the more we merge with other people who share our journey. They challenge and encourage us. The independent individual accepts their place in the larger narrative, sending and receiving what is necessary to create growth for everyone.
One day, nations will not be made by yesterday’s inherited barriers. They will be forged organically through shared ideals and mutual aid. Family will mean more than the circumstances of one’s birth and earliest associations. With influence, you become a beacon for others like you or whose identities complement your own. You begin to see beyond your limits to form unique social structures based on shared goals and values. You become far more than what you could ever be on your own, but only if you are brave enough to communicate your needs and take on others’ pain. The world needs the real you, and you just might need to experience the world to become that. Now go. (Pg.130)
You leave the security of your old life without a plan or a path.
Many would encourage anyone to wantonly abandon their old life in pursuit of personal renaissance. This is not the way to freedom. Travel is just one of many possible catalysts that may accelerate the path to liberation.
Any plan belongs to someone else. It cannot be your own.
Your path will not be the same as others. Only introspection can show you which parts of the past you are ready to dismantle. Only curiosity can point you in the right direction. Travelers use everything the world offers to find their identity.
If you do not create the path as you go, you will not arrive at yourself.
Do not wait for things to change. Cast yourself headstrong and willing into uncertainty. Do whatever is difficult until it is no longer difficult. Let yourself grow into all the ways you are capable of being.
Break the rules of culture. Become what you are. (Pg.132)
“Travel as Transformation: Conquer the Limits of Culture to Discover Your Own Identity” by Gregory Diehl, David J. Wright