There’s a trick I’ve picked up that’s gotten me out of a few sticky situations. I’ve had a lot of leadership training, some media prep, and probably more math drills than most humans can suffice to think of let alone subject themselves to, but this trick, it’s none of the above. It’s a touch of psychology, an ounce or so of mythology, a few dashes of dreaming, and a whole lot of deceit.
But it’s not really deceit when you think about it. After all, what is the world past what we make of it? “If you build it, they will come.” If you make it, it’s yours to own. And when you own the world, there’s nothing you can’t do.
So where’s the lease, you ask? Right at your fingertips if you open your hand and reach for it.
I’m a horrible test taker. I clam up, I move slow, I slip out of comfort and forget what I know. But I manage. My first math midterm of my first math class I got so anxious over the test I felt lightheaded and weak throughout it and came down with a bad case of sinusitis the week after. I think my only comfort at the end was calculating what I needed to do well, and when it was a ridiculously low score with the weight of the final, I calmed just enough to relax just enough to at least not have a repeat illness.
After my calc final, I felt empowered and torn down. I felt like I’d done well, but it’s always when I’m most confident that I find I make the most mistakes. But I did do well and moved on.
This year, in calc III, we had our test in the Math Lab–the first test I’ve had there since my precalculus and calc finals more than a year ago. We were intermingled with two or three other classes and both the silence and the tension were paramount. My hours spent tutoring and my hours spent working on homework and wasting time with classmates came to a dead halt in this stasis of uncertainty.
Before my teacher passed out our tests, I took a deep breath and told myself I was in a place that I loved. I told myself I was surrounded by friends and people who supported me–my tutees, my teachers, my contemporaries. I told myself, “I’m in the presence of people I love. I am invincible.”
My teacher put the final before me and I dove in. Relaxed. Empowered. Built up.
This morning was the launch of an initiative spanning half a billion dollars, five years, four states, and fourteen community colleges. I was in a room of presidents and board members, faculty and staff with jobs and positions I couldn’t even begin to decipher. I thought, “I never imagined I could be here, at an event sponsored by the Gates Foundation.” I doubted myself, thought it all chance, didn’t think I could measure up.
I reminded myself I was in a room of powerful people, and that I am a powerful person. I reminded myself I was in a room full of potential, and that I have potential. I reminded myself we were all there for a reason, and that I had a reason to be there. I held my breath, listened with fascination and admiration, inspiration, and then joined them for lunch.
The trick is to own the situation. Grab the world by the reins and pull it under your control. Any moment in time, any instance in space is at our disposal. How we see the world is how we perceive the world. How we perceive the world is how the world really is. Our reality is ours and ours alone and no one can take that, no one can change that, no one can touch that unless you let them. So don’t let them touch that.
It’s an affirmation, these white lies we tell ourselves. But like I asked myself for many years, if I wore the mask long enough, would it not become my face? These slips change physics, alter facts, let our dreams steep in the silence of the universe, gestate, grow, bear fruit, and return the seeds to us tenfold, sustaining us through the thousandth generation and leading us to a garden of Eden.
The world is against us. It’s called Lentz’s Law: The more you try to change, the more the universe resists it. And it’s Newton’s Laws: What’s there is there, what’s moving remains moving, and if you punch, be prepared to be punched back. Together we are fought against, but as one we must fight back. And as one, here I really do mean by ourselves. We may make allies, we may form pacts and contracts, but when faced with the wind, only we can stand against it. Sure we can hold hands and brace ourselves, but if we can’t hold ourselves, if we can’t keep our own weight beneath us, then we all fall. In the end, it’s only each of us. Each of us against the world.
But we have the upper hand. We always do, always will. We can change the world, shape the world, draw from our collective strength to empower us and enable us and encourage us. We are on our own, but our arsenal is infinite. This one blade of steel, this one blade of grass streaked with shades of sunlight and starlight, can sever the ties of all that binds us, cut the binds of all that constricts us, and unleash the potential that we all have deep within us. And like a sword in stone, you must be chosen to wield its power.
But if you choose, that power is yours for the wielding.
And when you grab that hilt and release that sheath, when you hold your blade high and cut through the sky, then the end is near. The world is in your palm and nothing more you can do can ever harm you. Pull those reins, tug those horns, shape the mold and pour the iron. When the plaster slips off, polish the crevices and bask in its shine. The world is yours for the taking, for the shaping, if only you own it.
If only you reach out and take it.
Don’t subject yourself to the subject line. So I speak of publics and protests, but what’s the meaning therein? What public, what protest? Those of our adversaries, those councils in our minds speaking our insecurities, those enemies in the shadows waiting to strike. These become the public when you let the world own you. But when you own the world, you protest, and with strength and perseverance, with will and determination, these armies fall. Your protests push past their palms and reclaim your place. You become the world.
And the world becomes what you make of it.
So say thanks to servants and honor your elders, because there’s nothing more powerful than an image of endless respect and gratitude. And if you wear it long enough, it might become you. But if you wear it long enough, maybe you become the world, too.
Head out there. Don’t hold back. Stand at the edge of glory and fly freely.