The Struggle Bus Stop

I’ve been riding the struggle bus lately, and I’ve been riding it far: Despite the simple tasks I’ve been given on the conference steering committee, I can’t seem to get a single thing done. I thought perhaps I just don’t care as much as I want to–and although that’s partly true, the bigger issue is I’m afraid.

I’m afraid to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’m afraid to risk failure, and if I never try, I can never fail. And I’m afraid to honestly ask myself why I do care–because just maybe I really don’t care at all.

But I’m tired of seeing the same tasks on my to-do lists. I’m tired of feeling I’ve failed myself, failed the committee, and failed the people we’re trying to help. I’m tired of being afraid. So I’m pulling the whistle and departing the struggle bus right here, right now.

The journalist in me feels like taking things one step at a time, and timid as I am, that approach is probably best–but the leader in me knows a better way: the Golden Circle. Proposed by Simon Sinek, it’s a leadership model focusing on inspiring action in others. Graphically depicted, it’s simply three circles–on the outside, WHAT; on the middle, HOW; and in the center–the Golden Circle itself–WHY.

Most leaders, public and professional, proceed from the outside in: I’m on the steering committee for the Resolve to Fight Poverty Conference, hosted annually by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness. This year’s conference is at UNC-Chapel Hill, and through my internship with NCPIRG, I’ve been recruited to help design publications (which I genuinely enjoy) and to contact potential sponsors for donations (of which I loathe).

With the WHAT aside, leaders then deliver the HOW: My job is remarkably simple. First, I select the organization–mostly local colleges and universities–and then I comb their websites for contacts from various organizations and offices that might be interested in becoming sponsors. Then I ask each of them for their money. Of course, I hate asking for money–even for myself, if not especially for myself–and so, knowing this is the ultimate step (and that it will inevitably involve talking on the phone: another bane of mine), I’ve been incredibly lax in making any substantial progress on my assigned campuses.

However, Sinek says this gets nobody inspired. And it doesn’t–because if it did, at least I would feel inspired–but the truth is, I don’t.

An interesting event happened in the car the other day (details forthcoming) that made me realize I genuinely do care about hunger and poverty issues–I just don’t have the information to put those feelings into words, and with that fatal communication gap, I can barely convince myself that I care. But between TED Talks, Netflix documentaries, and a recently-published book called A Place at the Table, I’m learning–and through that knowledge I’m empowering myself to take substantive action.

Sinek instead tells us that great leaders inspire by starting from the inside out–before the dawdle on about the HOW and WHAT, they answer the basic question we all pester about as children: WHY?

The truth is I haven’t answered this for myself.

When I fell off the struggle bus a few minutes ago, I found myself in a pretty blank place–a place full of potential, that could become anything I want it to be. To my sides lay fields of darkness that at any moment could creep upon me and throw me into pits of self-loathing, laziness, and apathy–but before me is the chance to move forward, to come upon the golden circle and discover what truly made me commit to this.

At first I thought it was because a friend in need asked me. Then I thought the experience, and perhaps even the prestige, of assisting with a national conference would teach me invaluable skills (and look great on my resume). But then I got to thinking deeper, and thinking deeply as I do, I realized these are just the superficial benefits of having an awesome internship–not the reasons why I’m doing it.

The obvious answer is hunger: It’s a scary thing when you realize precisely how many millions in our country alone suffer from food insecurity (and I didn’t know it before, but I’m a part of that statistic–and in time, I’ll get to that story, too). The problem isn’t just what’s not on our plates: It’s the fact that when we can’t afford to eat, we often can’t afford to pay our rent, our utilities, our health bills–our entire quality of life diminishes, piece by piece around us. That’s not the life anyone deserves, and working to help this conference happen is working to ensure that no one has to grow up in conditions like this.

But it goes deeper than that.

Indira Gandhi said it best when she said “Poverty is the worst form of pollution.” If people are starving, if they can’t find work to support their families, if they’re living on the streets–they’re not going to care how large their carbon footprint is or if they could save water and waste. All they care about is surviving–and no one says they should care about anything else. After all, in their place, all we would care about is our own survival and the survival of our closest family, too.

Part of my vision is to see a world in which our children grow up knowing earth to be the Garden of Eden it truly is–but to conserve and protect the environment, we must first eradicate poverty. This conference will educate and inform–learning is one of my core values–and empower students and community members to become leaders in the global fight against poverty–and I value leadership, too.

Most importantly, beyond the promises of ending poverty, promoting sustainability, and encouraging learning and leadership, this conference has one more purpose: opening the doors for greater compassion toward the GLBT community, my life’s greatest vision. Just as those in poverty cannot think about pollution while they’re struggling to survive, the most impoverished cannot begin to see the humanity in the GLBT community while the world barely sees the humanity in them. If I’m truly going to change the hearts and minds of the world, I must first fill their stomachs and give them a home. If we want full equality for the GLBT community, we must first end poverty.

Here I am in my own golden circle, and with this sunlight upon me, I’m ready to take the next step and start compiling names to contact. I’ve found my passion, my fire and fuel, and I’m ready to go–but I know I wasn’t alone on the struggle bus while it barreled along the road of life, and I hope I won’t be the only one who escapes it.

So tell me, my friends, what’s keeping you on the struggle bus? Where’s your golden circle?

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