Thirteen Things I Learned in 2013 (Part 2)

Yesterday I began sharing the thirteen things I learned in 2013–a look at thankfulness, thinking, and things, with the great revelation that things don’t matter. Today I pick up the narrative once more for the next five lessons on our syllabus.

If you missed Part 1, find it here.

5. Learning should be cherished.

If things don’t matter, what does? Ideas and experiences. That is the whole of life’s meaning. Learning opens our minds to new ideas (and if we’re lucky, new experiences as well). If thinking is our greatest action, learning is our greatest arsenal: Whether we learn through language apps, online tutorials, in classroom, or from our peers, all learning should be cherished because when we learn, we are given the tools we need to change ourselves–and when we change ourselves, the entire world changes with us.

6. Going to college is a privilege.

I love learning. I grew up in a home where going to college wasn’t just encouraged, but expected. So when I got to school, it didn’t necessarily mean anything special to me: It opened me up to a new world of ideas and experiences that I could have gained from nothing else, but I didn’t think it was anything special. After all, I started at a community college, where learning communities are as diverse as they can be–so I thought.

The one perspective I never encountered at a community college was entitlement. I never met anyone who felt entitled to be there–who was there just because someone else was paying the bill but had no vision of their own. That’s a strictly university perspective (which perhaps is why those who’ve only ever been to universities disregard the importance of community colleges). But I’ve seen this perspective now, and about as much as our lust for the material, it makes me ill: If you don’t cherish learning, what are you learning for?

Not everyone has the ability to go to college–not the wealth, the time, the opportunity. Those who do and ignore how privileged it makes them make me sick to my stomach. These are the most powerful people this world has created–they have the most access to the ideas that enable them to think and change and create–yet they ignore it. They hold a time bomb in their hands and ignore the seconds as they pass; they don’t care for the power they’ve been given–because wasn’t it theirs already?

No, it wasn’t. People like this are a plague on our society. If you’re in college–whether you’re 15 or 55–don’t take it for granted. It isn’t. Take one look at the people beyond your campus and realize, simply because of where you’re standing on the inside, you’re privileged above others. Don’t forget that two steps away, you’d still have nothing.

7. The impoverished in the United States are like the rich in the rest of the world.

Perhaps John Locke said it best in his arguments for capitalism, but it wasn’t until this year when I realized how true it is: After living in Belize for a week and then lobbying on Capitol Hill for global poverty issues, I’ve seen firsthand how “poverty” in the United States can mean “great wealth” in other countries.

This isn’t a ploy for us, however; I think it should come as a reminder that no matter how little we have, there are still those who have less–and therefore anything we have is significant. It’s like saying “things don’t matter” all over again–except now I’m saying whether we have things or not, we’re obligated to help others who have less–service is not a thing, and it matters almost as much as thinking.

In this coming year, challenge yourself to give away some of your things to those who need them–and challenge yourself to take even a fraction of your time and dedicate it to service. Don’t just donate money–that’s wonderful, keep doing it if you can–but donate your time, too. Serve your neighbors. Serve your community. Serve your country or serve the world–but do something for someone else.

8. Time is limited so use it for what matters most.

Life is precious, and you shouldn’t waste a single moment of it–so why waste time with things that don’t matter? That angry driver in the car next to you, that rude person at the laundromat–they mean nothing, so why waste time getting frustrated and making yourself miserable? A conscious choice is as powerful as any thought–and in a moment, you can choose to ignore all these little mishaps that in the end only deter you from what matters.

What matters is where you need to devote your time. For me it means pursuing equal rights for the LGBT community, combating poverty to the extent I’m able to, learning as much as I can so I can lead a successful life with the ones I love–but for you, maybe it’s something entirely different. That’s not for me to decide, but once you decide what matters to you–and don’t let yourself be fooled by listening to what others tell you should matter, because they don’t know anything–that’s where you need to put your time.

9. If you try to do everything, you will succeed at nothing.

Sometimes, however, there are more things that matter than what we’re able to do. The fall semester destroyed me this year–I was constantly overwhelmed, stressed the whole time, and performed poorly in almost everything I did–because I tried to do everything.

People asked me if there was anything I could cut, and I confessed there was nothing–and it was, unfortunately, the honest truth. Those things that mattered most to me took the most time, but at the expense of other things that mattered, and what I would have cut if I could was tied both to my paycheck and my housing. There was no compromise.

The one positive to come from any of this is–now that I’ve failed so devoutly–I’ve seen that what I thought mattered most, isn’t really what matters most when it’s all over: The change I make fighting poverty has been trivial compared to the losses I’ve had in making the effort, and despite the contributions to equality from fighting this battle, my highest passion remains in the LGBT community–and that’s where I want to place my time.

Next semester I’m still contracted into all the commitments I’ve trudged along with this semester, but things will be different in the fall. It’ll be painful to sever some of the ties I’ve made to keep moving forward, but I know these changes are mandatory to achieve the success I need to create the change I want to see.

I imagine I’ll be no less happy or fulfilled concentrating my efforts where it matters most–I won’t care any less for those endeavors I can’t commit to, but the effect I have on the world will be all the greater because of my sacrifices and my focus on one vision.

It’s admirable to want to do everything, but it’s a disservice to attempt it all.

Jump to Part 3

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