Tonight, my tank is full even after an almost fifteen hour day...at almost 11:00pm. This kind of day? Well, I have had both the fortune and misfortune to experience many versions of this kind of day.
What happened today that leaves me still so gassed (sorry, I had to do it) so close to my bedtime? Well, it was people.
People are my fuel. They keep me going, and even in those moments when I feel that I can't continue, I am able to find my inspiration in people.
At times I have questioned my relationship to "people." My need to feel accepted by people, my need to be liked, my need to serve people, my need to be connected to people. Just recently I haven't been so sure that my strong and seemingly inherent gravitation toward people has been a good thing. Do I look for acceptance a bit too much? Does my overflowing friendliness just get me into trouble sometimes (more on this later)?! After a day like today...really thinking about a day like today, I know that people are my gasoline. I cannot deny this because it is -- at once -- what makes me who I am, and able to do the work that I do.
I work toward change because I care about people. If I deprive myself of connecting with people the way that I want to, I won't feel as alive with my work.
I know that I am fortunate to have days like today. Because of the interactions I had with a handful of people, I have been inspired to forge ahead with difficult situations, I have been encouraged to think of new ways, and I have been made hopeful.
I feel both fortunate and unfortunate to be so strongly driven by my connection to people.
Fortunate because I am able to draw so much inspiration and energy from my positive interactions with others. Sometimes, the kind words of one person can completely encourage me to do things I thought myself incapable of doing.
Unfortunate because if I hit a stretch where I am isolated and not around people for a while, or if I have some disheartening interactions with people, my tank can be quickly drained (if I am not careful). I have had to learn how to carry around some back-up fuel to avoid this pitfall.
I am aware more than ever, that I really need to be conscious of my tank -- and to make sure that I fill it up when the needle starts drifting toward empty (but never ever lazily waiting to hit the big red 'E'). It has taken me a while to learn the importance of this since I am also someone who appreciates good alone time. If I am alone too much, I begin to feel disconnected from people, and as a result, disconnected from my work (all of my work -- my full-time job, my volunteer work -- all of it surrounds people, so connections are vital). I think my performance really depends on how much fuel I have. Here is what the different levels look like:
A full tank may be achieved through:
*Deep conversations with people where we each leaves feeling more connected, understood, and cared for.
*Connecting with someone you don't know so well yet, and realizing that you have so much in common.
*A moment where your passion for something is shared by another, and you add to each other's excitement.
*Passing by a stranger in the street, catching eyes and smiling simultaneously.
*Witnessing a random act of kindness between two strangers.
*Initiating a random act of kindness or being the recipient of one.
*Seeing evidence of your ability to have an impact even though the problems of society can appear to be daunting.
*Hearing from a like-minded friend or colleague and feeling strengthened, knowing that you aren't in the fight alone.
*Feeling connected to your "neighbors" - it's simple, but engaging with the people who live and work beside you can be so fulfilling. Many people think that there's no need to make small talk with "the guy who makes your sandwich every day," but I think that those brief interactions make people's lives more pleasant. It's a shift from a mechanical exchange to one that I think is more humane.
*Seeing someone else work just as hard as you are, to make positive change.
*Getting to know someone and seeing that they value education and constant learning as much as you do.
*Feeling seen and heard by someone else.
The needle can plunge to "empty" if these kinds of things happen:
*Someone makes a negative assumption about me.
*I witness an act of aggression or am the target of an unnecessary act of aggression.
*I am intentionally ignored or disrespected.
*People are passive-aggressive toward me (or others) instead of being forthright.
*I see injustice (children being mistreated, an act of racism or homophobia).
*I reach out to someone but am not seen or heard.
*People expect the worst of me or each other.
*I witness an effort to divide rather than to bring together.
*People consciously acting without integrity.
*I see someone stepping on another in order to achieve for him/herself.
I suppose both lists can go on and on... The point is that I have figured out that I can be both utterly motivated and disheartened by the people with whom I surround myself. Luckily, I know tons of amazing people who keep me energized and constantly cognizant of why I do what I do. Knowing what fuels me, I know what I need in order to stay empowered. Empowered enough that I may still see the disempowering things around me and continue -- always continue -- to forge ahead.