Sunday, September 29

Making a Difference

I had the rare luxury this week of making time to think about life. And about my role in it.

There are people who add to the world through creativity. They find new and incredible ways to combine ideas, and their legacy lasts through art and inventions and scientific growth. 

There are people who add to the world through hard work. They put sweat and tears into building things that last, and their legacy lasts through an improved quality of life that spreads across the globe.

There are people who add to the world through inspiring social change. They rise through the ranks by virtue of something currently valued by society - beauty, talent, or political acumen - and then use their presence to shift cultural tides. Their legacy lasts as culture holds a permanent memory of their ideology.

And there are people who add to the world through their interactions with others. They may not stand in the spotlight. Their greatest accomplishments often leave no physical evidence they existed... but their mastery and character traits - wisdom, willingness to listen, quiet care, kindness, honesty, and any number of other skills - lift and improve the lives of individuals. Their legacy lasts deep in the hearts and actions of those they loved.

I just realized this is going to expose an uncomfortable part of my soul.

I have phases of life when I feel like I'm making a difference. I design an incredible, life-changing product at work. I build something that will last. I engage with others and lift them up.

And I have phases when I feel like I need to be doing more. 

Sometimes it's because I lack self-esteem, or I'm convinced that I'm unworthy of love. And making the world a better place in some measurable way is a proof I can take to myself to show my value... or to convince myself that I'm worth loving (That's the uncomfortable part). My memory is so terrible when it comes to things I've done, though, that I have to do something world-changing pretty much every day of my life to sate my deprecating inner self. I can't remember what I did yesterday, which means anything on my resume doesn't count. While it's uncomfortable to share, at least it motivates me to be better. 

On my better days, I'm motivated from a deep desire to ease pain in the world. I feel like my own life is painful. I'm sure I'm naïve... and that there are others who live with far more. And there are people plenty of people suffering who don't trigger a visceral desire to change their lives. But when it does, it motivates me to care for people and do all I can to lift them up and help them find a better life.

This week (well... to be honest, today and maybe yesterday since I can't remember how I felt earlier this week) I found myself wondering what *I* have to offer the world. 

Over the past few years, I've found names to describe the mountain of mental baggage that follows me everywhere I go. Bipolar depression. Autism. Crippling anxiety. Autobiographical & emotional memory loss. And most recently named - overwhelming fear of abandonment.

On my good days, I see the tough things in my life as stepping stones. Ingredients in life that make me into a man who is absolutely incredible, experiences that make me uniquely qualified to make a difference no one else can make.

On my bad days, I see the tough things *as* my life. I'm autistic, with a history of suicidal depression and crippling social anxiety. I'm wholly unworthy of love. And even if someone wants to be close to me, I can't build a valuable relationship because I forget everything that is important in life... and my fear of abandonment will sabotage any attempt I make.

But that's not who I am, right?

I may be covered in a shell or slime that isn't of my choosing. Things I do or say may get mangled by the circumstances of my mental state. But who I am is the man inside all that. And one of the greatest ways that I can make a difference in the world is by being the best person I can be.

I won't claim that changing my own life is actually the greatest thing I can do. It's a nice platitude, and it may even be true... but when push comes to shove it doesn't motivate me. I'm pretty sure I will always value the people around me, along with their happiness and peace, far above myself. Self-love is great and all, but learning something could improve my life doesn't do much because I'm still learning to care about my own wellbeing. But tell me that changing my life will help me bless someone else, or help relieve their suffering, and it'll actually happen.

I want to be kind. To truly love people and be willing to give everything for them - no matter who they are or their circumstances. I want to love my enemies and do good to those who mistreat me.

I want to be wise. To be able to see meaning and purpose in the difficult, painful parts of life, and to be able to share that somehow with people who are going through trials of their own. To help them find direction and meaning and purpose in their lives.

I want to be real. To be able to love myself, complete with all my flaws and issues and quirks. To be willing to share the journey and the pain and the growth and the struggle that is life, and by doing so, help others to love and develop their own, flawed selves as well. To find hope in something they once thought hopeless, to think possible something once impossible.

I can make a difference in the world. I can design a formula in my lab that lifts someone up, or build something beautiful that will stand the test of time, or write something that touches someone I've never met. I can be kind to both friend and stranger.


I can always do more, but I *do* make a difference in the world.

And, for today at least, that's enough.