The most courageous act you will ever commit is to simply be yourself.
I rarely speak in absolutes, but after living (almost) 27 years and having a variety of experiences, ranging from the darkest nights of my soul to moments of ecstasy, I can confidently say it takes sheer courage to be all of who we are.
While living in China, one of the most prominent cultural differences I noticed was the idea of sacrifice and duty to one’s family, culture, and society. Of course, American culture also has these qualities—they’re just more hidden. I still often receive e-mails from my Chinese students asking me for advice: “Jackie, what should I do with my life? My parents want me to become an accountant, but I think that’s boring. I would rather be a writer and travel the world like you.”
Needless to say, when I decided to move to the middle-of-nowhere China after graduating from a prominent university, not everyone was pleased with this idea, and several more didn’t understand. It was extremely difficult to look doubters in the eyes and still go through with something that seemed incredibly illogical at the time. “You’re giving up a job at one of the largest publishing firms in New York to go to rural China and get paid $250 a month? Are you crazy?”
Was it crazy to follow my heart and my own path or is it a symptom of insanity that it would be considered “crazy” to fully lead one’s own life? I have no regrets about my decision to move to Ningyuan. Was it one of the most enriching and simultaneously difficult years of my life? Absolutely–I grew 10 years in one.
A couple of years ago, I started writing an essay entitled, “Happy People Don’t Make War.” The entire premise of the essay was my belief that if people were given permission from their societies and most importantly, from themselves, to be who they truly are, there would be peace on earth. When we continually sacrifice our true heart’s desires for our family, or our society, or our vocation, seeds of resentment begin to build. Dreams that once seemed attainable, now seem distant. Hope slowly dies and sadness, confusion, and despair set in to be passed on to the next generation. “I had to go through it, so you do too,” or “This is the way things are.” But it’s not the way things need to be…
John Lennon was a brilliant master when he wrote “Imagine.” In 129 words he outlined a drastically different world than the one he lived in and did so without offending people. He used the word “imagine” and rather than commanding that people change, invited them to explore an idea and its possibilities: “Imagine there’s no heaven; Imagine no possessions; Imagine there’s no countries.”
Imagine a world where we all love ourselves as we are and love others for who they are in all moments with all their perfect imperfections. Imagine a world where there are no limits. Imagine a world where there is peace on earth.
The bravest act you will ever commit is to be true to you and who you are. Just because that’s the way you’ve always done it, doesn’t mean it’s the way you have to do it now.
Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I believe our world can change. I believe that a peaceful world begins with peaceful hearts, and peaceful hearts begin with appreciating our own uniqueness and that of those around us.