It was late in the day when the email came in: “I have your new assignment for this month,” the message read. “Your insight will be on giving back, and all the ways that you’ve motivated others,” my editor informed. “What…what does he mean?” gripping my computer, I asked aloud. I felt the sinking feeling in my stomach right away. Oh, no. No! I was just having a talk with my confidante Hugo about this. We agreed, that for the most part, giving back should be a private affair. One misses the point if it’s more about the praise than about the act.
I remember discovering a couple of years ago while visiting Graceland, how only after Elvis Presley passed away was it disclosed that he had given thousands upon thousands of dollars to different charities throughout his career. I am no Elvis, clearly, but the point I’m arriving at is that coming upon that information made me admire him even more. He could have been public about it, but it was about the act of being charitable that counted most — not the acclaim.
My affliction (it is an affliction) for wanting to motivate others has always been a private endeavour. This hero complex I can’t shake is far too personal. It makes me feel vulnerable and even anxious to discuss it. Our shadows are always struggling for a better position, and attempting to ‘one up’ our more virtuous parts. My shadow is in constant conflict with my Pollyanna side. And it’s simply human nature — our need to balance the good with the not so pretty. Being of service, perhaps is how I find balance in that dichotomy.
Alas, my editor was resolute: All these inspiring talks you do, people whose lives you’ve touched. Patti [side note: she’s our mutual friend] told me during a recent gathering that you’ve changed her life and given her a level of self-esteem she would have never thought imaginable just by being there for her and keeping it real. What you did for your mother and grandmother, putting your personal life on hold for so long to take care of them when your mom suffered a stroke, how you’ve pushed people out of their comfort zone so they can make themselves open to finding true love. The list of how you’ve positively affected individual souls throughout your life is endless. It’s time to share parts of your story with the world.
I sat and procrastinated over this. Found every excuse not to start the article and just sort of researched other topics. And then I had a heart-to-heart with my mentor who delivered a godsmacking one-liner: “You’re being selfish by not sharing and motivating others with this opportunity. I’ve never known you to be selfish.” That’s all it took. That line. And the idea that I was withholding value or goodness or ‘an opportunity’ from someone sent me diving headfirst into this piece.
“My shadow is in constant conflict with my Pollyanna side. And it’s simply human nature — our need to balance the good with the not so pretty. Being of service is perhaps how I find balance in that dichotomy.”
The first example I ever had of the importance of being of service or doing a compassionate deed for someone in need came from my grandpa. A military man, he was disciplined, ethical, a ferocious leader, strict but gentle, and a person of his word. He was a man who spent weekends doing volunteer work; gathering supplies for Nicaraguan refugees, who similar to Cubans, had to flee their homeland. I was but 7 years old when I started joining him on his weekend endeavours to help others. From him I learned the importance of kind acts, kind words and having kindness as a coat of arms. He passed away when I was 14, but the example he set early in my life helped shape me.
Around the same time of my grandpa’s passing, I recall being impacted by a passage I read in a book assigned in school. The passage was: no one has ever become poor by giving. That book was the Diary Of Anne Frank. She was all of 15 when she began her entries, perishing at the hands of the Nazis in a concentration camp by 16. Even with the pain and calamity unfolding all around her, she embraced love. She remained steadfast to the notion of abundance in place of lack, and hope in place of hate. We’re all born with some adversity to overcome, and as the old adage goes, to whom much is given much is expected. If the obstacles thrown in my direction or those thrown in your direction are far more bearable, why not assist ‘thy neighbor’ whose hardship in life might very well be unbearable? How does one walk around this earth, with peace in one’s heart, knowing there’s so much need in this world? I struggle with that.
Joseph Campbell has referred to the human path as “the road of trials.” Author Elizabeth Gilbert elaborates on that idea by stating: “every obstacle, and challenge we work through adds depth of character and resilience — you gain power and shed fears.” It’s through human life lessons that we connect to the soul — to our inner amazing grace. To be able to assist one person, or two, or come together as a community to serve many, is to be useful. As Charles Dickens believed, “no one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
Most recently, with all the sojourns abroad as a travel writer, I’ve been able to immerse myself in many different cultures. I’ve visited many countries and enjoyed many luxuries, as well as seen firsthand the need that’s in the world. From this, the idea of adventureteering began. Now when I travel, I dedicate one to two full days to being of service, and I get others involved as well. I’ve volunteered with a homeless shelter in Istanbul, as well as assisted in feeding Syrian refugees. I’ve gathered school supplies for an orphanage in Morocco and spent the day doing arts & crafts at a school for underprivileged indigenous children in Mexico. I dedicated one weekend in Los Angeles to assisting handicapable animals find foster homes. And most recently, I got together with my “local tribe” and helped donate lightly used clothes and supplies to a shelter for abused women in Miami. It’s become, not just a passion, but also my purpose, to combine an opportunity for adventure in any new destination I visit.
Is it really being selfless to do this? I have to admit that it makes me feel good. Isn’t that being somewhat selfish? The end result, I gather, is what matters. To bring awareness to causes, assist in whatever capacity I’m able to, lead by example, and to leave this place — when it’s my time to go — a bit better than when I arrived.
I’ll close with a quote by Princess Diana, one of the most influential humanitarians of our time: I want to do, not just to be. I challenge you to go out into this life and do. Don’t just exist, wandering around life aimlessly — live with a purpose, and let your purpose be to help as many people who cross your path as possible. It just might change the world, even if just a little bit.