Last week I had a chance to present at the Aspen Challenge in Denver to a group of high school students that had been selected for a unique opportunity. As teams, they would be challenged to have an impact in their schools and their communities on critical issues, and through the course of a two day conference, they would received the encouragement, skills and inspiration that would set them on their way. I was there for added inspiration, and there is almost nothing I have done that I found more intimidating than trying to inspire a room full of hungry high school students, since my talk was scheduled right before lunch and just after three hours of presentations by some of the most inspiring speakers I’ve ever seen.
So I had no trouble imagining how some of these high school students might feel, being asked to generate something great and not knowing exactly where to begin. So I talked about how I began, and I focused on where I had found that being confused, angry, or afraid had often helped me find my way to do something that mattered to me, and that helped me figure out who I was. It was so meta, as I was in the middle of doing something that I was asking them all to do. And it worked – if not for them, then for me.
As a result of participating in the Aspen Challenge, I was reminded that every potentially great moment starts with a little moment of fear and uncertainty. I feel renewed in my desire to push myself into uncomfortable places, places of uncertainty, and to recognize, as Rilke said, that first we must live the questions, experience everything, and the answers come much later, almost as if by accident. In practical terms, this is a great way to stat the year in a new role, focused 100% on developing creative new partnerships for Acumen. Feel free to watch the talk – it covers my story, Acumen’s work, and our leaderships philosophy, and an exhortation to keep challenging ourselves to do a little more than we think we can, and to find that community that makes it safe to take a risk.
I will have a chance to see what these students do next, what challenges they take on, and which ones successfully pitch their ideas and get to present them at the Aspen Ideas Fest. I have no doubt they will continue to inspire me, in large part by reminding me that it is never too soon (or apparently too late) to take a chance and try to change the world.