I had a conversation with someone I respect and admire very much yesterday. Over the course of the last two years, this person has really taught me a lot. She’s also a woman on a mission right now. She’s had years of experience doing her work in the world and advocating for her people. Yet now, ironically, at the end of her career she is being called to something even greater than her work, even bigger than herself, and I have a feeling her true work may only just be beginning.
For the past few months she has been gently guiding some of us to open our eyes and see the danger she sees coming down the road. This danger, as she sees it, is headed directly for our children. When she and I have talked about this in the past her eyes have shone, her passion has been monumental, and she is compelling and inspiring. But yesterday, I asked her if she was going to be attending a meeting regarding this very topic that she is so deeply passionate about. She said she hadn’t decided yet. And she looked a little deflated. She told me that she has been trying to fire people up, and get someone to take the ball and run with it, and she’s not feeling like it’s having an impact. She wants to see more of us take more action. See more of us stand up and say: “I don’t think so.” She feels as though she is the only one getting upset.
It made me feel both sad and a bit guilty when we had this conversation yesterday. I am one of those people who could pick this ball up and run with it. But I haven’t. And maybe I won’t. I don’t know. Because here’s the thing I really wanted to say to her yesterday. Being a trailblazer? It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for the ones who give up easily, or turn back often. Mostly though, being a trailblazer is lonely. You don’t lead the pack, you’re just trying to FIND a pack. Often (almost always) you’re trying to convince skittish, unsure people to join you. It’s a bit like herding deer. The slightest movement sends them off. People give you all kind of reasons and excuses for why they can’t possibly join your movement: not enough time, too tired, too busy, too anything. But the truth, at least for me, is usually that I am either scared or ignorant. In this particular situation ignorance was my starting point. I didn’t know almost anything about the issue. I hadn’t wanted to learn. I kept hoping it might just go away. Then I educated myself, and I still feel like I don’t know anything about the issue. In fact, I’m more confused than ever. And if this issue was just about me, I might take a giant leap of faith and try things the new way, or join the new pack and protest. It’s not that easy though; this issue deeply affects my children. That stops me in my tracks.
I know that inaction is not helpful. At some point I will have to make a decision and move forward. But I need people like you to keep blazing the trail. I know it’s lonely. I know you might feel like a lone wolf at times. I also know it’s risky and scary for you. But I’m watching you. I’m watching and learning. I’m deciding if I want to fall into the pack with you, or if I’m going to be my own lone wolf for a while longer. Trailblazing is like that. It always has to begin with the people who are at the forefront. They are the ones who know best what certain changes bring. The rest of us can only guess. It must be like watching someone stand on the train tracks. Disaster is imminent, and they don’t see the train coming yet.
I’ve been a trailblazer before, and as I said above, it’s often a very lonely, unsure existence, peppered with moments of great excitement, conviction, and victory, often to be followed by the lowest of lows, and a sense that things are almost turning against you. Being a trailblazer may be the epitome of one step forward, eight steps back. And then there are the dangers: we get jaded, bitter, and resentful. We feel abandoned. Because human beings can be fickle and unsure, and will leave you at a moment’s notice if things look uneasy in the direction you are headed. Safety is always the number one concern for a group, and a trailblazing is a risky proposition.
Guarding against resentfulness, bitterness, and cynicism may be the most important job of a trailblazer. I know of only one way to do this: love. A funny thing, the idea of love in trailblazing. But most of us trailblaze out of love. It’s almost impossible to devote the energy we need to a cause if it weren’t for love. But love of the cause is not enough. It’s not enough to sustain you when you start to wonder if you’ve lost your mind for choosing this course of action. Only love of humanity can do that. Being able to love everyone (even your opponents…yes, even them) is tantamount to any success trailblazing. Loving your opponent starts with being willing to hear their side of the story. Being willing to listen to their WHY’s. Remember, they are just as sure they are right as you are. They have just as much passion for their cause as you do. Understanding that, and loving them for it, go a long way toward your long-term mental sanity.
At the end, what I really want to say is: Thank you. So much of what we have today, all of it really, is due to trailblazers. People who put everything on the line to fight for what they believe in. Trailblazing has always felt like an uphill battle, but if you find a cause that you’re willing to trailblaze for, consider yourself lucky. That kind of passion and conviction doesn’t come around more than a few times in our lives. Embrace it. Embrace your opponents. And keep on blazing the trail.
From the get-go, there are those who may take issue with the title of this blog post; namely my husband, who would prefer to tell everyone that I bou...