I am so happy to share with you that I was recently notified that I had been chosen to be a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, class of 2014. As you might know, the World Economic Forum is an international institution, founded by businessman and philanthropist, Klaus Schwab, in 1971, which is committed to improving the state of the world through public-private cooperation. This organization works to build communities that can define challenges, solutions, and actions to promote global citizenship.
The World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders community, as described by YGL director, David Aikman, “assembles the world’s most outstanding next-generation leaders who have a proven record of extraordinary achievement and helps them further develop in their leadership journey.” To get a fuller sense of what this community looks like, take a look at this video:
The honor of being selected as one of the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders is a distinction for which I am both humbled and proud. But, the selection, itself, is only one small part of this honor. The real privilege is in the work that lies ahead, in the opportunity to leverage the World Economic Forum’s influence to make the world a more just place. As Young Global Leaders, that is the charge the 214 new members have been given, and that is what makes this honor unlike any other I’ve ever gotten.
It was the work I have done in stem cell research, and helping to bridge the divide between scientific knowledge and what is known about scientific knowledge, that precipitated my nomination and selection into the Young Global Leaders community. This is a cause I have been proud to contribute to, in the hopes that my efforts could help make the path to medical breakthroughs a smoother and less impeded one. Through opportunities that might present themselves through my involvement in the YGLs, I hope to bring the issue of science and stem cell research to the attention of stakeholders who can help mobilize broad social awareness and action: people like Pope Francis and other religious leaders, heads of state, industry leaders, and scientists, themselves. The advancement of important scientific endeavors, like stem cell research which has the potential to positively impact people around the world, is a multidimensional matter and can best take place when everyone is included. In addition, I expect that my involvement in the Young Global Leaders will focus centrally on the work I have done to empower individuals and communities, and to bring to the public consciousness health-related and community-based challenges that people face that so often can go unaddressed. This is work that I neither underestimate nor take lightly. It is my hope that, through my involvement in the World Economic Forum and the Young Global Leaders, I can bring even greater attention to the circumstances people from all parts of society and all levels of ability face.
After what has been an admittedly very long hiatus, I am rekindling my blogging and sharing my thoughts with you. Why has it been so long? Well, over the past two years, I have focused my time and attention to finishing my PhD (mission accomplished in 2012) and the work, teaching, and writing that followed it. I know that, through this experience, I’ve grown intellectually, but what I think is much more important is that, over this past year, I’ve changed so much personally and emotionally, in ways that I never really expected or even envisioned before. I’m so much more honest with myself and open about my life that it’s a source of empowerment, a manifestation of confidence.
I don’t think there’s any one reason for what precipitated this change in outlook and inner strength. Maybe it’s that I have come to terms with different types of heartache in my life, because, after all, I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t grappled with heartache. Or, maybe it’s that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to care far less about what people think and much more about what is right and noble. Or, maybe it’s that I’ve come to be inspired by people who made me realize that my role in their lives is something valuable and meaningful. Or, maybe it was the intersection of all of these, happening at just the right time. But, whatever the reason, I feel privileged, I feel honored, and I feel like I have a lot of talking to do.
At this point in my life, it’s hard for me to be anything other than honest and no holds barred. What’s the point of doing otherwise? By virtue of my physical situation (circumstances, disability, accident, paralysis, whatever title you want to give it), I have nothing to hide nor feel ashamed about. But, that’s just me, that’s everyone. The level of self-censorship, self-loathing, and self-shaming that so many of us place on ourselves is no antidote to the already very real social censorship, loathing, and shaming that we all feel on a daily basis and which prevents us from learning or becoming stronger people. I see this every single day through the people with whom I come in contact and the students I teach. That’s pretty terrible and pretty frightening. I think we falsely protect ourselves from accusations of weirdness by gravitating to the mean or one narrowly-measured standard deviation on either side. I think we tend to conform our vocabulary and storytelling to meet the norm because the extremes are messy and hard to handle. But, that does exactly nothing in the way of good, and that’s just not the way it is. Life is unrelenting, and this is a bullshit-free zone.
I imagine that many of you are visiting my site for the first time today, after just having watched The Brooke Ellison Story. I also imagine that this is a somewhat unusual way to get to know someone, through seeing a movie about her life. The Brooke Ellison Story first aired on television nearly 8 years ago, and even to this day, it still strikes me as odd when people tell me they have seen it. For all of us, life is not what we ever expect it to be, and the inevitable challenges that befall us are not what make us who we are. It’s the desire to overcome these challenges that does. I am not unique in this, as the existence of challenge is one of the dimensions of humanity that unites us all. I do, though, feel quite privileged in the opportunity I’ve had to share my life with you because, though challenge befalls us all, sometimes we need a little reminder about how much stronger we are than we believe ourselves to be.
There are plenty of times when I, like anyone else, experience many of the frustrations that intrude our hearts. Whether those emanate from struggles with being denied some of the opportunities that others have, from a relationship that didn’t turn out the way I had hoped or expected, or from any unanticipated turn that might be thrown in what I may have thought to be a steady path, there are times when life can seem victimizing. But, in every single one of these instances, every single time the shadows seem to be lengthening into the sunlight, I’m reminded of how truly and exceedingly fortunate I am. And, the reasons I’ve been so fortunate are a result of the challenges I’ve faced.
I can think of no greater example than the fact that you are here, visiting my website, and reading some of the things I have to say. If it weren’t for the unexpected and difficult events in my life, I would never have had the opportunity to share this life with you. If it weren’t for the heartache or sense of struggle that I have undergone, I might not have learned how we have the ability to not just live but, in fact, do incredible things despite it. And, were it not for living so close to vulnerability, I might not have come to understand compassion, strength, or love as deeply as I have.
In varying degrees, that’s the case for all of us. It doesn’t take experiences like mine to know the depth of challenge, nor does it take experiences like mine to realize that there is purpose and beauty to be found in it. If coming in contact with my story might help some reach that understanding, then I couldn’t possibly think of any greater purpose in my life. After all, I would say that the best any of us can do is live our lives as best we can, and hope that we affect some people for the better along the way.