Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

No Ordinary Conference

If I don't do this now, I will be caught up in the roiling seas of my days, and I may never find the time.

This morning, my run took me to cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. I sat on the trail's edge, listened to the birds clattering, gazed out at that blue expanse painted with currents and light, and felt that the air was my skin. I was utterly happy, and yet my mind would not cease its churning.

This is the first weekend of my life when I have felt truly old. It was the first weekend when I have felt regret for my past. I have never felt so torn down and unsure of my personal convictions, of the path I set myself on. Nor have I ever felt so inspired, so alive, so determined, and so hopeful.

It may be hard to believe that all this came from just a conference of just a day and a half. But this was no ordinary conference. This was a gathering of 1100 students and professional (but mainly students) from over 100 countries, a convergence of students who had made commitments to do something impactful in the realms of education, environment, poverty alleviation, peace & human rights, and public health. We came from so many backgrounds and beliefs, but we all shared one goal: to make a difference for this world.
And bringing us together was President Bill Clinton, who through CGI had gathered panelists ranging from the former mayor of Juarez, to the originator of LEED for homes, to oceanographer Sylvia Earle, to Kennedy Odede to Sean Penn.  Joining those big names were college students who had started projects and programs and companies to change something about their world.

Fearlessness. Perhaps that is the best word to describe many of these students. Again and again we spoke of the boon of naivete, that not knowing what doesn't work makes for the best innovation and perhaps even the best solutions. Everyone I spoke to had this commitment of an idea that hadn't been done before where they were, something new, something to better the place they lived in. Some had hit roadblocks, but they were bouncing back, reassessing, still determined.

It struck me, as I flew back across the country, that what has destroyed me most as I have lived is that I have learned too much from experience. I think I know where the walls are, so I turn before I reach them. But what it takes, in actuality, is the headlong determination to run through the wall.  I once promised myself I'd never do something because it was the only thing left - that I would not choose a vocation by process of elimination. I also promised myself I wouldn't have regrets, only learning to move forward from.

But when I think back on my last couple of weeks at Fuqua, and perhaps, even longer back, I see how much I gave in to my own fear. How much I stopped standing up and standing out, because I wanted people to like me and accept me as part of the group. Maybe there are things to be said for not being a "gunner," but nothing great has ever come of practicing the habit of sitting back.

It's late. I'll have to continue more tomorrow or the next day. There are still many stories to tell, and much to say.
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