I had the idea to start this blog all the way back in March 2014, and I launched on May 22nd of that year (to coincide with the anniversary of my college graduation).
True story: Back then, I actually considered not writing anything about learning languages or foreign cultures at all. The reason why? I didn’t think I was qualified. I thought everyone would fact check me and I would feel so guilty that I would have to shut down the site.
And then several years later I find myself on one of my esteemed mentors’ blogs as well as interviewed by a translation agency and eventually making a video of myself speaking 31 languages, and had been featured in several Jewish newspapers because of it. (AND I’ve been invited to speak at a school! And at other Jewish institutions!)
An important lesson: a lot of discouragement exists in the world. You shouldn’t be thinking “I would like to, but”, but rather “I would like to, and I have a plan to” (or intend to ask enough people so that I can make that plan).
I wanted to make this post something powerful that you would remember, and as a result here it is:
BE ANYTHING, DO ANYTHING, GO ANYWHERE
For those of you who know something about me outside of this blog, you’ll know that I’m a game designer as well as a language instructor (who is more than happy to teach you).
My backbone series of games, “Kaverini”, is emblazoned with holy words on every one of its gaming products: “Be Anything, Do Anything, Go Anywhere”.
Since I was 11 years old I’ve noticed that the world is an almighty crusher of dreams. Many years later and it seems that it shows no sign of letting up.
I’ve seen one thing that’s been getting stronger throughout myself, and maybe it has to do with aging, maybe it has to do with technology, or something else entirely, but I’ve noticed people are getting significantly more scared. Of everything.
Of making their visions become true.
Of getting outside of their immediate friend circles
Of even doing anything that may actually make them distinctive or make them “stand out”.
Of nonconformity in general.
Of too many other things.
Throughout the globe, we are being transformed into followers, I’ve seen this everywhere.
These times are not the times to mince words.
We cannot afford to be followers anymore.
In interacting with other people, I get complimented very regularly, especially at language exchange events. But often a lot of these is “your mind must work in interesting ways” or “you must have a talent”.
NO NO NO!
What I’m going to reveal to you was one of my most closely guarded secrets. But in times of trouble, I’ll need to reveal it.
My mind may indeed work in interesting ways and maybe I do have a talent of sorts, but I can tell you how I got it.
What I actually do is I think about what a lot of other people around me aren’t doing, what a lot of people aren’t exploring, and what a lot of people around me aren’t saying.
Since I was 7 or so I realized that I had only one chance to write my story (as far as I know). Since I was 12 I was aware that my own existence, by virtue of being an individual in a capitalistic society, is responsible for destruction and pain somewhere else at any given moment.
I also realized that, had my ancestors made other decisions, given that I am Jewish, I never been given the opportunity to live. Given that privilege, I have to make an extraordinary effort for the many other humans who would have been who have had (and continue to have) those avenues taken from them.
Under no circumstances would I enable myself to live an ordinary life. To talk like most other people, to think like most other people, to write like most other people, to post the sort of pictures online in the manner of most other people.
As a youth, I heard stories of Abraham, David, and Odysseus, ones who were always willing to do things “differently”, and that’s what turns them into heroes in worlds of conformity.
Indeed, up until the end of college it was my intention to follow a predictable path (however nonconformist I was insistent on being), but thanks to job and graduate rejections that didn’t happen.
I got so desperate that I decided that, instead of sending job applications to the Northeastern United States, I would even be willing to traverse oceans for it. It might be painful, but at least it was better than the shame of unemployment.
After tasting many cultures, having had my group identity completely vanish, having had my American accent turn into a mixture of local accents from everywhere that I had been (you’ll hear a lot more of this once I get over my camera-shyness), I came to the realization:
BE DIFFERENT. DO IT DIFFERENTLY. GO ANYWHERE.
I try not to use expressions or clichés that I hear frequently used in my speech. (Instead of saying, “It’s a small world” I would say, “adventurers cross paths in many of the same places”, instead of saying “it’s not all black and white”, I would say “Hollywood morality doesn’t apply here…or almost anywhere, for that matter”).
I try to think about the sort of things that most people around me would not consider doing (leaving school to start a company, unplugging from many forms of popular culture).
I try to pick languages based on almost anything but their “popularity” and “practicality”, and often for sentimental reasons, realizing that I can’t let crowds make my choices. People actually respect my choices a lot MORE because of it! Same for hobbies or interests or topics I’d like to research.
If I have to become a member of a circle or group, I’ll try not to get too attached. Yes, there is some pain involved, but this will always enable me to be the “observer” and the “artist”, the type of people to whom we are indebted for our human story.
Another thing was that since I was young, I’ve seen myself as a rising hero of sort, although of what sort I couldn’t imagine. But just in case the world needed my heroism somehow, I needed to learn as much about the world as I can, to seek wisdom everywhere, and to realize that “It can’t happen” or “you shouldn’t” or “you don’t have the (X) to do that” aren’t good pieces of advice.
I don’t exist for Father Time. Father Time exists for me. Fate exists for me. I will not go silently into the timeline. I will not allow myself to be forgettable.
Yes, maybe you might think of these sorts of beliefs as egotistical in a way. But they’ve worked. They’ve turned me into a character, one who sometimes is silent or doesn’t say or do the right thing, but one who has the “hero spark”.
Almost no one who has ever met me has ever forgotten me (ask ANYONE who knows me in person). Perhaps it wasn’t always for reasons I would be proud of in retrospect, but that’s okay.
There are those who have tried to make me feel bad about my choices, but my story isn’t over yet. And besides, people who want to make you feel bad about your choices are always wrong (remember that!)
Oh, and if you would prefer to not listen to what I have to say here, I very much respect that. You are welcome to have a different life from the one I have and it may work out for you and for all I know I could be very wrong indeed about absolutely everything.
But in case you’re curious where you get that hero spark, it is through being different and doing things differently…in addition to surrounding myself with people who do similar things (or are at least inclined to do so). Ones that are willing to swim against the stream, ones who are willing to make unpopular and sometimes strange choices, ones who venture into depths of human knowledge few have a desire to explore.
Once you find yourself willing to do that and willing to help others explore where you are, you will find yourself with an enthusiasm and a strength that no one will ever be able to quench.
They may not agree with you, they may not even respect you, but they will never forget you.
And neither will you allow yourself to be forgotten.
True to the theme, that sign says “against the stream” in Yiddish (kegn dem shtrom), and I made that scarf myself, choosing the most outlandish colors possible. The scarf still gets me a lot of compliments.