Why Give of Yourself

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I spent much of my childhood in Africa, as my family followed my father’s construction work to Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. It was truly fascinating to be constantly exposed to so much incredible nature and wildlife, as we took every opportunity to drive around the countryside and visit the abundance of national parks, conservation areas, and game reserves.

The time I spent in the Serengeti, in particular, was really captivating and helped me draw some useful parallels to the world I returned to.

In the Serengeti, there are are all kinds of amazing animals, including giant herds of gnu, zebras, and gazelles, smaller groups of elephants, giraffes, and hyenas, and more solitary animals like lions, cheetahs, and rhinos. Most animals keep to themselves, whether in their group or in a tree alone somewhere, and even though they all live together in one ecosystem, their characteristics, habits, and values are very distinguishable from one another, just like with people.

I was always very jealous of my friends, who were great at knowing and living their “animal species” (whether they realized it themselves or not). Many of them still ventured out of their comfort zones by traveling or living abroad or going into different jobs than their parents, but eventually they found a way back to their hometown or married their high-school sweetheart.

For the longest time, I was super frustrated that I could not figure out my own animal species.

I had great friends in the gnu, zebra, and gazelle herds (who taught me about community and the joys and importance of belonging); I had wonderful friends in the elephant, giraffe, and hyena groups (who taught me about the benefits of being part of a tightly-knit group that can laugh together and follow each other through good and bad); and I felt inspired, strong, and independent with my lion, cheetah, and rhino friends (who taught me about the qualities of standing alone, going for what I wanted, and being bullish about holding my ground). But even with such great people in my life, I was discontent with the fact that I was still joining groups rather than truly belonging to one of them. There just wasn’t any one species I could completely identify myself with.

Eventually, I realized that perhaps I was a shapeshifter, really good at truly blending in, and that my animal is none of them and all of them at the same time.

This notion felt right, but also terribly lonely, and I realized that I had actually had felt quite lonely for most of my life, moving around the “Serengeti” and learning, absorbing, and functioning within the different norms and values of each species.

I have met a few other shapeshifters in my life, and they have all been wonderfully interesting and alluring people, because they have seen so much, been able to absorb so many ways of living, and consciously or unconsciously been able to stand alone in it all. Sometimes they are troubled people in one way or the other, because they are convinced deep down that perhaps there is something wrong with them. But the most interesting thing about them is how much they are able to care (regardless of how they may sometimes be experiencing or expressing it).

I have come to love being a shapeshifter with the ability to seamlessly sneak my way into all kinds of different animal groups without anyone ever noticing that I don’t actually belong there.

And the more I do it, the better I get at it. It is such a fascinating way to journey into different worlds and get to experience them with such genuineness. It has also taught me something about the responsibility of contributing energy to one’s surroundings. I realize that sometimes people misunderstand this aspect of my personality and judge me for being “a bit much” or “quite energetic” (in a condescending way), when I am interested and engage with people around me, while they themselves stick to their posture and often end up leaving each other hanging in the group dynamic.

I think it is a shame when people only choose to involve themselves when it is something they are interested in or can get something out of.

It is a terrible disservice to rob oneself of the opportunity to care, even if it is just a “boring” stranger that you are stuck with at a dinner party that you will never meet again. In a world where there are finite physical places to go, I think journeying into other people is where the true traveling begins…