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As I navigate my way through college and career, I’ve found myself thinking more and more on choices. Most of my choices are cheap — quite literally — like, “What should I get at the campus Taco Bell that will fit within my budget?” Some are more important like “should good grades sacrifice my ability to retain information long-term?” In reality, no choice is too small to consider. Making choices is fulfilling because as we exert our will upon life, we gain confidence in our ability to change.
Last year I partnered with a friend to take medical supplies to the Venezuelan border and give them to refugees. It was done completely by donations; each penny went directly to the refugees. We filmed a documentary called Paradise Lost: The Fall of Venezuela on the crisis that is currently showing in festivals around the United States. Just this last month it won the prestigious Remi Platinum Award for International Issues at the Houston International Film Festival.
I would like to point out that this was not a normal venture for me. In fact, this was the first documentary I had filmed, and at 23 years old this was also the first international aid mission I had planned and executed. The idea came to me after I broke up with my girlfriend; I realized I had an entire summer on my hands. The project quickly took over my life. I called hospital supply companies, met with freight forwarders, and studied Venezuelan history deep into the night. And when the doubting voice in my head told me I wasn’t ready for something like this, I thought to myself “why not me?”.
So I took control, and chose to jump in with both feet. The choice pushed me to a competitive educational program, a job opportunity, and new friendships. But, most importantly, it left me feeling extraordinarily fulfilled in my life.
Humanity’s greatest heroes, known and unknown, have been forged by the crucible of choice. I would like to define greatness as fulfillment of self. This line of thought stems from Kierkegaard, who taught that choice is the ultimate definition of humanity. As we excise our will upon the universe, we become more human, more genuine. Authenticity lies within intention.
This means that agency is critical to living a human life, and many of Western civilization’s greatest minds have come to this conclusion. In the New Testament Paul writes “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Intention matters. In Steinbeck’s East of Eden he points out that the Hebrew word used in the Bible story of Cain and Abel translates closer to “Thou mayest” rather than “Thou shalt”. Because “… if ‘Thou mayest’ — it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.” Choice matters. Finally, the Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl places our agency at the center of Man’s Search for Meaning. He writes “… each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” Accountability matters.
This is why agency is our greatest gift. Our “unconquerable soul” is arguably the most human thing about us. My choice to follow a dream led me to the realization that, for better or worse, my future lies within my grasp. It also led me to the most authentic human connection I’ve known in my short time on this earth.
I should point out that our decisions do not have to be as dramatic as taking medical supplies to refugees. The importance lies in living pointedly. You can find meaning by working a 9 to 5, devoting your time to a relationship, or practicing a hobby. But you must do so decidedly, and you cannot allow yourself to be in a place because that’s where the Uber of life dropped you off that day. Unless, of course, your decision is to be undecided. Look at your life with a critical eye, and live deliberately. A good way to do this is to go through your daily routine, and ask if you’re doing something as a decision, or as a blindly accepted procedure.
Self-awareness leads to change. It is the moment we take responsibility (and credit) for our own actions that we become authentically human, and that is how we live a rewarding life.
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