To the Brave Souls Who Challenge Their Systems

I was sitting in my living room, staring up at the shapes the sun made on the wall, listening to nothing, pushed by nothing, urged by nothing, rushed by nothing. I was free to just be bored for a moment. And that moment was sweet enough that I wanted to share it (and share what made it possible) with my friends.

It was an innocent thought, really, but I should have realized it would be a challenge. You see, the thing that made that moment possible was a career shift, and my friends were still on the other side of that shift.

In the end, my idea of altruism beat out my better judgment, so I shared my moment with them anyway, duly attributing it to my new career. I mean, all but two of them had asked for input on it privately anyway. I was a DA before and now I was in private practice. They wanted to know how I liked it. Sharing shouldn’t have been too out of place.

But it was.

A single message on a group thread.

Sitting out in the open.

Looking naked.

No sooner had I shared it then I realized my mistake in doing so. I immediately received a message back that read something like this:

“[Obligatory kind words about your choice] [conjunction that immediately obliterates any previous kind words about your choice] [sentence that denotes my conviction to never question or abandon my current choice] [holier-than-thou connotation, for good measure].”

Now, whether my friend actually felt what I’ve just attributed to her is not for me to say. But it got me thinking anyway. It got me thinking about all the very brave souls who go there and who face it. Who let the scary things happen.

What do I mean? My friend, in my thought experiment (and maybe in real life too), was challenged by what I said. It was a scary thing. She has devoted countless hours to her career, has endured immeasurable anxiety and stress for it, has missed opportunities for it, has surrendered relationships to it. She has near-literally built her life around it. And she believes in it. She believes in the system.

If I challenge it, if I say I like a new thing better, if I say I no longer believe fully in that system, that there might be better ways, then what if part or all of what I say is “right” or “true”? What if the thing she built her life on can be torn down? What if it ought to be? What if she isn’t actually fighting the fight she thinks she’s fighting? What if she isn’t actually making things better in the long run? Did she sacrifice her life for rubble? It’s a scary thing.

I wanted to tell my friend that I could see her fear. I could see it in the swiftness with which she replied. I could see it in the fierceness with which she defended her position. I could see it in the emotion she thought was in the air, though it wasn’t.

I wanted to remind her that just because someone challenges your structure, it does not mean that they’re trying to break up your entire foundation. You don’t always have to knock it down; you don’t always have to demolish. Sometimes you can just expand, fortify, or even just redecorate. Maybe the system is flawed, but maybe it’s still a good starting point. I wanted to say that. But it was no longer the time.

Instead, I walked away with a renewed pride in all my friends who go there, who face the scary things, who let the challenges in. And this friend might well be one of those in time (you can never judge the initial reaction to a belief-system-challenge; it takes any reasonable person some time to calm down and really consider it).

So here’s the kicker:

Yes, it is important to stay safe, to trust the stair you stand on enough to push up toward the next, BUT we must also be willing to look around and question whether we are on the right staircase in the first place.

If we choose to trust the stairs because they have brought us upward, but we turn a blind eye to the world around those stairs, how will we know whether or not they’re even headed where we want to go?

What if we are the hamster in the wheel? What if we are the child bride of a fundamentalist leader? What if we are the cog in the system? What if we are heiling pre-genocidal leaders? What if we are the death of creativity? What if we are the roadblock to better ways, better methods, better systems?

Challenge your belief system. Listen to others’ ideas. Get curious.

It does not have to mean destruction or demolition of past ideals. And even when it does, it most certainly also means new growth and enrichment.

So here is to all those who have embraced a massive shift (voluntarily or involuntarily), a challenge to their systems. To all of those who have dismantled a fundamental belief, who have examined the scary things that come out when you’re willing to get curious, to open a box for good or for bad (but almost always for good), who have let in a thought, who have listened to another side. And here’s to all those who have stood around to watch the building of greater things amongst the rubble of what once was.

You are brave. And it matters.