Last Sunday (Oct 1), I was invited to speak at the Faith & Life Forum at the Memorial Church at Harvard, as an alumnae, a media entrepreneur, and founder of One in a Billion Productions Inc (a non-profit 501 c3). This Fall, the forum examines the idea of “Redefining Success” with students, faculty and the general public.
I was delighted that the Church sees our digital storytelling platform, which is designed to showcase personal stories of young Chinese striving to succeed in America, as a good fit for sharing lessons and insight.
My topic? Taking a Leap. A leap, as an act of faith, as well as an expression of the human spirit that seeks to experience “the real world”, expand one’s horizon, and one’s capabilities to exercise empathy in the service of others.
Self-described as a “Made in China robot turned creative human,” Mojia has impressed me not so much as a reckless daredevil, but as a realistic dreamer who doubts “the prescribed path of success” for her as she successfully moved from excelling army youth school (9 years) to getting accepted by Beijing University (a top school in China.) While many students her age in China would beg to be in her position of privilege and certainty, she chose uncertainty and unpredictable challenges at age 16.
She decided to leapfrog from a comfort zone (where she grew up and knew all the rules) to America where she hardly spoke any English. She put herself in highly competitive schools to listen to and learn from her peers. Why? How come? She also put herself in heartbreaking places in China, and poverty-stricken areas in Mexico to try and solve emotional and financial problems for those affected through social venture projects she has founded. She always started with little. Yet she keeps leaping from zero to one. From one back to none. She has failed. She has succeeded. She keeps trying. Why? How come? Where in her story do we find pieces of ourselves? How have we taken leaps in our own lives?
I decided to playback my podcast interview with Mojia from Season 1 Episode 1 “Choosing Uncertainty” to stimulate a discussion among our roomful of audience, predominantly White and diverse in their professional background and personal knowledge about China. Some have visited China, many have not.
I pointed our audience to Mojia’s own motivation, that she wanted to see “the real world.” She knew there’s one way of defining success for young people like her in her hometown. She knew she had fulfilled societal expectations by age 16 the moment she got accepted into the top university in China. But she also believes that is just one way to live, it’s not the only way!
Our audience began to raise a variety of questions that turned our focus to the essence of success.
“What’s the real world?”
“Why aren’t more Americans going to China as Chinese keep coming to America?”
“What is failure but a lack of action?”
“Why do we (Americans) have such high opinions of our own creativity?”
What emerges from our animated exchange of views is a kaleidoscope of beliefs that “the real world” are simply different places of “wonder” where we see how people live, work, cope, struggle, suffer in vastly different cultures and circumstances than ourselves. We note differences and discover commonalities. We also understand the extent to which our own ego, a lack of effort and exposure limit our capacities to redefine and re-imagine what’s possible for us in life.
I close by offering one of my firm belief – “Take a Leap, and a net will appear!”
I am not saying that we leap blindly without looking, thinking, or planning. I emphasize searching, researching and praying.
Isn’t it true that sometimes we leap and a net doesn’t appear? Someone immediately asked. Yes, I said. But what does a net look like? What are you looking for? Where do you want to land? Can the net appear as a trampoline that forces you to bounce back higher and off to another spot? Can the net appear as a trap that forces you to disentangle yourself as you find a way out?
The key question is why take a leap? Is it better? How do we know?
As a Christian, I believe taking leaps is better than not. It is a form of spiritual and mental practice as we seek to work with our doubts about ourselves and place our fears in God’s hands through prayers and meditation.
Leaping doesn’t always mean making big and drastic moves geographically. It can be small but a significant stretch of thinking and seeing beyond a host of differences – racial, cultural, class, gender – that divide us. Crossing that divide to render care and service for common good, is already a big leap.