Note to younger self: you were right

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mijosWhen I was 19, I spent a year of college in Mexico, in the state of Michoacán. Half the time I lived with a family in the city of Morélia, and the other half in a small farming village called La Colonia Benito Juárez.

In Benito Juárez, I spent my days talking with the young kids in the community. I was trying to get a sense of how they saw their education and work options, as many of their older siblings, parents and grandparents had been migrant workers to the United States.

Some of their elders had worked close by my grandfather’s peach orchards in Yuba City, California.

What struck me most about the kids was their exuberance and joy. They would spend hours making and spinning wooden tops, or running up the mountains with wooden wheelbarrows, collecting pine resin for their parents.

When I would feel a need for some fresh air and a little space, I would head up the path into the mountains on a walk. Little by little, a parade of kids would line up behind me, as they shouted to each other about the crazy gringa who was taking a walk by herself. I would pretend to not see them for awhile, but then would turn around quickly and watch them collapse into a pile of giggles.

They were living joy.

At that time, I believed I could change the world. Eradicating poverty, improving education, fighting racism, feeding hungry mouths all seemed within reach in my 19 year old eyes. Sure the problems had been entrenched for a few centuries, but surely with compassionate hearts and some really good slide shows, we could fix everything.

As I continued my courses of study, I spent more time in Latin America, in Colombia and Brazil. Our assigned texts evaluated economic and political models. We looked at global institutions like the World Bank and IMF. We studied Paulo Freire and liberation theology.

And slowly, I got discouraged.

The forces that created an enormous gulf between rich and poor felt so deep and entrenched and complicated that I slowly lost enthusiasm. I learned that I would have to spend years studying economics and slowly working my way up large organizations to have any significant impact.

Systemic change, I believed, was the only way to really change the world. Anything else was just spitting in the ocean.

So I began to meander to other fields after college, first in community development, then non-profit educational institutions, then corporate training and development.

And along the way, I began to study the Afro-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira.

We started a youth program and recruited heavily from the mainly Latino neighborhood of The Mission District in San Francisco.

As I taught beginner classes, I talked with the youth. I wanted to see things from their perspective, to understand how they saw the world.

Watching them grow and challenge themselves, gaining physical and mental strength, my enthusiasm for social change returned.


I learned that entire family circles were impacted positively by the good choices of one teenager.

And that loving a young person is living joy. Receiving love back is life changing. Encouraging small circles of love is world changing.

Young entrepreneurs, if I could whisper advice back at myself when I was your age, I would say “Don’t get jaded. People will make everything out to be terribly complicated and heavy, but that is only one way of looking at things. You don’t have to change the whole world, just one tiny corner of it.”

Middle-aged entrepreneurs, if I could whisper something in your ear right now, it is “Listen to your younger self. There are many who will tell you you are not qualified, certified, that you lack pedigree, that your credit score is not perfect and your business background is lighter than milk. Don’t believe them. All you need to do is touch one person’s heart. That is enough.”


Don’t get jaded.

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41 Responses to “Note to younger self: you were right”

  1. […] day, I happened on two other pieces that echoed this theme. The first was Pam Slim’s “Note to younger self: you were right” Young entrepreneurs, if I could whisper advice back at myself when I was your age, I would […]

  2. […] and change the world. Granted. But as Pam Slim recently pointed out, “You don’t have to change the whole world, just one tiny corner of it.” And you need to first be a writer in order to accomplish this. […]

  3. Nick says:

    Thank you for this post. I am young. I am motivated. I just don’t know where I want to get involved or how to do so. I listen to my heart and I know an answer will come along.

    I desire to give back and will hopefully find a avenue to do so.

  4. […] When I was 19, I spent a year of college in Mexico, in the state of Michoacán. Half the time I lived with a family in the city of Morélia, and the other half in a small farming village called La Colonia Benito Juárez. In Benito Juárez, I spent my days talking with the young kids […] Original post […]

  5. Amir says:

    Cool man,thanks for sharing the precious asset of life, truly heart touching

  6. Dena Collins says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am a middle Ager who’d tucked away all of my hearts passions away until the recent months. It encouraged me very much! Taking my first mission trip this Dec & this story really helped me! Thank you again….so much!

    God bless!!

  7. Fantastic story Pam, thanks for sharing it with us.

  8. beth Simpson says:

    Really enjoyed your article, the photo’s and the picture you paint of this world. Thanks for bringing it a little closer.

  9. Wow Pam. This is just amazing. As a young entrepreneur I am taking that whisper to heart and making stuff happen. Thanks for being who you are and for sharing your wisdom and stories with us. You really enrich the world!

  10. Noah Fleming says:

    Beautiful post.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Debbie says:

    Well said Kim!!! Innocent idealism though wonderful and full of energy is often misdirected and lacking focused and part of youth. I agree sinking into discouragment without falling into bitterness is part of maturing and can have a wonderful focused energy.

  12. Kim says:

    I think sinking into discouragement and being jaded is a valuable part of the process of maturing — and by “maturing”, I mean becoming more compassionate, more capable of seeing multiple perspectives, more grounded, more hopeful, and more helpful.

    It tempers us in both senses: softening and breaking us down, and also making us stronger and more resilient.

    The on-fire passion of wanting to change the world — on our terms, in our way, to fit our view of how things should be — overlooks the beautiful simplicity and poignant realization you describe. That, yes, one heart, one person, does make a difference.

    What may look like “spitting in the ocean” may actually carry profound and meaningful change. It’s hard to notice that until we slow down, which feeling discouraged is great at doing.

    So I would say: “It’s ok to feel discouraged and jaded. Keep going, and see what’s on the other side.” In so doing, we have the opportunity to discover our humility as well as our strength.

  13. I was looking for a bit of inspiration tonight, so I clicked over to your blog…and did I ever get inspired! Thank you for this beautiful post. It was fun to hear a bit more about your roots in international development. My own youthful introduction to wanting to change the world also occurred in Mexico: I lived there from ages 6 to 14 (with a one-year hiatus in Costa Rica), and when I started high school, one of my friends had to quit school to go work in a maquiladora to help support her family. Every time I saw her, she’d ask me wistfully what I was learning in school. That certainly gave me motivation to study hard! And it also inspired me to try to make a difference in the world.

    That loss of a dream that you wrote about speaks to the kind of work I am now feeling called to: working as a coach with international development professionals, who many years ago followed their idealism and passion for changing the world into careers in international development, yet who are now finding themselves frustrated, less effective, and yes, even jaded, by the challenges of balancing an ever-increasing workload, managing complex development projects, maneuvering the politics, dealing with difficult bosses and funders and direct reports, managing across cultures, drowning in an overflowing email inbox… I’m excited to help these people navigate a path through the overwhelm and overwork to a place where they can best put their strengths, talents, and passion for changing the world to work. Thank you for being a part of making this happen!

  14. islandmomma says:

    I found your blog via Chris Guillebeau retweeting it. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. I agree wholeheartedly. I let myself become discouraged and cynical too. Then I was busy being a mom a bit late in life, so I only came back to my original ethos at almost 60, and it was like being set free. I would encourage anyone to set themselves free far earlier than I did!

  15. Kaz says:

    What a wonderfully inspiring article!

    Thank you 🙂

  16. @davidahood says:

    Beautiful post Pam, thank you.

    Total serendipity, I read this similarly themed post by Hildy Gottlieb, ‘Encouraging a Young Social Change Agent’, earlier today.
    My comments to Hildy seem well suited here as well, so I’d like to share them…

    After working with nonprofits and in the “social good” sector for 20 years I am still learning what I can do to make a contribution.

    Like yourself, I’ve a very diverse employment and study history. I’m now just starting to realise everything that I felt led to do, has led me perfectly to where I need to be now – working with a number of amazing people on things like

    The trick is to learn to follow your intuition/heart/gut based on your intention (to do good…). Take the advice of those you trust and inspire you. I’ve found many of them on Twitter and had the good fortune to meet them IRL (in real life) and now consider them good friends.

    Also, a few books I’d recommend in line with what you’ve shared are:
    1. ‘The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, C…’ by John Hagel III, John Seely… (affiliate link)
    2. ‘Linchpin: Are You Indispensable’ by Seth Godin (affiliate link)

    Great stuff! Thank you. 🙂

  17. Fi says:

    Yes! A breath of fresh air, thankyou.

  18. Sheila Ledesma says:

    Wow, that was the perfect article to read on a Monday. Thank you!

  19. Alan says:

    Brilliantly put, Pam. Thanks for sharing this story. Evoked many happy memories from my time in rural Nepal.

  20. Maia says:

    Beautiful piece of writing, Pam. “…loving a young person is living joy. Receiving love back is life changing. Encouraging small circles of love is world changing.” I’m posting that above my desk. Now. Thank you.

  21. @lilyofoz says:

    disillusionment will put a stick in many a cog. nice to see yours are turning nicely. very encouraging read, thank you.

  22. Abe says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with us Pam. I experienced the same living joy in the Philippines when I visited about 10 years ago. The kids were ragged, dirt-poor, and hungry but the joy in their eyes spoke otherwise. It was like they kept a secret that I too once had, but misplaced somewhere along the way. I think as adults it’s important for us not to lose that sense of wonder, that unapologetic thrill over playing with a piece of wood or laughing with a total stranger. In business our focus tends to drift toward process instead of purity, and we’re confused when we can’t connect with customers. Kids don’t have this problem. They don’t see race, or poverty, or circumstance, or number of Twitter followers. These are all adult inventions. Unnecessary to play with my new friend and make her laugh. We all could learn a thing or two from these kids!
    As a young entrepreneur (if you could even call me that yet) I’m grateful for people like you that still have hope in the younger generation and are constantly giving back in some capacity. My favorite line from this post is:
    “I learned that entire family circles were impacted positively by the good choices of one teenager.”
    Many times all it takes to make a difference in a community is to believe in one person’s capacity for greatness. Plenty of young people have no one in their lives to tell them that. Thank you for planting seeds, one person at a time.

  23. Sue Sullivan says:

    You make me want to cry, Pam. This is such a beautiful post. I spent a couple weeks in a small village in Guatemala back in the 80’s. Your descriptions brought back vivid memories of the joy I saw in people’s faces. There I saw joy not only in the children but many of the adults, which is amazing considering the turmoil they’d been through.

    Thanks so much for your encouraging words. I agree with you!!

  24. Nate says:

    Wonderful post Pam. I think the moral of the story is – contribute….contribute in your own, unique way. Each and every one of this has unique gifts and talents that we can share with others. Through the course of our life we do get jaded, yes. I’ve run into this myself. We think we’re not good enough, smart enough, qualified, intelligent, or like you say, we think we can’t make a difference. The thing is, by impacting just one person, we can make a huge impact. It can have a ripple effect. Maybe that person takes a completely different course in their life, or maybe they pass on what was learned to others. As Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

  25. Anne Nayer says:

    Lovely story and way into getting to know you better – your geography and heart (which I know already) – I feel lucky that despite my own geographical meanderings and cataclysms I too have always believed and acted on touching one heart at a time – starting with my own. ts the gift the key to the unending joy you described so beautifully of turning around and seeing the kids collapse in giggles – I have also picked peaches in Yuba City and traveled there and Marysville (the handmade chocolate shop) to meet with clients. You brought back a rush of great stories. Thank you for this one. Anne (Coach Paradise)

  26. Daryl Gerke says:

    Great post! It reminded me of two stories, which I hope are OK to share. My bride of 40+ years always groans when I go into story mode, but I like to think stories are among the few advantages of growing older. So anyway, here goes:

    The first is the “starfish” story, which has been around for a while. Two people are walking along the beach, and they spot a stranded starfish. The first person picks it up, and throws it back into the ocean. The second asks, “Why bother — you can’t make that much difference saving just one starfish.” The first replies, “It make all the difference in the world to the starfish I just saved.”

    The second is the “peach” story, which is a personal one. Your comment on peach orchards triggered this. You see, I spend the first five years of my life in a peach orchard in Yucaipa, CA. I only remember bits and pieces, but my mother liked to tell this story when I was growing up as a lesson in sharing.

    Like your grandfather, my parents often employed migrant workers. Once a young woman had hidden several overripe peaches in her blouse, which then tumbled out right in front of Mom. The woman was embarassed, but Mom immediately sized up the situation — it was simply a mother looking out for her children. Rather than pick up the overripe peaches, Mom went over and picked up a crate of the prime peaches, and gave them to her. And in spite of the language differences, she made sure the woman realized it was just one mother helping another mother.

    Mom’s moral of this story always was “If you are have something in abundance, then you must share.” Pam, thank you for all that you share!

  27. Janet says:

    I’m one of those young idealists and I still don’t know what to do with it! Changing the world can indeed seem like a daunting process and that you’ll hardly even make a dent! The thing to remember, though, is that each and every one of us IS changing the world. Be it good or bad, our every day choices take part in impacting the world. Hitler changed the world. Not in any way people normally think of in “changing the world” (hopefully I think this usually means positive connotations), but our negative thoughts and actions *do* change the world. Imagine what positive thoughts and actions can do too.

  28. Susan says:

    Aw, Pam, you did it again. Wonderful post. Great reminder! I’m inspired anew!

  29. kalika says:

    This advise is timeless! Something one should never forget when going gets tough. I feel so relieved I stumbled upon this post. I am in a tough situation right now. Definitely doubting my own capabilities because things did not turn out the way I had planned for myself. I hope to gather the strength to rise and shine again. Thanks a lot for this post.

  30. Oh beautiful! And I agree. I have found a personal way to love, encourage and support a small group of orphans in a land far far far away from me. Shared hope is even better than shared bread. Hope breeds determination. Thank you for sharing!

  31. Tolle Haus says:

    The corner of the world that we have the most control over is our own life. Making a difference can be as simple as making the choice to give up a few luxuries (like cable TV) and use the money sponsor children in need, or support whatever causes we support. I say, start there.

  32. Laura Click says:

    Love, love, LOVE this post, Pam. I’m still fairly young, but I have definitely become more jaded then I was several years ago. I think we get that way because we have bumped and bruised along the way and we become cynical to protect ourselves. When I started my first business with a partner, I believed anything was possible. I was full of hope and knew that we could make a difference. When it all came crashing down, it really changed me. It took a long time to reframe my thinking about that situation. While I have still hope and optimism, it is nothing like those fresh, naive perspective I had just a few years ago. There is truly such beauty in naiveté. You don’t know what you can’t accomplish. You believe anything is possible. While we do get wiser as we get older, often cynicism creeps in as well. Thanks for reminding us to not get jaded. We can certainly make a difference…one person at a time.

  33. Josh says:

    Dear Pam,
    Lovely post, Incidentally I absolutely recall the beauty of Michoacan in Mexico.
    Here’s to keeping that energy alive.

  34. Debbie says:

    Thank you! Much needed. It brought tears to my eyes. I feel caught in a hamster wheel. I am middle aged, looking to exit the rat race and seeking to make a difference, but often feel discouraged.I get caught, ah, if only I was 20 again what I would do differently! This helped a lot!

  35. Stacey says:

    Found your post via a Facebook share. Thank you! It was just what I needed to hear right now. Have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

  36. Natalie says:

    You have a true gift Pam. This was such a touching post. I no longer will allow myself to feel jaded. You have shown me why. I like to live with childlike wonder but some days it can be tough.

    On those days I’ll remember these words:

    And that loving a young person is living joy. Receiving love back is life changing. Encouraging small circles of love is world changing.

    Sending much love your way


  37. apu says:

    Lovely, lovely post – and just the encouragement a new entrepreneur needs. Thank you!

  38. deborah says:

    Thank you for these wise words. When you impact one person in a positive way, it spreads to others. Thankfully, positivity is contagious.

  39. Those photos are gorgeous. I really miss those kids. I didn’t know these particular kids, but I feel like I did know them–that same delight with ridiculously-fashioned toys and an obsession with any kind of photograph or story. I miss them a lot. I remember thinking how much cooler they were than most of the adults, and wishing I could just hang out with them all the time.

  40. Sinclair says:

    How beautiful. Thanks for sharing such a personal story with us – you absolutely touched my heart.
    The line that I’m soaking up tonight:
    “Listen to your younger self. There are many who will tell you you are not qualified, certified, that you lack pedigree… Don’t believe them. All you need to do is touch one person’s heart.”

  41. Lex Garey says:

    Wow, Pam. This really strikes a chord with me. I fall under the young entrepreneur category and being jaded is a quality I’d like to stay far away from. It’s definitely a battle to keep myself focused and determined on my thoughts and beliefs, but I know that in the end it will be a worth the struggle.

    Thank you so much for the gem!