Written by: Becky Gomolka
“When day comes, we ask ourselves: where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”– Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb“
At the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, America’s first-ever youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, asked listeners a question that hit home on a number of levels. Beginning another year in a global pandemic, in a divisive political climate, and in the ongoing fight for racial, social, and economic justice can make it hard to see the light in all the darkness. Experiencing or being on the cusp of burnout is a new norm. How can we stay motivated and optimistic these days? Where can we find the light in the dark?
“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice.”– Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”
It felt as though the world went quiet last March, when the usually traffic-jammed streets of Los Angeles were empty, when our favorite bars and restaurants shut down. We found ourselves in new routines of staying-in, working from home, only having human interaction through Zoom or FaceTime… and some of us thought it’d only last two weeks. Well, weeks turned into months and months into a year, and our new routines became the norm.
Technology grew even more important as it became one of the only ways we could stay connected to each other. And through that connectedness, we saw the cracks in our foundation that have always been there – amplified by immediate access to the injustice happening in real-time across the world. Some of us thought, “how could this be?” while others thought, “nothing new here.” We stood up to say, “this must change!” but the work has been hard, and many people are exhausted.
Most of us find ourselves working day-in and day-out in the same place we sleep, where we take care of loved ones and, for some, where we’ve lost them. We want the world to change but don’t know where to start, how to get back our motivation or how to avoid burning out.
So how can we stay motivated? Stay optimistic? The first step, I believe, is letting go of our fears. Our fear that COVID-19 will never go away, fear that standing up for what’s right won’t do anything, fear of being vulnerable, of not being good enough. Fear takes the place of motivation, and optimism is quickly replaced with pessimism. It’s easy to fall into fear because fear creates inaction. Doing nothing is so much easier than taking risks. Taking risks, though, leads to change, and change, my friends, is a good thing.
“And yet, the dawn is ours. Before we knew it, somehow, we do it.”– Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”
Amanda Gorman was raised in Los Angeles by a single mother. She grew up with a speech impediment and auditory processing disorder making vocal skills challenging. If she let fear control her life, we probably wouldn’t have the beautiful poetry she’s written today. But she took her challenges and turned them into opportunities. She focused on excelling at reading and writing and merged those passions with her drive for activism. She was the first youth poet to open the literary season for the Library of Congress, her poem “In This Place (An American Lyric)” is displayed at The Morgan Library and Museum and Harvard named her the first National Youth Poet Laureate where she graduated cum laude (just to name a few of her accomplishments). Her words are making a lasting impact in the world; her passions are what motivates her to move forward.
“And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge a union with purpose.”– Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”
Do what you do with purpose. Find the meaning in what you do, be that work, social change or simply your hobbies. Research what you don’t know so you can be better educated to show up strong, unwavering in your convictions and decisions. Let go of perfectionism and embrace the journey of trying. Surround yourself with people who motivate you to do better, to be better. If something angers you or makes you sad, ask yourself why. Then ask yourself what you can do to change that feeling.
Gorman began writing “The Hill We Climb” the same way she does with all of her writing: through research. She looked at past speeches from leaders who tried to bring people together in times of division and found inspiration in how to address the nation on January 20th. She also spoke to other poets who had been in her shoes. In her insights, she gave us words that inspired many and brought light to a dark time.
To find the light in the darkness, I encourage you to look within. It is my firm belief that the light is within each of us. We mustn’t give up hope that we can make a difference. That internal light we have can spark creativity, inspire poetry, motivate the creation of something we need (but didn’t know it), find a new way to connect with others, and bring change to the world. Creativity and taking risks can lead to innovation and technology advancements that make the world a better, more inclusive place for everyone.
Don’t let your fears keep you frozen. See your fears as a challenge, do your research and rise above them. Make a lasting impact on the world as Amanda Gorman is doing, even if that world is just your team or your family. No matter how big or small, our actions will cause change. Be brave. Be strong. Be vulnerable. Surround yourself with people who encourage you and motivate you to show up and stand up for what you believe in. And if all you could muster was getting out of bed today, well that’s okay, too. Find the light one day at a time.
“When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it, for there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”– Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”