Riding the Wrong Train

Towards the end of my first semester here at Carolina, I sat with a friend in a favorite Saturday morning breakfast spot and had to make a confession. Over buttermilk pancakes and a rare, assignment-free table, I told her that I wasn’t perhaps the person she thought I was. She had come to know me here in this new world of red bricks and Carolina Blue and I was afraid the person she had come to know might not be the most accurate representation of myself.   

I had been trying for four months to get everything I could out of this most extraordinary place. The opportunities at Carolina make your head spin. All around me are people who write international policies, advise governments, and change the world. Every day gives me an opportunity to push on those doors and come inside. By about week six I was looking at minors in political science. I filled my spare afternoons with meetings with democracy workers in Azerbaijan, representatives from the US Department of State, and members of the United Nations.

Until one morning, I woke up drained and uninspired about the world and exclaimed to myself, “Amy, what are you doing? You’re training to be a social worker, remember? Since when did you decide to become a foreign diplomat?” You might expect me to be this person if you saw my resume, or just happened to meet me in the past four months. But the truth is, I can’t stand politics or economics. I had to fight with myself to come to the very important conclusion that on any given day, if you gave me the opportunity to either advise national leaders or sit on the sofa with a group of young girls to help them process their journeys, I’d pick the sofa. I’d be in the kitchen icing cupcakes, doing daily life, sharing tears, helping people understand their hearts. I’d be in the therapy room, on the phone, or at any place where lives breakdown and change.

It’s not that I couldn’t take the other road. I could. I could ride that train, give it my all, and it would be great. Almost everyone around me was onboard and I was finding it hard to justify why I was getting off. I had that sinking feeling of watching something great slowly pull away while I stood at the station, everyone thinking I’m crazy. Even though UNC believes each student needs to find their own Carolina Way, I still heard that big invisible trumpet proclaiming, “If you want to change the world, you need to write laws, and talk to the big shots. That’s the way to really make a difference. It would be a costly mistake, selfish even, to pick the sofa.” We are somehow led to believe that certain ways of impacting the world are more important than others.

Did I have enough conviction to rise against this assumption? Do I believe I can change the world as much from the humble places? Do I believe that being me is the most important thing I can bring to the world even when its impact can’t always be seen? It doesn’t always look like you’re making a difference. There aren’t numbers, and when there are, they’re small. Some might tell me that my opportunities and skills could be better spent. Would I still freely, happily choose to spend them this way?

I hadn’t anticipated how unsettled it would make me–introducing Amy the simple–Amy who would rather discuss the ways of the heart than the economies of developing nations. But after a semester of very impressive distractions, I made the confession that given the chance to stand in front of presidents or sit on the sofa with a fellow broken heart, I would take the sofa. And not because I feel disqualified from the first, but because the second is beautiful to me. And I believe that it is every bit as important and every bit as revolutionary.

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