Sunday, January 1, 2012

Calling all Secret Agents: Change Agents that Is

I first heard the term change agent when I volunteered for AYUDA the summer of 2009 in the Dominican Republic.  It was the trip that changed my life and activated my inner change agent.  However, when I first heard the term, and was then informed that I would indeed become one, I immediately began thinking of espionage. Images of Charlie's Angels and James Bond soared through my mind, and I admittedly became really excited.  Childhood jitters and and thoughts such as "Wow, this gonna be sooooo frickin cool!" were running through my mind, and I could hardly wait to join this secret society of change agents:  a society known for its famous do-gooders such as Paul Farmer, Sasha Dichter, Bill and Melinda Gates, and the list goes on.

But, what I learned early on in the preparation for the trip about becoming a change agent was that ANYONE can do it!  You don't need a blog or a big lofty project of sorts or even a master's degree.  While acquiring skills with a higher degree will help specify your impact and lead to measurable change, it is not a prerequisite.  Often those with higher degrees become so consumed with the measurement and how a project looks, that we forget about the soul that and connection that must be present to initiate the change.  Once people become activated, they often shape their careers in whatever field it may be in order to see the change through completely.  On the flip side,  it is extremely important that young people who choose to enter the field of social entrepreneurship early only do so once their inner change agent has been activated rather than because it is the new and sexy field of careers.

Okay, so by now you MUST be thinking, how do I become a change agent?

First, it's important to note that you already have an inner change agent, no matter where you are in life.

All you need to do it activate it.

Activating your inner change agent is simple.  It starts with showing up, and I mean really showing up: body, mind and soul.  This kind of presence allows you to become an observation master.  Once you harness your observation skills, a new world will open before you, and you will undoubtedly observe a few problems. You might observe a social injustice such as the entire US health care system, or maybe a kid being bullied at school. More importantly though,  the new way in which you view the world will also allow you to see pockets of opportunity for solutions.

Once you see an opportunity for a solution, you proceed to connect with another person, and I mean real, authentic connection.  You know, that vulnerable, scary connection that we run away from, but as Brené Brown eloquently researches, also  brings us joy and MOVES us!

During connection, you exchange gifts, and it is this connection and exchange that is at the heart of real generosity.  To be a change agent does NOT mean you have to bring presents and necessarily give money. Your genuine true self is all the gift you need, but if you are moved to donate and help me create change, then please, by all means.  That is what this project is about.  It is about me making connections that move people to take up my cause.

During this process of connecting and exchanging, all sorts of crazy things are happening.  I'm sure neurotransmitters are being released and biochemical reactions are taking place, and for the purpose of this blog, I'll spare you the nitty gritty details (also because most of my biochem flew out the window after regurgitating it onto numerous scantrons).  But regardless of the details, to become a really great change agent, you need to learn and reflect about the art and potentially science of moving people.  Ask yourself, how can I connect at the level where there is impact? How do I leave a footprint on that person't thought process and decision making process? Did the person you connect with change their attitude about something? Did you open up their mind to a new possibility? Was that person inspired? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you have successfully become a change agent.

Now, I think the term change has gotten a bad rep since Obama's presidency has not been a one way golden ticket on the change express to Utopia, but that's not how change happens.  You can't take a pill, drink a magic potion, or even merely elect a president and expect change to occur.

For real change to occur, you must be willing to give yourself, have conversations, and change people's minds.  Fast food culture and quick fixes do not add up to change.  You must not be lazy if you want to be a change agent.

When I went to the Dominican Republic with AYUDA to be a camp counselor for Type I Diabetics, I had no medical training.  I could not dose insulin properly or count carbs, although AYUDA did in fact provide us with a crash course in Diabetes pathology, pharmacology, and even the common psychological ramifications suffered upon diagnosis.  But without the palpable medical skills, what was the point of going?  That's, in fact, a heated debate in the field of global health currently: should young people even be sent on projects where they really do not have skills to make "real change?"

Well, if the project and organization knows youth and where their talents lie like AYUDA does, they know that indeed they can.  While I couldn't bring my medical education with me yet, I knew enough about Diabetes to educate kids on what was going on in their bodies. That knowledge combined with what I could bring: my youth that was relatable to the 10-12 year old boys I counseled, my optimism for one's ability to take control of their own health, my observation master skills, and of course my ridiculously intense energy that allowed me to do night checks for glucose levels, play never-ending games of soccer, and sing and dance to camp songs, such as "Dame mas Insulina" is what allowed change to happen.

The impact of completely handing over every ounce of my being to those kids and seeing how it directly caused self-esteem to lift and lives to change moved me to study medicine and global health.  That's how being a change agent works.  Once you sign up to be a change agent, you have signed up for a life of never ending learning and transformation because each time you move someone else, you are moved as well.

We brought kids to camp that had blood glucose levels consistently in the 900s.  For those of you not fluent in the numbers of Diabetes, a range of about 70-150 is what patients strive for, and with numbers the kids arriving at camp had, my teams's hearts flooded with urgency to move these kids onto paths toward healthy and happy lives. Kids dying of Type I DM is the social injustice AYUDA tackles for it is unacceptable that kids believe they won't make it to adulthood because of such a manageable condition. But, it was a group of committed individuals (high school students nonetheless) that came up with an organization with the capacity to move kids and literally change the course of their future.  AYUDA works by activating young people's innate change agent.  Camp allows young people to inspire other other young people with Type I DM to take care of their health and take back their futures which was out of reach prior.

So, that's what's cool about being a change agent.  Anyone can do it.  Use what you have, the story you have, and give it selflessly.  When I am hesitant to share my story, and open up truly to my inner gifts, I remember that my story and my gifts were never mine to begin with.  On the contrary, they belong to the universe, and I am merely the vessel that carries them and is obligated to share them.

So, open up to that inner change agent today.  There is no better day to do it.

Also, a special thanks to Dr. Dan Lowenstein and Luna for my first donations! 3% there!

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