“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” ~Charles Dickens
When I was seven years old, my parents had me take an IQ test for an application to a private school near our new home.
I vaguely remember sitting with the proctor, answering question after question about vocabulary and spatial recognition. To seven-year-old me, the test was nothing more than a fun logic puzzle, and I delighted at each question I knew the answer to, bright eyed and enthusiastic.
While I don’t recall my exact score, the numbers were unusually high—in fact, so high that the proctor expressed her surprise to my parents that I was not suffering from some form of high-functioning autism.
From age seven on, I was placed in the most gifted classes in both public and private school. I enjoyed the challenge, and the attention I received, until I became a teenager.
In my transition to adolescence, I became aware of the incredible teenagers around the world writing novels, promoting peace, and inventing the types of machinery and technology that change the world.
These individuals inspired me, but secretly implanted a deep sense of fear and angst in my mind.
For as long as I could remember, people had been telling me, “Avery, you are going to do amazing things with your life,” while I spent my life like any other teenager: school, sports practice, homework, food, bed, repeat. I was not accomplishing any great feats.
I slowly began to feel like I was failing to fulfill my full potential as a human being.
Being exceptionally gifted, once a joy and privilege, had become a toxin to my emotional well-being. I was all consumed by my ego telling me that I should be more—or I was wasting my intellect.
This led me to sporadically start novels, blogs, articles, anything to prove myself worthy of my intelligence. I would give up on each one quickly and move on to my next idea, as unsuccessful as the first.
No matter what I tried, the world still did not know my name—the only thing, I thought, that could make feel adequate.
About a year ago, it dawned on me that my pattern of self-dissatisfaction and disappointment was unsustainable.
No matter what I did, no matter how many people knew my name, it made no difference. I always craved more, and anything less than becoming the next Einstein was a personal failure.
So, with that in mind, I began the arduous process of redefining success in my life. The only way I could do this, I learned, was to help others realize their own goodness.
I began with my personal mantra:
“It is better to change one person’s life than to have 1,000 know your name.”
I stumbled upon this realization somewhat suddenly, after taking a two-week long trip with my grade. I invested myself in helping my friends with sickness and fear, and I came away changed; I finally felt like I’d accomplished something permanent and meaningful.
Instead of living for recognition from the world, I began to look for satisfaction through my personal relationships. I no longer needed to change the world to be successful; I just needed to know that I had changed someone’s life for the better.
Surprisingly, this is a relatively easy task to accomplish with discipline. By investing myself in relationships with my friends, acquaintances, and partner, I began to receive incredible feedback.
People genuinely began to thank me—not for being kind, but for literally changing their lives.
The key for me was genuinely listening to others, and caring about their needs and opinions. Helping people came naturally to me, and remains the best gift I can give to others; not some profound piece of writing or technological advancement.
Typically, the people around me who I listened to had similar issues of inadequacy. I was not alone. They too believed themselves to be failures, unable achieve their potential, whether that potential was straight A’s or a sports scholarship or being kind.
I could see the innate goodness of the people around me shining through, and it pained me to see them suffer from feelings of inadequacy. I knew, deep down, that everyone around me was good and pure and beautiful, as all children of this earth are.
As a result, I realized through time that if the people around me were all beautiful and good, as all people are, then I must be good too—just the way I am and always will be.
By loving others, I had already achieved my purpose on this earth: to be the inherently sympathetic and kind creature that all human beings are.
I now actively seek people around me who need my care, and indulge them when necessary. Love has taken precedence in my life over material accomplishment, as it truly should. I have closer, more meaningful relationships, more acquaintances, and an exponentially higher self esteem.
The beauty is, people reciprocate genuine love: the people you help will be there for you in your times of need, too. Love is a self-fulfilling prophecy that can only be positive for all parties involved.
At the end of the day, people simply want to receive love and attention; and through giving others these things, I not only improved their lives but also my own perception of myself.
I was able to focus on the immediate positive impact my life was making on that of others, and I finally felt purposeful and that I was leading a meaningful life.
The truth is, not everyone can change the entire world, and not everyone needs to. All we can do is give as much love in our lives as possible, treat ourselves kindly, and leave the world a more positive place than we entered it.
That is all I can ask of myself, and I try to leave all other expectations of myself behind—the ones of impermanent success that can only bring me dissatisfaction and suffering.
Maybe thousands do not know your name, but you have the power to completely change the lives of those around you with love; and that, I’ve learned, is far more gratifying and important.