I’m not proud to admit it, but I’m also not ashamed (I am Woman, Hear Me Roar): at nearly every single one of my past jobs, at some point I had a moment in which I was about to cry, and—because I’ve never had my own office—would have to steal away to the back stall of the bathroom to try to silently get it together, often unsuccessfully. The sad part is that usually those moments were directly related to the job itself.
Here’s how I know I’m finally in a job that works for me: I’m in my thirties and still have those chin-quivering moments at work, but I don’t steal away anywhere, and the tears are only in reaction to some amazing piece of someone’s soul to which I have just been exposed, so I let them fall freely. My most stressful moments at work haven’t yet provoked the tears, because I am always, even in instants of high anxiety, surrounded by inspiration rather than misery.
The latest cause of my “cubicle cry” is Candy Chang, a civic activist and street artist of sorts. I came across her while researching speakers for an upcoming event. In a project called Before I Die, prompted by the loss of someone dear to her, Candy channeled her grief and the power of her designer’s brain into an abandoned property in post-Katrina New Orleans, and transformed a dilapidated street corner into a site of shared dreams. I won’t do the project justice by describing it myself, so I’ll rely on Candy’s words:
“It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you. When I lost someone I loved very much, I thought about death a lot. This helped clarify my life but I struggled to maintain perspective. I wanted to know what was important to the people around me and I wanted a daily reminder. So with help from old and new friends, I painted the side of an abandoned house in my neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with the sentence “Before I die I want to _______.” so anyone walking by can pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in public space.
It was all an experiment and I didn’t know what to expect. By the next day the wall was entirely filled out and it kept growing. Before I die I want to… sing for millions, see my daughter graduate, eat all the candy and sushi in the world, straddle the International Date Line, be someone’s cavalry, live off the grid, build a school, hold her one more time, abandon all insecurities, be completely myself… People’s responses made me laugh out loud, tear up, and feel consolation during my own tough times. The wall transformed a neglected space into a constructive one. It helped us understand our neighbors in new and enlightening ways. It showed us we are not alone. It provided a contemplative space to restore perspective and remember why we want to be alive in the world today.”
Watch Candy’s tear-jerking TED Talk that turned me into a follower. As someone who is interested in the sharing of private thoughts in a public space to bring people closer together, she puts her money where her mouth is and does not shy away from exposing her deepest vulnerability for her audience. (And through her site there are toolkits for making your own Before I Die wall into your neighborhood, if you are so moved.)
It’s nice to be able to say that, at least for now, my sentence wouldn’t be what it would have been once: Before I die I want to…make a living being surrounded by art, doing something I love.
We all have bucket lists, even mentally if not literally, but if you had to pick one thing to complete that sentence, what would it be? Before You Die You Want To _______?