Wade Davis on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome, Embracing Patience and Maintaining Creativity.

Welcome to Impact in the 21st Century, from Simbi Foundation. In episode #7, anthropologist, author, photographer, and explorer Wade Davis joins us to discuss finding your destiny, how to learn better, and why anthropology matters.

We’re thinking about Davis’s inspiring words and advice for overcoming imposter syndrome and how you can be more creative.

Wade Davis is an inspiring anthropologist, author, photographer, filmmaker, and explorer. Davis has written for numerous international publications and uses media and storytelling to change the way the world views and values culture. His research focuses on biological and cultural diversity and the forces that threaten both. He continues to use his research toward the production of films and books to contribute to the global dialogue. Learn more about Wade Davis’s work here!

Aaron: One thing I want to talk about is your happiness and willingness to just go out there. There are so many people today in the 21st century who have such imposter syndrome and are so scared of starting something new or trying a new idea, and you just grab life by the horns and inspire others. I’d love to hear more from your perspective.

Wade: Teddy Roosevelt talks about how he’d rather be in the arena bloodied, darkened, muddied, and failing than to be in the stands simply observing. And I think I’ve gotten where I am by never looking over my shoulder.

Every single thing I’ve ever done has come with a caveat. Whether it’s a new book, a new adventure, or a new project, somebody will say “this is quite a radical departure for Wade Davis”, and no one seems to understand the pattern that everything is new. An important lesson for young people is to remember that at the end of the day, you have to cultivate your own inner compass so that you own the decisions in your life. We have this horrible idea that life is linear, that you go from A to B to C and you’ll never get to the rest of the alphabet if you skip a couple of letters. We know that life is made of these serendipitous moments when you have to make a choice. Follow your bliss, as Joseph Campbell wrote. But the critical thing about that is not that you will always be right in your decision, but if you own those decisions there will be no reason for bitterness.

Those who managed to maintain their sense of equilibrium, happiness, joy, and creativity are those who can look back on a life in which they have been the architect. That is the greatest creative challenge in life. Bitterness invariably comes to those who look back on a life of decisions imposed upon them by peers, society, or ghosts of the past. This is why I say the most important thing is to recognize that pessimism is an indulgence, despair is an insult to the imagination, orthodoxy is the enemy of invention, you have to do what needs to be done, and only then ask whether it was possible or permissible. Above all, be patient and give your destiny time to find you.

The critical thing in life is to not look over your shoulder, simply move ahead, and think about how you move ahead.

My father used to say to me there’s only good and evil in the world, take your side and get on with it. The reason this is so important is that if you think good is always going to triumph over evil, and then you later face disappointments in life, cruelty to the human heart, or an environmental battle that goes wrong, it’s so easy to become embittered if all you expected was victory. But if you go through life never expecting victory and realizing that the goal is not to attain anything but a state of being, you recognize that it’s a path that will never stop. Then you get to my age and you find yourself with the exact vitality, the same commitment to social justice, the same energy and curiosity to move on to the next thing in life as you had when you were 20. That is a really important key to life.

You can’t be creative if you don’t just do.

There’s a lot of people who want to do something, start their next study, or they may want to launch their next idea but they’re stuck and unable to start moving. Everything that you’ve done you’ve been so beautifully qualified to do, but you’ve really jumped!

Oh, no one’s qualified to do anything. You have to learn. We have this myth that creativity is some kind of objective state. Creativity is not the motivation of action, it’s a consequence of action. You can’t be creative if you don’t just do. You can’t be a photographer if you don’t take pictures. You can’t be a potter if you don’t spin clay. Jim Whittaker, the great climber says if you’re not living on the edge when you’re young then you’re taking up too much space. One of the things I learned in life was to be an opportunist, not in the sense of being a schemer, but putting yourself in the way of opportunities where there is no choice but success. You suddenly then find yourself capable of doing things that a few months before would have been beyond your imaginings.

The great lesson of all the stages of the world is you jump off the cliff and you don’t land on rocks, you land on a feather bed. The world doesn’t exist to beat you down, it exists to lift you up. Everything I’ve ever done is like that. For example, I worked the summer as a park ranger having no idea what to do with my life, so I figured I was a critic of industrial logging and hired on as a forestry engineer, spent a year in the roughest logging camp on the west coast of British Columbia, and that was probably an experience that was as valid to me as the three degrees that I earned from Harvard.

There’s a difference between wisdom and knowledge.

There’s both knowledge and wisdom to be earned from anybody. For young people, it’s really important to be patient and not to take on burdens that you can’t yourself affect in any kind of meaningful way.

…Aaron and Wade’s conversation continues in the podcast. Listen here!

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