The last time I was in Belgium was right after high school, when my buddies and I took a euro trip across five countries in three weeks. Now ten years later, I’m here for a work trip—to discuss at some meetings how policies between the EU and U.S. undermine consumer/user interests and to figure out a plan to reform corporate-captured trade deals so they’re more transparent and democratic. I think 18 year old me would be nodding in approval if she knew what I’m up to nowadays.
Mostly because I was so full of self-conscious despair throughout my teens. I knew that the world was deeply messed up, power-wise, money-wise, gender-wise, race-wise, etc., but it felt so overwhelming to wrap my head around and I didn’t know where to start. There wasn’t anything inconsistent to me about enjoying Ayn Rand’s writing, which I thought was a celebration of unique self-determination, and reading Adbusters and becoming disillusioned by unrestrained capitalism. I didn’t know where to direct my anger or concern, how to articulate my criticism or my own ideology.
But now I feel like I have a much better handle on things. For one I’m more on top of my shit and so more confident in my own skin and voice than I’ve ever been. I’ve come a long way from the emo days when I could barely contain my anger when someone around me would utter something ignorantly hateful (although I couldn’t a few times, once flipping over my desk about someone’s pro-Iraq war comment in Morality class). When my only outlets were to scrawl my feelings about the world in my journal and rant about “the world” at anyone who would listen when I got drunk at parties.
I’ve found a way to funnel those anger/despair feels into being an activist. In the decade since I was a confused baby adult, I’ve learned a few things—to be curious and skeptical, to avoid blindly clinging to ideologies, and understand the importance of balancing between idealistic optimism and pragmatic cynicism.
My 18 year-old self might be surprised to know that I’d travel all the way back here as part of my job. But I’d like to think she’d be more pleased that I’ve been trying what I can to fix some of the injustice in this world that filled her with so much dread, and am constantly challenging myself to get better at making sense of them to myself and others.