This week, a bright light in the world has chosen to shine on in heaven.
A girlfriend of mine who is, at the core of her being, a giver, a lover, a woman who carried out each day of her life to make the world a better place, has taken her own life. My writing tonight is an attempt to cope with her decision, and a hopeful expression of how we can prevent situations like this from happening in the future.
I remember sitting on Necker Island next to Bill Tai on his birthday. Everyone was laughing, drinking, celebrating, and in the mist of this joy it was announced that a community member of MaiTai had taken his own life. In that moment of paradise, surrounded by a group of amazing people I was feeling warm toward and fortunate to be encompassed by, I questioned why a person would do such a thing, and how we as a community could prevent suicides from happening in the future.
The man in this instance was a hyper intellectual. So intensely smart that at times, he may have felt distanced from a world who struggled to understand his ambition and his mental gravitas. I could empathize. I had been there. He was brilliant, and perhaps socially uncomfortable in that genius. Although he was vastly admired for the caliber of his work, the very power that gave him recognition fundamentally disconnected him from what it meant to be “normal”.
My female friend was similar in several ways, but fundamentally the opposite. An extremely social extrovert. An inspiring entrepreneur living her life for charity and the adventure of the open road. Seemingly constantly surrounded by friends and parties, she was working each day of her life to manifest a positive impact for the world at large. She also happened to be extremely beautiful, inside and out, living each day as an embodiment of what it meant to be both an attractive model and a compelling role model.
This woman in particular had a profound impact on my life.
She was a huge positive influence in a seemingly small way that motivated me and encouraged my confidence to become an entrepreneur.
When I was still in college, I was invited during summer break to go to Vegas with a group of friends I had met on a bus at SXSW. I did not know the man who owned the bus and was hosting the gathering as Tony Hsieh, legendary entrepreneur and founder of Zappos.com. All I understood was that a humble, giving Taiwanese man who valued the people around him regardless of the rest of the worlds perception of “status” wanted me to come to a party in Vegas to get to know me better. I was more than obliged to join.
Catalyst was the name of the event series happening at the Downtown Project the week I came to Vegas. I was not invited to attend as a “catalyst”, as I had carried out nothing noteworthy to name. I was a girl in college, very driven, extremely ambitious, trying to understand how to make my own world outside of the discouraging environment I was in at the time. I felt this invite could be a key to help me navigate through the professional and personal growth I was seeking out.
I went to the event with no expectation. I went not understanding what I would be thrown into. I went without a shred of context on the caliber and impact of the people surrounding me. When I came to understand, of course I found myself to be a bit nervous and intimidated. I was taught to be afraid of my personal power, taught to fear the change I was seeking out in my life because it was not “socially acceptable” to drop out of college without any idea of what you would do or without any prospective job offers.
Being an entrepreneur was just not “normal”.
I was lucky though. And luck has carried me so far throughout this life. During the Catalyst series, I was fortunate enough and extremely grateful to be invited to more of the series than most outsiders would be.
(I attribute the majority of my luck to my master skill for making friends on principles of unconditional love and universal acceptance)
But remember, as I was constantly reminded by the other participants, I was not included in this event by invitation, only by association of the organizer who could pull strings for me. Tony Hsieh is an inspiration and was an enormous help, but he was so intensely busy and not always around to cue my integration into the group. His kindness and admirable attitude of modesty toward himself, coupled with his generosity toward humanity, treating all beings as equal but valuing them for what makes them unique, will always be a way of being I seek to embody.
The disconnect of my inclusion and the social dynamic of people who felt they were somehow superior for paying or paving their way into the experience caused many to treat me as the pitiful, meaningless, unworthy orphan girl who was still in college. I will never forget the feeling of exclusion and loneliness they projected on me. It hurt in a way that can make me empathize with people who decide to take their life from this world. Several of the attendees were extremely judgmental and discouraging. I remember crying myself to sleep a couple of nights, one in particular after I put myself out there and was scoffed at for vicariously rapping all of the words to “Forgot About Dre”. This person told me I could not come to the “special” events for “catalysts ONLY”. That I was not successful enough to be around the group of entrepreneurs. That I could really not afford to be their friend.
I had felt small for a long time pursuing my journey. Family members and several of my peers and associates had repeatedly told me I was incapable of running a business “because I was a woman, and women can’t run businesses”. I was told I should give up this nonsense and “marry a rich man”. I was seen and spoken about as a “failure and a disappointment who would never amount to anything in this world”.
Had it not been for my female friend, who recently made the decision to take her life and become an angel, I very well may have given up.
But I did not. I pressed on. I kept fighting. I gained strength. In the moment where I felt the most insecure, I decided to deal with my fears by pushing the limits of my own confidence through unleashing with art and free expression. This angel of a woman supported the courage it took me to put myself out there in a group of people who had already tried to bring me down to lift themselves up, and she applauded with joy and laughter as I finished my performance. She was so impressed that she even bought me a drink after. That moment was so small, but so instrumental in my evolution as a human being. With one seemingly inconsequential feeling of inclusion, in a way that was just “normal” for her, a way she did not perhaps even truly notice, her vote of support gave me the courage I needed to pursue my dreams. Even if that meant I had to give up my past, everything I owned, the support of my friends and family, and my college degree.
(turns out a college degree is a really expensive piece of paper that I didn’t need anyway… who knew?!)
Looking back at her photos now, I see a woman who was constantly surrounded by people, but had very little sense of strong, endlessly supportive community. Of peer family. People who are loyal to you, honest with you, who would fight to see you become the person you want to be, who would protect you with their reputation and who would lift you up when you are at your lowest moment. People you feel completely comfortable being vulnerable with.
I thought such similar thoughts about exclusion and the importance of vulnerability, core connection and community when I was on Necker Island hearing about the loss of a brilliant man I had never met, one who was creating a company that would allow people to laser print DNA. That is so beyond me. I hope to see his work carried out, just as I hope to see my sisters work of compassion live on far past the last day she has chosen to occupy this body during this life.
All of these seemingly different people and experiences. What do they have in common?
The need for family.
The need for a community beyond the idea of a social club, a random gathering or festival.
The need for mental health infrastructure, which is horrifically undervalued. In current terms, a therapist is not an NGO. Therapists do not exist in their profession to eliminate their jobs. Their livelihood depends on sickness. So does big pharma, an industry built to serve the interests of shareholder value at the expense of ultimate wellness, marginalizing the full spectrum of health to addictive and often unnecessary drugs.
When a paradigm is this broken, this systemically ingrained and this obvious, is our responsibility to take matters into our own hands as individuals and create change where the system is failing our human population.
Love is not power. War is unnecessary, and building a community is about letting go of the control you feel you have or imagine you need.
Building a community is about giving up the power.
Had these two been included in a more instrumental way, had they been surrounded by people who encouraged them to open up and share their stories of joy and suffering, had they been supported through their struggle without fears of judgement, rejection, abandonment or further harm, they may still be here today.
Our togetherness is not measured by the way in which we are able to passively or shallowly celebrate with each other when times are good, but by our ability to truly be there, vulnerable with each other when things are hard.
We will grow exponentially as a human race when our surroundings have the maturity to foster judgement free, no gossip zones where people are at liberty to express their trauma and triumph in a non-reactive manner, encompassed with the support of others who genuinely care about their well-being.
People commit suicide when they believe that expressing their deepest traumas, to themselves or others, will be met with heightened pain instead of resolve.
When expressions of trauma and triumph are met with support and encouragement instead of judgement and jealousy, we are family.
I make it my personal mission to treat EVERYONE as family. That homeless guy on the street? Yeah. I just gave him a full body hug and bought him lunch with a frappucino. Do I feel dirty? Nope. I feel incredible! I also gave him legal advice and connected him with a firm who can help him get his house back after his wife died and their landlord took their rent controlled home away from him to capitalize on the current market in San Francisco. Does my love for this person mean I love you less or you are less special to me? Nope. It does not mean I love a stranger more than I love you even if I give them an extended hug on the street. It means I love all beings.
The love I feel for the people closest to me will show itself as intensely as possible when and if (hopefully you don’t, but hey, let’s look at it as a tool for building character) you go through something rough. Please, please, please, do not be afraid to reach out when and if you need me. Please do not think your life is too small to flourish. Please do not believe you are not worthy of care and affection. We will grow closer during those times, we will learn more about each other, and hey, don’t be mistaken… I am the kind of crazy person who would fly halfway across the world at three in the morning to be there for you when you need me.
It is my hope for humanity to rise up together to embody and exceed our collective expectations for what it means to live with a positive and loving attitude towards others. With our actions combined, we can truly make a difference.
This week, a bright light in the world has chosen to shine on in heaven, but you can still shine on this Earth. We can shine for her. And we all shine brighter when we illuminate together.
**If you have lost someone and would like to cope by doing good in the world, I would like to suggest a donation to the Human Rights Foundation or my charity for orphans of Ebola, Kids Compassion:
DONATE: Human Rights Foundation - https://donate.hrf.org/checkout/donation?eid=55827
DONATE: Kids Compassion - https://www.crowdrise.com/giveupanightofpartyi/fundraiser/tonilanecasserly