When I wrote my first book, Survival of the Prettiest, I dreamed about it becoming a New York Times Bestseller. After all, how could it NOT?! The work I was doing was EXACTLY the kind of thing I needed when I was younger, and in my experience of working with young girls, exactly what they need too. I was filling in a gap - it was just supply and demand, and made sense!
Oh, Ashley. Always so relentlessly optimistic and incessantly hopeful and yes, even naive.
And then I published the book. And overwhelmingly, nothing dramatically changed overnight. In truth, sales did well the first month, but they weren’t even close to what I was hoping. And after the first month, sales only stagnated. This month, I’ve sold exactly 9 copies. That’s it.
At first, I was incredibly disappointed. Heartbroken, even - I couldn’t believe that I spent 3 years of my life working hard only to impact such a small number of people.
And I think the reason why I was so let down, is because I believed that the only way to change the world was to become as influential and well-known as an MLK figure - and in my head, this book was supposed to make that happen. AND IT DIDN’T!!
And that sucked. I always feel the need to be doing more than I already am, and it’s exhausting because my heart is literally never satisfied and it’s always beating hard, trying to figure out what my next move is and how I can reach more people effectively. Truthfully, I rarely feel good about the amount of work that I’ve done...how could I, when there’s SO much more to be done?
I don’t think that way anymore. There in no one way to change the world. In fact, there are many. And I think that the best way to change the world is to play our part - whatever that part may be. Let me break it down:
I recently watched a high school production of Pippin. The lead, Pippin, spent the entire show searching for fulfillment. He tried war, sex, a high power career as King, and more….only to be left feeling empty. And then, he met a woman who balanced him out and whom he loved and he was content with. And there you have it, the show seemed to say, the secret to fulfillment is through human connection! Watching the show, I felt so torn and almost wanted to scream ‘NO!! THERE HAS TO BE MORE TO LIFE THAN THIS!!’ - but truthfully, in my heart, I am starting to understand that the most real and meaningful way to make a difference is through human connection.
I’ve always listened to people say things like ‘The only way to make a difference is to be kind to others’ and I’ve thought to myself, ‘Total bullshit. There are bigger and better ways to make a difference’ - and that’s true. But quite honestly, being kind and authentic and bringing your strengths to the table is how you begin.
For example, when I think about my own life, I think about the impact that my theater directors have had on me - they have created safe and happy places and communities for me to go to on a regular basis, where I could be creative, take risks, learn, and grow up in. They did their part through developing relationships with me, and played a role in helping me become the person I am today. And that means everything. They may not be as famous as Amy Poehler - but they’ve shaped me just the same, and probably even moreso.
I am no longer striving to change the entire world. Instead, I am striving to do my part, the best way I can. And consequently, I am striving to make a positive difference in individual worlds.
And I think I’m off to a good start.
Last night, I spent just under an hour on a conference call, mentoring a group of three girls from Thailand, who are determined improve their education system. We have another call set up for next week. I still feel restless, but it also feels really good to know that I am doing the kind of work that so many kind mentors did for me.
I’ve also helped to create a MOVE community full of genuine, supportive relationships. And for what it’s worth, I should be unbelievably proud of that. I have helped form friendships that never would have happened if it hadn’t been for the summer program bringing girls of different towns together. And female friendship is UNBELIEVABLY important, especially if it helps you survive high school.
My part, currently, is working with girls to prevent abusive relationships. My part, currently, is being a brave, strong, body positive female who doesn’t give up. My part, currently, is being a resource that girls can go to when they need help. And all that matters. It’s a small part, but it’s a part nonetheless. And hell, I’ve literally saved lives because I have done the best I can do with my part. And honestly, all you can do is the best you can do.
Now, my friends, we are all blessed with talents, strengths, and skills. We really are. And it’s up to us to decide how we are going to contribute our individual skill-set to the world in order to play our part - or if we’re even going to.
After all, the world needs all of us to play our part. Because we’re at our best when everyone is able to contribute...think about it - a school only works when all members do their part - from the guidance counselor to the principal to the teacher to the custodian. In a school, all parts matter and are valuable and needed. It’s the same way on a bigger scale.
So, friends, what part will you play?