‘The only person you can change is you’

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“At some point in our lives we’ve all been told ‘that’s impossible,’” said Bertice Berry, sociologist, author, comedian and motivational speaker to a crowd of hundreds at St. George Hall on March 20.

“What we need,” she continued, “is to recognize purpose calling us to the highest version of ourselves.”

Berry’s lecture, entitled “When you walk with purpose you collide with destiny,” was both inspirational and humurous, and spoke to her own experience in overcoming adversity. As the sixth of seven children in an impoverished family, Berry overcame both struggle and stigma to reach tremendous personal and academic achievements.

An influential teacher helped her to reach her potential and ignore the negativity of another who claimed she was “not college material.” That other teacher had advised the school should use its limited resources on other students, given her troubled family background. Berry defied this by getting her PhD by the age of 26 and moving on to be a highly respected professor and successful author, writing both memoirs and fictional works.

While individual success may seem like a personal journey, Berry claimed that recognizing our unique role to play within the greater human community is key to reaching these accomplishments.

“I know from the depths of my very being that we are connected,” asserted Berry. “We come together to find our individual purpose.”

Berry outlined a series of steps, from focusing on the self to understanding the importance of the collective, that one must go through in order to achieve the greatest fulfilment. Focusing on the ‘me’ creates unnecessary self-absorption, which focussing on the ‘you’ only works when both sides of the relationship are contributing equally to the well-being of the other.

The ideal state which should be strived toward, she claimed, is the ‘I – we.’ This means reaching an “understanding that the individual and the collective are part of one being.”

However, this does not entail trying to change another person in order to better suit your own purposes. We are our only competitors, Berry said, indicating that “the only person you can change is yourself.” According to Berry, by working toward your own goals, you are able to transfer what you have learned onto others, an accomplishment which she believes indicates the progression from knowledge to wisdom. “We need to stay on our own path so we can illuminate the path of someone else,” Berry explained.
She continued, “Each one should grow and stand on the shoulders of the one before.”

Finding your path amongst that of others is how people come to recognize their purpose in life — a challenging, yet rewarding experience that allows for the achievement of the ideal form of the self. Purpose moves beyond professional achievement. It is “not your job, but your calling.”

Although she acknowledged that the effort which this takes may act as a deterrent to people reaching their potential, finding it “gives you the life and energy that you need” to continue persevering and feeling young.

Another aspect of personal fulfillment is simply feeling gratitude for your situation. No matter how hard things are, they could always be more difficult, Berry reminded the audience. “I want them to take whatever it is that ignited them and share it,” Berry expressed. “Success will never be what I have, it’s in the impression I leave.”

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