I remember sitting on my bathroom floor crying my eyes out after I had just gotten back from my first Live Different build trip to the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2011. They weren’t just tears of an angry humanitarian or of a confused and angry 17-year-old. They were tears because I knew from that moment on, my life was going to be forever changed by LiveDifferent and I wasn’t sure what that was going to look like. Since that first trip, I have helped build six houses with Live Different in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and am currently on my third tour across Canada doing motivational presentations.
When I was in high school seeing LiveDifferent shows, I loved every single one of them. I looked up to the people speaking on stage thinking they were so brave, so great for sharing their stories. There was a catch however, I never fully related to a story shared on stage, for this reason I really wanted to be able to share my own story. I have been given the extreme honour of getting to share my personal story on stage in front of thousands of students on all three of my tours. Sharing my personal story has been a huge form of acceptance and guidance to the things that have happened in my life.
Sharing my story has given me the chance to be very open about things that happened in my life that I use to hide from people. I was that junior high kid who was embarrassed of my family’s struggles with lack of money and my dad’s drug addiction. I did not want anyone at school to know, but also, no one ever asked either. When I went on my first trip with LiveDifferent, that was when people started to care, and started to ask me why I am who I am. LiveDifferent has been that thing that has opened me up to people who care so much. Live Different has made me want to be the absolute best version of myself that I can be, so I can help others who may be struggling and just care for them.
Everyone goes through something at one point or another, and sometimes they just need to hear someone else say it and they will open up. I had the amazing experience of getting to speak at a presentation at my old high school this semester. I didn’t think I was going to know anyone still there, but after the show a couple different girls came up to me who I had done extracurricular activities with or were a younger sister of someone I went to school with, and they shared some personal things with me. I had known one of the girls most of my life and neither of us had any idea we were both struggling in the time we’ve known each other. It’s so crazy to me, that you could know someone for so long but still not really know what’s going on in the inside. I could see the hope in her eyes when she started sharing with me because she knew I understood what was happening.
This organization has taught me to have Grace and Guts in any situation I may be in. To give my team members and students grace about their stories, their past, their struggles. To hold myself to the standard of grace, not perfection. To have the guts to become vulnerable and share some of the deepest most painful memories of mine with people on stage every day. To live on a tour bus with seven other people and for it to be okay to be vulnerable and show my softer side when I’m struggling. I’ve learned it is more than okay to cry. I used to hate crying in front of people and apologize for it. Sometimes, I still do. But, now I know that it is okay to cry, it’s okay to have those emotions – it’s what it means to be human.
When I look at the things that have happened to me, my dad’s drug addiction, my family’s struggles, those things do not define me. My past and the situations I’ve been through do not define who I am. I’ve been taught that this experience, this whirlwind I’ve called my life for the last 2+ years, is not about me. It’s about us, all of us together. It’s about finding a cause and being passionate about it. LiveDifferent has made me into a person who I am proud of. I like who I have become because of this organization, and to not feel bad about saying nice things about myself. That it is important to love myself. Live Different has this crazy ability to change people’s lives for the absolute best and I am so honoured and thankful to have had all the experiences I’ve had so far with them.
All I needed was a little bit of guts to take a step into changing my own life. I signed up for a trip and that one tiny decision has made me the person I am today and every day I hope I can make someone else realize how much potential that they have as well.