The Future Me/The Future WE
WE Communications Blog: CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin
Last week, I found myself totally absorbed by the TED2017 conference in Vancouver, B.C. Total absorption is the norm for me at TED — and this year’s theme, “The Future You,” seemed designed to encourage more absorption, even self-absorption, than usual. It could be a little off-putting at first: After all, can a roomful of people with all the resources in the world at their disposal really tell the rest of us what our future should look like and how we should pursue it? What does the future me have in common with the future me of neuroscientists, roboticists and artists, or the future Serena Williams, Elon Musk or Shah Rukh Khan?
Quite a bit, it turns out. Because, of course, that’s the point: For there to be a future me, or a future you, we’ve got to find a way to start thinking in terms of the future us. As the Pope (yes, the Pope!) put it in his talk on Tuesday, “none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent ‘I,’ separated from the other.” “We can only build the future,” he said, “by standing together, including everyone.”
All week, this same theme kept popping up. Here are some snippets from my notes:
“I believe the biggest question in the 21st century concerns our duty to strangers.” (International Rescue Committee President David Miliband)
“We can face any future without fear so long as we know that we won’t face it alone.” (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks)
“You may use your power to build walls and keep people outside, or you may use it to break barriers and welcome them in.” (Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan)
“When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution.” (Pope Francis, again)
Now that the conference is over, the hard part begins: accepting the challenge and making changes. TED always inspires me to make lists of how I can do better, and this year I came away with questions like: How am I going to take these lessons to heart, and not just put them on and take them off like a coat when it’s convenient? How am I going to change the way I think, and the way I act so that I am truly living in celebration of and solidarity with others? What am I going to do differently, and (just as important) what am I going to keep on doing? For that matter, how am I going to talk less and do more? How am I going to make sure that every day I am the kind of leader and person I want to be, at work and home and everywhere else? When I ask myself “to what end?” how can I be sure I’ll be proud of the answer?
I’ll be honest: I don’t entirely know yet. (For one thing, even though I’d already been turning many of these questions over and over in my mind for years, I’ll never answer them all thoroughly in one lifetime — or even two!) What I do know is that I have to start focusing even more on the things I care about. For WE, that means building a place to belong, a place of community, a place where everyone is valued equally, and a place where people stay and grow and learn from each other every day throughout their careers. It also means remembering, especially as we work on our business diversity and inclusion goals, something that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said that I just loved: “It’s the people not like us who make us grow.”
On the personal front, it means having an open mind and remembering that I can learn from everyone, especially those who are different from me. I can make sure the causes I support are making a difference. And I can be the kind of friend we all want: totally present, curious about others, and an open-armed convener working to build community.
I still think “to what end?” is one of the most important questions I can ask of the choices I make, but now I’ll add another: “How does this serve the future us?” That’s a challenge I think the future me does share with the future Serena Williams, Elon Musk and Shah Rukh Khan, along with everybody else — and it’s a challenge I believe we can all tackle together. The future us depends on it.