This blog post is based on a speech I gave at Cave Springs ToastMasters Club in St. Charles, Missouri in November of 2013.
When I went to high school in Texas as an exchange student there was a sign in my English class that read: there are 3 kinds of people. The first group of people talk about other people. The 2nd group talks about events. And the 3rd group talks about ideas. This sign stuck with me. Every time I felt like I was gossiping or spending too much time talking about trivial things, I reminded myself to be more of a member of the third group. I wanted to surround myself with people who were eager to talk about ideas, I wanted to be somebody who talks about things that have an impact, about things that are meaningful. Sometimes I accomplished it, many times I didn’t.
I grew up in a city of about 50,000 people in Northern Germany between Denmark and Hamburg. I was the oldest child – and the youngest as well. Some people call it the only child. I wasn’t completely alone, however, as I regularly visited my three younger cousins in Bavaria in Southern Germany.
Then came the experience that changed everything, at least in hindsight. I stayed with a host family and visited a high school in Texas for ten months in 2003/2004. Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, said: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.” Ten years later I am able to connect the dots and it seems pretty clear that without me leaving my comfort zone as a 16-year old teenager I probably wouldn’t be living in a different country and doing all the things I enjoy doing.
After I graduated from high school, I spent a year helping elderly people. In 2007, at the age of 20, I moved out and lived in Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, for a year. It was during that time that my parents got divorced. In hindsight I am pretty sure that the distance helped me get through this hard time almost unscathed. The small city of Gießen was my next pit stop. I spent three years of my life there studying History and Journalism, lived in a dueling fraternity, studied abroad in the UK for half a year, completed three internships, played American football with a passion, and learned from and endured 2 long-distance relationships, one of them ‘measuring’ 9,000 miles. I am proud of my Bachelor’s thesis, a 110-page treatise about Robert Moses and the history of New York from the 1920s to the 1960s.
But back to my story. I knew I wanted to study abroad again and also play NCAA football after I got my college degree, and the States were an easy pick. I worked tirelessly. I went on the website of 700 college and universities, narrowed it down to 70, applied to 7, got accepted by all of them, and picked Lindenwood University. It felt like a dream come true. Once at Lindenwood I had my work cut out for. Being an athlete student – I think this way around the term is more accurate – and being a graduate assistant and taking classes soon took its toll. I had everything I wanted but sometimes I caught myself wondering: What if my dream was too big for me? Fortunately, I persevered, and from there on things were getting better and better. Among other things, I became friends with Jonas Kehrbaum who told me about Semester at Sea, which was a perspective-altering experience that has already changed the trajectory of my life and will continue to do that in the future in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.
So here I am, ten years after I saw that fateful sign in Texas saying that there are three kinds of people. Those who talk about other people, those who talk about events, and those who talk about ideas. While my time at Lindenwood reinforced my conviction that I want to be somebody of the 3rd group, the people who talk about ideas, circumnavigating the globe made me realize that having an idea alone isn’t enough. There’s something else, something that’s way more important. After seeing 13 different countries, having so many diverse experiences, seeing people struggling to provide for their families, spending a lot of time with creative misfits, divergent thinkers and impatient entrepreneurs, I realized that it is possible for everyone of us to impact and empower people in a positive way – and to make the world a better place.
Everybody has ideas. But that’s not the point. An idea is worthless unless you implement it. Therefore, all these experiences taught me that there is a 4th group. Members of this 4th group don’t just talk about ideas, they put them into practice. They take action. At the end of the day, the difference is really not that big, but the step from just thinking about something to actually doing it is quite dramatic. Have you ever had an idea of which you thought: this really has potential – but you didn’t pursue it?!
Benjamin Franklin once said: “There are three sorts of people in the world. Those who are immovable, those who are movable, and those who move.”
I strive to be one of those who move, I strive to be a member of the 4th group. I hope you feel the same way.