Changing the World One Awkward Porcupine at a Time

Written by on 01 Oct 2013

One year ago today, I quit my job.

Just to give you some context, I left that job with no plan, no prospects, no home, and no source of income. But I did have one thing—a deep-reaching, stomach-aching, pulse-raising, feeling that told me I was doing the right thing.

Thank God for that feeling!

I can happily (and thankfully) say that I have lived more in this last year than in the 25 that came before it.

Since the day I took the dive, I have checked off no less than half of my bucket list. I explored 4 continents, 16 seaports, 26 countries, 41 train stations, and 74 cities. I high-fived Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I had good luck in Ghana. I had bad luck in South Africa. I graduated from Pollywog to Shellback. I petted a cheetah. I went to Confession in Italian, Spanish, and English—all at the same time.

At one point, I didn’t believe any of these things were possible.

I even traveled through time.

Yes, traveled through time as in jumped one day into the future McFly-style, except instead of cruising in a sweet DeLorean I was rocking in a 600-foot retired cruise ship. Thank you, International Date Line!

I… I did all of these things.

But did I… really?

Let me explain.

While I was out embracing my inner-nomad, I found myself becoming more and more introspective. If You’ll recognize this feeling well if you’ve ever been on an international flight or a cross-country road trip. There seems to be some unique sense of clarity and understanding that comes with 30,000 feet or a stretch of open road.

Well, I’ll tell you this—if a plane or a car gives you clarity, then a sail into the middle of the Pacific Ocean with no land in sight for 10 days will give you an epiphany just short divine revelation.

And that’s just what I got. Well, right before we ran into that hurricane… but that’s another story.

What could I have realized at sea that no one else had thought before me, you ask?


Because this isn’t about a new thought, but a new way of thinking.

While I was in Africa, I was introduced to the word ‘ubuntu,’ made popular by none other than the Archbishop himself. Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu word that means ‘human-ness’ or ‘humanity’ but according to the previously high-fived Archbishop, it roughly translates to:

“I am because you are.”

This is one of those fun existential sentences that makes less and less sense the more you read it, so let’s break it down.

“I am...”

We allllllll know what this half of the sentence means. It’s probably a part of every other thought, if not every single thought, that goes through our heads in a given day. I am hungry. I am tired. I am successful. I am important. I. I. I. Or as Time Magazine so aptly put it—Me. Me. Me.

We are all well aware of our own lives.

But what about the second half of this definition:

“…because you are.”

Leaving philosophy aside for a moment, let’s just focus on English grammar. (I know this class was boring in high school, but stay with me here, it’s worth it.) The word ‘because’ is a conjunction that ties these two sentence halves together. ‘I’ and my existence are inextricably attached to ‘you’ and your existence. In fact, ‘I’ cannot exist without ‘you.’ This means that there is no such thing as ‘I am’ unless there is also a ‘you are’ to go along with it. So, we are not just connected or linked or tied together...

We actually need each other to establish the fact that we even exist.

Deep stuff, right?

According to this definition of ubuntu, there is no such thing as a human being in isolation.

Thus, my eureka moment arrived.

While I had always believed in this fact—that human beings are innately social and want to be with each other—I had never heard a word or even a phrase that so aptly described it. Nor had I yet lived, and I mean actively lived (not just existed), enough to experience it firsthand.

But in the last year, I have seen this fact come to life.

Real, human, ubuntu life.

I quickly realized that the most meaningful and memorable moments weren’t tied to where I was or what I was doing. Yes, the Great Wall of China is unbelievably expansive, and yes, the 3,000 temples in Bagan are breathtaking, and yes, 2-hour sunsets over the Indian Ocean can indeed make a grown man cry.

I know. I’ve seen it. He was Italian.

No, the best moments were those that tied me to people. Those moments lived—and proved that I was living—because they were brought to life by other people.

Real, human, ubuntu people.

Who were these people, you ask?

Anyone and everyone.

It was the high school friend who noticed that I just wasn’t myself 7 years down the road (thanks, Matt!). It was the friend who made me laugh for the first time after I quit my job (thanks, Heather!). It was a random conversation that led me to travel around the world (thanks, Martin!) It was the stranger who asked the thoughtful question in a moment of true uncertainty (thanks, Grayson!). It was the teacher who opened my eyes to a new way of defining achievement and success (thanks, George!). It was the girl who inspired me to share my stories (thanks, Hannah!).

In fact, nothing I saw, nothing I experienced, nothing I accomplished ever came to me on my own. Everything great that happened in the last year, and in my life for that matter, has been the product of one encounter with another human being who ignited, inspired, or otherwise impacted my life story and changed the world around me.

These real, human, ubuntu people can be seen in all of our lives if we take the time to notice them.

And the craziest part of all this—I bet most of these people don’t even realize how meaningful they are!

It wasn’t until I returned to the United States and listened to a TED talk by a clever Canadian named Drew Dudley that I found a name for these interactions:

Lollipop moments.

In his talk, Drew tells the story of a young woman on her first day of college (or university as it’s called in the Maple Nation). Drew was welcoming new students on behalf of a charity organization called Shinerama. One particular student, unbeknownst to Drew at the time, was absolutely certain that she was unprepared for school and was going to leave. Just as she was about to tell her parents she wanted to go home, Drew walked over carrying a bucket of lollipops. He looked at the young woman, transferred his gaze to another student standing nearby, held out one of his lollipops, and said, “You need to give a lollipop to the beautiful woman standing next to you.”

As you can imagine, this caused the kind of awkwardness and embarrassment that one experiences when catching two porcupines trying to mate.

It’s just weird. Trust me.

But nonetheless the young man turned to the woman and shyly offered up the lollipop. In a moment of pity, the woman took the lollipop thinking that the two of them would escape this awkward situation if she just cooperated. But instead of leaving, Drew turned to the woman’s parents and severely stated, “Look at that. Look at that. First day away from home and already she’s taking candy from a stranger!”

Hilarity ensued. Tension eased. The lollipop moment passed.

Four years later, that female student found Drew on campus and told him that it was that moment, that lollipop moment, which convinced her to stay in college. In fact, that moment changed her life in more ways than one. Four years later, she was dating that same man who offered her the lollipop. A year and a half after that, Drew received an invitation to their wedding.

And the craziest part of all this—Drew doesn’t even remember doing it!

But we can all identify with this story. And you know why? These things happen to us all the time!

How often do things like this happen to you? And, more importantly, how often do you do these things for others? And as Drew so eloquently puts it, how often do you actively create, acknowledge, pay forward and thank for these moments?

I’ve come to realize that life is defined by moments like these.

Our lives and our concepts of the world around us are what we use to define reality. And as the Archbishop’s definition of ubuntu suggests, these moments of real, human, ubuntu interaction are the ones that can change that reality. When we nurture moments like these in our lives and lives of others, we actively change that reality, and consequently, change the world.

Yes, you and I can change the world.

How cool is that?!

Pretty, damn cool, if you ask me. Pretty, damn cool if you ask anyone. And it was this pretty, damn cool realization that sparked the idea for this blog.

This blog, the blog of Tracy Timm, is not really about me, but about those people and moments that have changed me and thus changed the world. I believe that every major experience, accomplishment, and relationship in my life has come from one of these lollipop moments, and I hope to inspire awareness and appreciation of these moments by sharing them with you.

I want these stories to help you see the similar stories in your life so that you can celebrate the world-changers around you and hopefully do some world-changing yourself.

Even if it changing the world takes awkward, mating porcupines to get done.


Who has defined ubuntu in your life? More importantly, who’s life have you given life to?

I believe that every greatness we enjoy right now can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.

Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own? Share your story in the comments below.

Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.

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