By Maria Russo
When I think back to when I first launched The Culture-ist five and a half years ago, I can remember sitting behind my computer racking my brain hoping it would spit out enough information to produce five stories for the week. I was beyond determined to make it work, so much so that I adopted crazy “writer’s hours”, staying up until 2:00 a.m. some nights and waking at 10:00 a.m. only to plunge right back into writing. I became obsessed with getting published in travel magazines and finding ways to have The Culture-ist featured in established media publications such as National Geographic, The Huffington Post, Architectural Digest and others.
Soon came the acknowledgements and the media trips and sponsored travel, which began opening a new window into the way I looked at life. The thrill of being able to explore the world through travel writing fueled my obsession to keep our monthly pageviews and our social numbers high. But I look back at it all now and realize how toxic and unhealthy my work practices were. I was utterly consumed in the “striving” component of forming a new business. No matter how well we did there was always more that could be done, better analytics to achieve and press trips to attend.
Little did I realize that through the rush and frenetic pace of life, travel was changing me without me even knowing it. As I continued more with sponsored travel and less with press trips, I began to have the time to take in the precious moments that is travel. I began to see – truly see – the beauty and the poverty; the tragedies of tourism and the beneficial economic impact it can have on a community. I realized how incredibly fortunate I was to have food and shelter every day and to be free – free from violence, slavery, gender inequality and sexual abuse. And I started noticing that happiness comes from within and through the love of a compassionate community, not through high pageviews or social sharing numbers.
My outer journeys led to an inner journey that had me questioning “Who am I?”
I started thinking back to the reasons and intentions behind the launch of the site: I desired to change the world, however small, through impactful stories. I knew through the countless people we had met (and e-met) along the way that we were doing our part to help, but I knew there was more, this was just one stretch of the path. Once I realized this, it was as if the Universe worked to help me find the next courageous steps that would be necessary to keep going.
I (along with Anthony) took that same fervor I used to build The Culture-ist and began applying it to build Humanity Unified and HU Int’l (nonprofit). I no longer wanted to strive though, instead I wanted to serve and exhibit my gratitude for being able to see so much of the world by giving back in my own way however big or small that was.
I felt drawn to projects that focused on education, food security and entrepreneurship for women in developing countries. I constantly think to myself: “Why do I enjoy these privileges and other women do not”? The more I listened the more I became awake to the answer that would quell this question.
You see, so many of us that live in the developing world miss that we have a responsibility to lift up those who do not have the same freedoms and basic human rights that we enjoy. Instead, we spend our life striving, striving for the next raise, the new car, the better apartment, the impressive degree and in the midst of it all we miss out on life. The most important thing I learned through this transition is that the only thing that can truly make us feel whole, alive and successful is when we serve others with compassion.
I also look at my role in leading the students that practically run The Culture-ist as a mentorship. I see my job as a way of serving them and our contributors with the knowledge I have learned over the years. Later this month, we will launch a partnership with Emerson College that will allow students in the Writing Literature and Publishing (WLP) program to essentially take over editorial for The Culture-ist under the guidance of Assistant Professor in WLP and former editor-in-chief at the Boston Globe Magazine Susanne Althoff. I can’t think of a better way to keep the site going as I focus on HU than through stories and articles told by students.
I hope that if you take anything from this piece it will be that you stop striving and start living by giving. Live in every moment, love in every flower, every song, every new land you explore, every new smile you encounter. Do what you love with good, thoughtful intentions and if you rely on and believe in the power of human connection, not credentials, you will be amazed at the opportunities and possibilities that will come your way.