How to Be Led By Your Mission, Not Your Fear
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. I first learned of her when I watched one of her earlier speeches.
Greta first learned about climate change at the age of 8. By age 11, after suffering from depression, selective mutism, and refusing to eat, she was evenutally diagnosed with asperger’s syndrome (no longer a separate diagnosis, but part of the autism spectrum), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and selective mutism.
Fast forward to May 2018: Greta won an essay contest run by a Swedish newspaper about climate change. As a result of that win, she was encouraged by a local climate action company to pursue student strikes as a way to make a difference.
Unable to garner interest of her peers, Greta bravely sat alone outside Swedish parliament for three weeks, when she should have been starting Grade 9, holding signs that read:
“School strike for climate”
“I am doing this because you adults are sh*tting on my future.”
Her demands were that the Swedish goverment make changes to deal with climate change. She did not attend school until the Swedish general election, and then subsequently went on strike every Friday.
With the help of social media attention and more public speaking, her solitary movement turned into a mass climate action strike by students called “Fridays for Future.” As of 2019, millions of students had gone on strike with her.
In August 2019, Greta traveled to New York City from the UK on a carbon neutral racing yacht equipped with solar panels and an underwater turbine, to adhere to the values she was putting forth. Similarly, she convinced her parents, an opera singer and actor, to become vegan and give up air travel, to reduce their own carbon footprint.
In her speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, she chastised world leaders for ruining the future of youth due to inaction on climate change.
What can we learn from Greta about making your mission more important than your fear? Here’s what I think.
(Watch Greta’s 2019 UN Climate Action speech below)
Lesson #1: Ignore Your Critics
Greta has not gone without criticism. She’s been called mentally ill or a pawn of her parents. She’s been mocked by the president of the United States. But she has this to say about what people say about her:
“It’s quite hilarious when the only thing people can do is mock you, or talk about your appearance or personality, as it means they have no argument or nothing else to say.” – Greta Thunberg
If people are making fun of you, mocking you, criticizing how you look or some aspect of your personality—that says much more about them and their lack of integrity than it does about you. Ignore those people, and carry on.
Lesson #2: Value Your Differences
Some people have questioned Greta’s stance because of her age and her diagnoses. While she acknowledges that in the past her diagnosis on the autism spectrum held her back, she has also called it her superpower.
She’s different. She’s a 16-year-old calling out world leaders and telling them they are acting like children. Yes, that’s a superpower. Her blunt way of speaking likely comes partly from her diagnosis, and she’s learned to make it work for her in supporting her mission.
What’s your mission and what interesting or different parts of yourself could support that?
Lesson #3: You Need to Take Action
When she wanted to start a strike for climate action and no other students wanted to join in, she could have easily given up. Instead, she took the only action that she could: sitting outside the steps of Swedish parliament holding a sign that would make most people cringe.
As a result, she started an international movement. What could you do if you just took the smallest action toward your biggest goal? It doesn’t even have to be on a world scale, but it has to fire you up. The thought of not achieving it has to make you unable NOT to take action.
(Greta Thunberg has since published a collection of her speeches in May 2019 called “No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference.” All proceeds from that book are donated to charity.)
Lesson #4: It’s Okay to Be Weird
Aside from valuing her difference of being on the autism spectrum, Greta also values being weird if it supports her goals and values. The trip on the yacht is an example of that.
People are going to talk about you no matter what you do. As long as what you are doing is in line with your mission and your values, you will never be wrong.
Lesson #5: You Can Make a Difference
Greta had no idea that her one-person strike back in 2018 would turn into a massive worldwide movement.
It’s led to what has been termed the “Greta Thunberg Effect.”
Wealthy philanthropists are donating money to climate change. Publications of children’s books on climate change are on the rise. She has also had an effect on her peers that nobody could have predicted.
She could have stayed home and felt depressed about the state of the world, but didn’t. What big impact do you want to have, and what’s holding you back?
Lesson #6: People in Authority Are Just People
Greta has had no qualms about talking to people in authority in a blunt and direct way. Here are some things she has said:
“You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to.” – Greta Thunberg
“We’re facing an immediate unprecedented crisis that has never been treated as a crisis and our leaders are all acting like children.” – Greta Thunberg
We are raised to respect people in authority. And that’s good to a certain point. But when you fear speaking to people in authority like they are just people, you lose sight of the ability to question the bigger picture: does what this person stands for align with my values and my mission? Never be afraid to question authority if it doesn’t align with your values and mission. After all, people in authority are just people.
Lesson #7: Tell It Like It Is
What’s her mission? What does she want?
She wants the world to unite behind the science and take action on climate change.
“I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire—because it is.” – Greta Thunberg
She argues that the strategies in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming are insufficent and that we need to stop talking about lowering emissions and start thinking about eliminating them. In her 2019 speech at the UN Climate Action Summit she gives details on the science. In a nutshell, she says we have less than 8 years to take action or the effects of climate change will be irreversible.
She tells it like it is: the facts are the facts.
What are you afraid to say and why? What would it take for you to start telling it like it is?
If you want to follow her lead, you need to start ignoring your critics, valuing your differences, take action, be okay with being weird, know you can make a difference, stop fearing authority “just because,” and start telling it like it is.
Oh, and what does she want you to do? She wants you to do ALL the things that impact climate change and reduce your own carbon footprint. But most importantly, she wants you to use democracy to vote for leaders who are committed to acting on what she calls an existential crisis that could lead to the end of civilization as we know it.