Human Interactions

A Birthday, A Mile Marker, A Gifted Life

Posted on / by Alex Berger

Alex Berger - Beach - Europe 07

This past Tuesday was my 23rd Birthday. Though I didn’t really realize it until a week or so ago it marked a significant milestone in my life. I realized I had always drawn a mental line between 22 and 23…dividing my life as a youth from my life as an adult. For me, turning 23 was the symbolic representation of major change. It was a time for retrospection, introspection and preparation.

Since the middle of High School I’ve slowly been preparing for my independence. Both scared and excited by the thought of being 100% responsible for myself and accountable to myself. A time where I’d make my own money, decisions, and be solely responsible for how the future of my life was charted. That said, we are never truly alone or independent. We are always shaped by the people we rely upon and surround ourselves with.

So, as I looked at myself, who I am, who I was, and who I want to become I spent a good deal of time thinking about the people I’ve surrounded myself with. These are the amazing people who have invested in me, who have offered their wisdom, thoughts, questions, guidance and companionship and who have driven me to become a better person.

Since an early age I’ve been a sociologist at heart. With a mediator personality and an ability for extreme empathy I’ve understood people. I can put myself in their shoes, step outside my own skin and am willing to invest in total strangers in order to understand them better. I’ve developed into a social chameleon with radically different groups of friends because I see and understand the value and quality in each group and individual. I’ve also made a few rare mistakes along the way and associated with people I shouldn’t have…for the wrong reasons. In the end though I’ve always selected the best of the best to rely on and to surround me. These individuals have re-affirmed my moral convictions, driven me to aspire and succeed, and offered me greater insights into the nature of my humanity.

I’ve been exceptionally lucky. I have a fantastic relationship with both of my parents and a close relationship with my younger brother. For a variety of reasons my parents have been as much mentor as friend over the years and as I have grown they have offered insights, guidance, drive, and honest criticisms which have given me the motivational fuel to aim for the stars. They are the foundation upon which I’ve been able to build myself and without their guidance I’d be a significantly different person. It’s not just that I could rely on them, or that they were always there for me, it’s that they spent time as they grew and matured to develop themselves. To explore and become comfortable with themselves and then to built a rapport with each other that offered two of the most driven, self confident people I’ve ever met. They showed me that it is not only acceptable, but right to strive toward excellence and that excellence comes in many shapes and forms, but above all – that truth, independence and morality are what define a person’s character and energy in this world. That they are concepts independent of religion and faith. That they are concepts that touch, craft, and shape the inner spirit of a person because of their own significance.

That goodness of spirit. That belief that the right thing isn’t done for a reward or out of fear of punishment, but rather because it is a fulfillment of one’s duty to oneself and an opportunity to create positive ripples in the world has guided the way I’ve picked my friends and lived my life. It is a philosophy that, while not always easy, has offered me a firm basis for my belief and confidence in myself while also coming back to me ten-fold.

During my time spent gaming I was exposed to the anonymity of the Internet. In that environment I had the opportunity to see people’s true natures and gained an insight into the discrepancy between the person they revealed on a daily basis versus their core personality. For years I was disheartened and frustrated at the astounding number of people whose entire sense of morality was driven/installed solely by a desire for reward or fear of punishment. Individuals who – once the rule of accountability was removed-would seek to take advantage of, exploit, and abuse their fellow man without qualm or moral pause. These people – I realized – were the same otherwise seemingly goodly people I met on the street corner, did business with, and worked with. These were the individuals that, if I wasn’t careful, I’d be entrusting with my friendship, secrets, and future. It was a scary thought. Especially as I came to realize that perhaps half, if not more, of the people out there belong in this group.

Then there was a second group – the individuals who despite the anonymity of the Internet banded together. Individuals who if anything, freed of the bonds of accountability, became more moral, more driven to do right by their fellow humans and the world as a whole. It’s not that these individuals were selfless – they had their own needs, agendas, and projects…Just that they were true to themselves and entertained a desire to do right by their fellows. I came to realize that these were the individuals I wanted to find and identify as friends. These were the people who would make me a better person and help me make the world a better place – simply by living. As time has passed, luckily these have been the people I’ve surrounded myself with and their influence on my growth has been fantastic.

In addition to quality of character, the people I’ve been able to surround myself with have offered me their respect, loyalty and confidence. I’m not sure there is a better compliment out there than the knowledge than another individual is willing to rely on you and seek your input and guidance as they chart their own course through life. That vote of confidence and pact is an incredible social contract but above that, is perhaps one of the strongest and most incredible motivators to succeed.

They have set the bar for me and continually raised it. Often leading by example and creating an energy charged atmosphere that has driven me forward, offered me support and encouragement as I moved beyond my comfort zone, and shared their energy and motivation with me when my own lagged.

They have opened opportunities for me, both socially and professionally that have led me to where I am currently…Opportunities that I might never even have even realized existed if not for their help.

My recent 3 month walkabout in Europe was an enlightening time. It offered me the opportunity – almost completely isolated-to explore myself and build the confidence in myself I needed to really soar and to continue moving toward my potential. The 2 months I spent on my own were transformational, but equally amazing was the last month spent traveling with Lander – one of my best friends. As we explored Italy and Greece, got ourselves into challenging situations, and had 1 month to analyze, discuss and explore…the experience offered me new insights into the power of friendship. The shift from pure independence, to becoming part of a team requiring compromise, and collective decision-making offered extreme contrasts which really opened my eyes to parts of my personality.

I also mentioned that I’ve made mistakes. Though frustrating and embarrassing they offered as much in the way of quality insights as any of my other positive decisions. There have been times along the way – not many, but they have existed – where I’ve associated with people for the wrong reasons. People who’s sole loyalty was to themselves, who lacked that fundamental moral framework, and who I thought I could either change, or who offered experiences that I thought I wanted. The simple lesson I’ve learned is that despite the apparent benefits – it’s never worth it. To be associated with, influenced by, and perceived as tied to individuals of a low caliber is a reflection on who I am, who I want to be, and how I choose to live. It’s a powerful and important lesson…One I think we all face, and which is often much harder to deal with, and realize than we give it credit.

So – thank you. Thank you for your respect, for your trust, for your friendship, for your wisdom and for making me a better person. You are the earth that nourishes me, supports me and grounds me. As I continue to develop my inner-self I look forward to the insights and guidance you have to offer.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

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