In each of our lives we’ve all had at least one really great, novel idea that had potential to create change. They’re big ideas, usually requiring advanced resources or expertise. Even though they could be potentially groundbreaking, one hang-up always stops us from pursuing them in real life: impostor syndrome.
Impostor syndrome was first defined in a 1978 study on high-achievers, but it’s become almost ubiquitous lately. Technically, it’s defined in the study as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness,” but in simple terms, it’s the feeling that you’re under-qualified, just “got lucky” with something you’ve achieved, or that you’re a fraud trying to execute on something you’re not fully proficient in. Basically, impostor syndrome makes you feel unqualified, and therefore, it’s the number one enemy of big, change-making ideas.
The good news is, a great source of confidence can come from watching people who don’t really have much expertise just go for something. Seeing people reach success by literally “faking it ‘til they make it” can be really empowering. The best source of inspiration? Kids and teens.
Despite a lack of a college degree (and often high school diploma), formal training, or access to major money and resources, kids and teens have set some of the greatest examples of that “just run with it” mentality. And, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be Malala Yousafzai to make a difference. Read up on these five young people who are making huge social impact with little experience, and then give your own ideas a little extra consideration today.
The Diverse Media Powerhouse: Marley Dias
Now 14, Marley Dias was only 11 years old when she launched #1000BlackGirlBooks, which you may have heard of. The movement, established to give young black girls a sense of representation in a world of kids’ books “all about white boys and their dogs,” went viral and landed her a spot in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2017. Of her motivation, Marley told Forbes “frustration is fuel that can lead to the development of an innovative and useful idea,” which led to her development of a resource guide, donation program, and relationships with educators and lawmakers about increasing diversity in media. In January 2018, she released her book Marley Dias Gets It Done — And So Can You, which may be the most concise piece of advice to take away from her work – if it really matters, it’s doable.
The Green Engineer: Annie Ostojic
Another former 30 Under 30 highlight, 17 year-old Annie Ostojic already has two engineering patents: one for an indoor-light-powered battery charger and one for new energy-efficient microwave concept. “When you talk to her, she’s just a normal teenager,” her math teacher told The Chicago Tribune. It’s evident, though, from her many science fair titles, that Annie has never been afraid to lean into finding solutions for pain points – particularly when they concern the environment. Her concept for an efficient microwave began when she spent nearly half an hour trying to defrost a meal. Ever the problem-solver, she turned to Google and discovered that one household microwave uses “103 kg of coal per year” to run, according to an interview by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. From there, her focus pivoted to impacting change in the energy field, where we’ll likely be hearing more from her very soon.
The Climate Activist and Artist: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez began speaking publicly about climate issues at the age of six. Now 18, he’s the fully fledged Youth Director of Earth Guardians, an initiative that “trains diverse youth to be effective leaders in the climate and social justice movement,” according to their website. Xiuhtezcatl was raised in his family’s Aztec tradition, which is cited as a driver of his “deep reverence” for nature. With an absolutely infectious energy, the teen’s activism has also crossed into music, where he’s collaborated with Jaden Smith under the name Xiuhtezcatl. Despite his more than decade-long career in both public speaking and legislative organizing around causes like fracking and pesticides, he says “I still have a decent amount of sanity within me, which is dope,” in a compelling speech at the 2016 Bioneers conference.
The “Lifestyle Cyclist” : Shawn Deangelo Walton
Shawn could have just opened a bike shop. When then-Morehouse undergrad opened WeCycle Atlanta, though, he did so much more. Established to “serve the surrounding community by highlighting and promoting the health, economic, and environmental benefits that come with incorporating cycling recreationally,” WeCycle functions more as a community education center than a standard bike shop. As a long-time cyclist, Shawn opened the shop to educate and empower his community to take advantage of the low-cost, high-benefit cycling lifestyle. WeCycle features ride events, educates about and organizes local activism, and promotes inspiring content to further engage the community in bicycling. The initial idea may not seem game-changing, but the implementation certainly has been – WeCycle has turned cycling in Atlanta from a hobby to a healthy, empowered, activist lifestyle.
The Coding Role Model: Christina Li
Christina Li is a camp counselor of sorts. The kind that was invited to the Obama White House to talk about national leadership in the computer sciences. As a high school student in Michigan, Christina founded Hello, World!, a coding and tech day camp for middle school girls. During a university summer program for high schoolers, she first noticed the gender gap in the coding world. “It didn’t really hit me until I was in those classes, and I’d see, out of 100 or so, there’s not many girls,” she told Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. While a board member on her high school robotics team, Christina credited all of her success to determination. In a 2016 interview, Christina claimed “without the drive to actually try to do something about the problems I see, and the drive to teach others, I wouldn’t be anywhere.”