Last night I had to fortune to listen to Jane Goodall speak. It’s interesting how one can make someone’s life seem very linear and predictable (just read any famous person’s wikipedia article) as you put together their experiences and achievements together, but in fact, sometimes opportunities lie everywhere. It’s whether we are able to notice them and somehow be supported through the process.

There were several things that struck me about her life story. One major one was the seemingly unending support of her mother. Jane had a mother that recognized her potential and always fostered and nurtured it. Jane recalled a story about when her mother found her in bed when she was less than two years old hanging on to some earthworms under her bedcovers. Instead of dismissing it, Jane’s mother told her that the worms needed the earth to live and that they should go put the worms back where they belong.

Even though she didn’t have enough money to go to college, she worked and saved and ended up taking a boat to what was known then as “The Dark Continent” after a friend said that she could stay on that friends farm. No one believed anything good would come of it. They gave her lots of reasons not to go. She was a woman, she didn’t have a college degree, Africa was dangerous, and the list goes on.  All except her mother who went with Jane to Africa. While in Africa, she was advised to call a Kenyan archeologist named Louis Leaky who gave her a job and 6 months to observe chimps. She went, camped, observed and after surviving the chimps aggressive initial behaviors, she discovered that they used tools. That discovery led to National Geographic getting involved and of course, funding.

Through Leaky, Goodall also received a letter from Cambridge University offering her a place in a Ph.D. program. I love the way Jane mentions that they thought they (or Leaky) didn’t have time to waste on a B.A. Well, all her professors told her she had done everything wrong, but that didn’t stop her.

Later, at a conference, she heard about too many chimps being held captive in tiny cages for the duration of their entire lives for the purpose of experimentation and at that moment became an activist. From that, she thought of the power of hope that lies with our children and founded a program called Roots and Shoots (you can click here for the educator’s page).

If there were a few key ideas I got from this lecture, it’s that we need to find the passion in our lives and just one person needs to support and nourish it. The other thing was hope in our future. If we didn’t believe we could make this planet a better one, one that is sustainable, one of peace, one that recognizes differences as opportunities, collaborates to solve problems, etc. and pass that hope and optimism to the children we teach, why bother.



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