How our mentor, Kat taught students the importance of rooting work in something you love to really make a lasting impact.

The first step of mentorship is research. Students begin searching for a project idea and present their best ideas to me. (If I’m unfamiliar to you, read my first post here.)

Let me tell you a story about one school.

There were six teams working on projects at the same time. Each team presented their ideas to me. From phasing out single-use materials in the cafeteria, to partnering with the township to protect the environment using a social media awareness campaign, to purchasing a billboard to communicate climate change solutions, and to developing a hydroponics system: each idea became more and more impressive, call after call. I called the last team. They didn’t have an idea to contribute. And they were upset because they couldn’t ‘win’ for having the best solution among their peers.

I think it’s easy for students, and really anyone, to get caught up in this mindset. If your idea is not the best, it’s not worth doing. People become obsessed with being the best, and in the process, they lose sight of doing their best. There is no “best” or “worst” when it comes to systematic problem-solving. Changing the system means changing many components and parts of the system, contributed by many who are channeling what they do best towards a common goal. Instead of focusing on ‘being the best’, I try to teach students to re-centre their work on what they are most passionate about.

In this case, I did the same. “Let’s put the ideas aside for a moment. What do you love? What are you passionate about?”

This was easy for the students. The list overflowed. They loved many things from sports to the outdoors to even their dogs.

“If you are passionate about sports, hold a sports event to fundraise for climate change. If you are passionate about the outdoors, work with the school board to encourage outdoor education, or contact your local township to organize park preservation. If you’re passionate about your pets, advocate for safer ingredients for pet food and more sustainable materials in the industry.”

Immediately, their voices changed, and they got excited. They began talking about developing biodegradable pet toys, organizing bulk pet food in their community to reduce plastic waste, hosting advocacy events for compostable doggie bags in parks, and many, many more solutions. Since then, these students have been working hard at amplifying their project, no longer motivated by competition, but an intrinsic and genuine desire to fix a real problem.

This is an example of how passion can transform into action. A full and comprehensive understanding of a problem is the foundation to developing effective solutions, but it is passion that gets these solutions off the ground.