Since I was little, I’ve been a sucker for cheesy movies. Make some popcorn and put on a sappy chick flick about love and adventure and I’m all yours.
Whenever I would watch these movies when I was younger, where the main character goes through struggles but finds their way, I would think about what my life would be like if it were a movie. This always seemed far-fetched to me, but lately, life legitimately seems like a movie.
Sure, I have the normal teenage aspect of every chick flick: I get up at 5AM, try not to fall asleep in math class, joke around with my friends and watch Netflix way too often. But recently, I’m starting to get the plot down. The exposition is coming, and I can feel it. Grab the popcorn, guys.
You see, my day doesn’t stop at Netflix and stressing over school. Here’s some more main character info for you: My name is Valerie, and I am the CEO of The Validation Project. I founded The Validation Project on January 16th, 2013. In the beginning, I felt like I was treading through muddy water. I was 14 years old and I had no idea what I was doing; I just knew I wanted to do something.
Now, almost two years later, I lead 5500 teenagers, 2000 adults and 900 schools in 100 countries, all working together to solve world problems through skill-based mentorships, community service and campaigns.
This past month, the last month of 2014, was the biggest emotional, unreal roller coaster I’ve ever been on.
The first day of December, when most kids were going back to school after Thanksgiving, I was on a bus with my older brother, Alex, from New York to Washington, D.C.
I had the honor of representing the Jefferson Awards at the Nexus Youth USA Event, a conference committed to inspiring my generation to use their power for social good. At first, I thought I was just attending. But, a week before I was DC bound, I got a call asking if I could give a presentation. So, on Capitol Hill, I told the story of The Validation Project to a room full of some of the most powerful people. I chatted with Ashley Judd about the importance of feminism. I had lunch with members of Congress. By the end of the conference, I wanted to stay — to grab a briefcase and a latte and follow the Congress members into their office to keep discussing policy and the power of youth. Instead, I went back to school.
The next week, I was on the road again. But, it was for a much different experience, I spoke at Horace Greeley High School, where one of the first ever Validation Project chapters was formed. I got to meet the people who work in the chapter, and shared with them how I overcame bullying and use my age as an advantage.
It was strange going from speaking with Congress to speaking with kids my age — discussing the latest episode of Criminal Minds just as much as we were discussing the next TVP campaign.
People came up to me and told me how TVP saved their life, that now they have a community. When I left, I was invigorated.
Walking out of the auditorium where I just addressed 1300 students, I got a phone call from the Jefferson Awards. They asked me to represent them at a private event to meet Prince William and Kate Middleton.
I may have happy danced.
OK, I definitely happy danced.
The next day, decked out in heels that I could barely walk in, I met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They talked about the importance of engaging youth in public service. I chatted with Jane Seymour about passion and kindness as we waited for them to arrive.
I went home in shock. It wasn’t just meeting the Duke and Duchess that got me. In the past three weeks, I had three totally different experiences. But something was the same about all of them.
You know in every movie, when the character succeeds — either getting the love of their life or their dream job or climbing that mountain? They get the butterflies in their stomach, the sugar rush energy, they feel like they’re on top of the world. It’s as if, for one moment, nothing else matters because they’re here.
That’s why I love the sappy movies. The look in somebody’s eyes when they discover that they made it; that’s priceless.
I get that feeling when I talk about the problems youth face and try to solve them, when I work with a Validation Project chapter, when I meet the role models who inspire me to make a difference. I also get that feeling whenever I do community service — whenever I work with the Jefferson Awards.
But my life isn’t a movie. It’s not 120 minutes and then over. It isn’t scripted. I have no idea what’s to come, none of us do.
But if you’re reading this and you’re a teenager, I’ve got a trailer for your life movie. It’s called Lead360. What’s your big idea? What wakes you up in the morning? How do you want to make your mark through health and wellness, education and literacy or hunger and poverty? Send in your idea today.
Because you know the beauty of life not being a movie?
You get to write your own script.
By: Valerie Weisler, CEO, The Validation Project
LEAD360 Winner of the Peace & Justice Category 2014; JAF Globe Changer