Reflections from the Edge

Musings from Yoxi Founder, Sharon Chang

Earlier this month, I returned from a beautiful trip to the edge of the world, Fogo Island. Despite being one of the coldest places on the planet, its inhabitants are some of the warmest people I have ever come across in my life. In this remote corner of Newfoundland, beauty — physical and spiritual — can be found at every corner in every way, making each seemingly ordinary encounter extraordinary.

This was not my first visit. About three years ago, I was introduced to Zita Cobb, the founder of the Shorefast Foundation and the Fogo Island Inn — a place instrumental to saving the island from economic decline. Through many intimate conversations in front of the Inn’s wood-burning stove as Zita and I watched gusting wind paint a sublime landscape with drifting snow, I fell in love with her story about a resilient community reinventing itself with pride and wisdom. The experience also planted a seed for me to question my own approach to building and shaping communities. I had had a vague instinct that the future cannot become its best expression without heeding a rich tapestry from the past. It is the careful weaving across time that adds the necessary texture to better define who we are and who we want to become.

Three years later, I found myself walking on this island again as a participant of a “wonder-making” gathering organized by the Nomadic School of Wonder, which creates experiences at the intersection of art, nature, community and play. Drawing inspiration from New Zealander Glenn Colquhoun’s poem “The Art of Walking Upright,” this gathering examined the intricate balance required by the constant dance that gives us a sense of belonging in shifting conditions. The poem ends with a profound observation:

The art of walking upright here

is the art of using both feet.

Ones is for holding on.

One is for letting go.

I have read this poem many times by now. Yet still each time, when I reach the last two lines, my heart skips a beat, prompting a deep inhale to ease my mind that doesn’t seem to know how to let go.

As 2018 draws to an end, I am spending a good amount of time reflecting on what I consider a very challenging year. We are witnessing political leaders around the world use an angry mix of nationalism and populism in their rhetoric to fuel anti-immigration sentiments. We are grappling with the cascading effects of the #MeToo movement leading to more antagonistic relationships and robotic policies. We are experiencing our social fabric deteriorate as our dependency on technology contributes to more loneliness and isolation. The list goes on, with every tendency pointing to a societal-level dwindling of curiosity and humility — the two qualities that most deeply define Yoxi’s identity and values.

I can stay optimistic and cast Yoxi as a refreshing voice in the chaos; or I can go with the half-empty glass and conclude that our uphill battle is simply too exhausting. There are many days this year when I felt deflated, doubting myself for challenging conventional success and measurable investment outcomes. Thankfully, this trip to Fogo reminded me that everything begins with a small group of people wanting to build a better future while holding fast to their values and heritage. Harsh conditions can make survival difficult, but they also encourage us to harness our imagination and put ingenuity to work. More importantly, the camaraderie forged on a tough journey together gives meaning to a shared history. And that history is the foundation for a thriving community, as I observed the first time I set foot on Fogo Island.

Perhaps I need to learn to let go of the idea Yoxi represents: a beacon to show that the risk of not asking hard questions is greater than losing money. Ideas can be theoretical and sometimes enslaving. In this case, my frustration with our journey often stems from not finding enough people who can appreciate the idea of “funding questions.” But I realize that the small group of people who do appreciate our work is what I must hold on to — a community with a very clear and important voice.

Yoxi explorers embody our shared vision as they devote themselves to wrestling with really hard questions and new approaches to improve the world: Usha’s dogged experiment in AgTech, Chid’s continued reinvention of Liberty and Justice and Erine’s unwavering belief in solving today’s problems, to name a few among many others we have yet to profile. Yoxi’s job is to weave our collective past and aspirational future into a whole, celebrating the fabric holding us together to stand proudly and steadfastly in even the harshest conditions — a climate that does not value curiosity, humility and the pursuit of mastery.

Looking ahead at 2019, I would like to invite everyone to join us with the Yoxi explorers in practicing the art of walking upright. Let us use both feet, and, one step at a time, we will let go of our doubts and hold on to our values. The world may continue to unravel around us, so we must support each other with a commitment to take meaningful risks in shaping a more beautiful future.

Originally published at on December 26, 2018.



Future Architect and Founder of the Guild of Future Architects

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