There’s no victory in playing small

On December 6, US President Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. What has unfolded since: violence, protests, airstrikes and uncertainty for theDonald Trump Wall Art future of many people. I just returned from the region less than a week prior to the announcement. I was in Palestine (the West Bank) to direct a short film music video with local artists in collaboration with FilmLab Palestine and had meetings with local NGOs to discuss how we could collaborate on peace-driven projects for the region. Personally, I fear deeply for the lives of my colleagues and peers. Israel and Palestine can draw polarising reactions – especially now – but regardless of where your political, sociological or moral beliefs lie, it’s undeniable that it’s a wholly unsustainable situation and things need to change.

Bethlehem-Wall_UoL-Blog-photoI want to be a part of that change; not only there but in the world, period. That’s why I’m pursuing my LLB with the University of London. I chose the institution because of its reputation, its impressive alumni roster and the realities of my life. I work in film and run an NGO which means my schedule is unpredictable, my work assignments spread across the globe.

At 38 years of age I’m in my second year of law school. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s engaging and it is work on top of my existing work leaving very little time for anything else. We live in a youth-obsessed, ageist culture so I understand some people get self-conscious about going back to school as a ‘mature’ student but I don’t subscribe to that belief. I believe we should always be learning however we can.

Being a mature student allows you to bring a plethora of life experience to your studies. How I see the world now is different and more expanded than when I was 18. That’s not to say my younger peers don’t have valid view-points. They most certainly do, usually coupled with an unbridled sense of possibility and energy which I love. My point is we all bring something wonderful and unique to the table, irrespective of age.

What has life taught me in my 38 years?

Perspective is useful

I see it as a tremendous privilege to be able to carve out time and space for education. It shouldn’t be a privilege. Education is a human right. But for many, education is a profound privilege, one they will never get to experience. I have worked with and met people at home and abroad – children desperate for schooling, adults that never had a chance – that would find our collective situation enviable. Who are we to feel self-conscious? It’s a waste of precious brain energy, better served studying and serving the world around us.

Everyone has a purpose

When you get overwhelmed, overworked, overtired, take a minute to remember the bigger picture of why you are here – in this program and in this life. It doesn’t have to be flashy or over the top to be meaningful. It doesn’t have to look the same as everyone else’s path let alone their idea of ‘normal’ or ‘meaningful’.

Be yourself, be proud of what you can do and who you are

We all are here to contribute in some way to the world around us. Whether it’s as activists, parents, community leaders, school teachers, plumbers, lawyers, bus drivers, scientists, entrepreneurs, you name it – we are all capable and all have a responsibility to take care of each other. And in doing so, we all have our own path and no two are going to look the same. For me, learning more about international law, environmental law and human rights is the way. It’s what will fine-tune my instrument, making me a better activist and artist. What’s yours? In a world that seems to embrace cynicism and negativity I know this positive talk sounds cliché but it’s all true.

Take good care of yourself

Eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise, get good sleep, don’t ignore your mental health and surround yourself with good people. Your body and brain are the instruments you have to get around in this world so keep them sharp.

Don’t short-change yourself

Don’t play small. There’s no victory in that. When you sell yourself short, you sell the world short. In the words of a former student of University of London, International Programmes:

Nelson Mandela


“There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Nelson Mandela

Holly Elissa studies the LLB via distance learning in the USA.

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