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7 revolutionary life lessons I learned from Jane Goodall

I’ve mentioned before that Jane Goodall is one of my heroes; I’m constantly in awe and inspired by her tireless work to help animals and the planet—and even at age 81, she seems to have more energy than most people half her age! As she continues to move forward passionately and make our world a better place, here are seven essential life lessons we can all learn from Jane Goodall.

1. Follow your childhood passions. It is reported that Goodall always loved animals. At age 1, her father gave her a toy chimpanzee, which she carried everywhere (and still has!). She loved her pet dog Rusty (and says dogs are still her favorite animal) and was fascinated by animals from her earliest memories, wondering how chickens laid eggs and bringing earthworms into her bed. So when she had the opportunity to study chimps in Tanzania, she took it.

Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to pursue full-time work with foundations in our childhood dreams, but Goodall was able to do just that, by following her heart, ignoring the naysayers and creating a niche for herself that really didn’t exist before. Considering how much she accomplishes even today as an octogenarian, let this be a reminder that it is never too late to follow your childhood passions.

2. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. There is a saying that if you’re not making people angry, you’re doing it wrong. Of course, the UN Messenger of Peace doesn’t make people angry per se, but she doesn’t balk at making her opinions known on controversial matters. She marches in protests; she was nearly expelled from her Ph.D. program for publishing a book about her research that proposed animals had emotions (a “wild” idea at the time); she says SeaWorld should be closed down; and just last month she wrote an open letter to the New York Blood Center expressing outrage regarding the 66 chimps they abandoned in Liberia after pulling funding for the program. She even says she might believe in Bigfoot! It’s admirable (and rare) these days for a person to live so authentically and completely from the heart, with no worries about what people might think.

3. Inspire the next generation. Jane Goodall would like her work to continue for years to come. One way she’s ensuring that is by inspiring and helping the next generation not only to understand, but also to act upon humanitarian and environmental issues. Her nonprofit Roots & Shoots educates kids from preschool age up through college, helping youth worldwide to offer service and leadership to their local communities. There are now 150,000 members in more than 130 countries! As for the rest of us, inspiring the next generation doesn’t have to be on such a grand scale; it can be as simple as mentoring kids in need or sharing your love of animals and the planet with your children, your nieces and nephews, or your grandchildren.

4. Don’t forget to have some fun. Her causes, books, discoveries and issues are serious business—but that doesn’t stop her from letting loose and having fun. I just love this clip of her with comedian John Oliver, showing him how to eat a banana like a chimp:

5. Protect the planet; it’s the only one we have. There is a lot of news today about global warming, oil spills, landfills, the Great Pacific garbage patch, deforestation and on and on. Goodall’s work with chimps in the wild has extended into her working toward helping the planet at large, with books on the subject (including Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From the World of Plants); inspiring community projects, such as TACARE (Take Care), which helps people in African villages develop empowerment and improve their standard of living—which helps habitats and conservation efforts at the same time; and even eye-opening TED Talks on the subject. We could all do more to help the earth, something she inspires in countless others with her energy, enthusiasm and hope for the future.

6. Animals can be teachers, too. This is so true, but so many of us neglect to see it! Animals can be some of our most profound teachers, if only we would listen. Goodall attributes the chimps she observed and even her pet dog Rusty with teaching her the important lesson that animals have emotions, personalities and intelligence. Taking this lesson to heart, I realized years ago that my dog Dakota was my first animal Reiki teacher.

7. Live with compassion. Everything Goodall works for can be summed up in one word: compassion. Compassion for the animals, for the world, for humans. If we all could just live more compassionately, this world would be a better place.

These are my favorite life lessons from Jane Goodall. Who are your heroes? What lessons about life have they taught you?

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