Activist Kathleen Saadat shares 7 lessons on finding joy and thriving

Kathleen Saadat knows a thing or two about finding joy and thriving. The longtime advocate, 81, has spent decades speaking truth to power as she’s championed the rights of women, communities of color and LGBTQIA+ people. 

“Thriving is to grow vigorously — not just to grow, but to grow with enthusiasm,” said Saadat, who received an honorary degree from PSU at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ 2022 commencement. “If you live long enough, you grow if you pay attention.” 

Earlier this year, Saadat shared her wisdom and insights as part of a day-long convening on what a thriving future for Portland’s Black community would look like and how PSU can show up as a partner in that work. It was one of several affinity gatherings that PSU hosted with communities of color; a macro convening, The Future and Thriving of BIPOC Communities, is set for Nov. 4.

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Below are some lessons we took away from Saadat in her own words.

Get definite about what you want to change

What are your reasons for wanting to have things changed? In what direction do you want those things to go? What is your role in changing the direction? What are you willing to give? What do you expect to get? Asking yourself these questions will help you understand yourself and your motivations. 

Acknowledge that you have an ego — and manage it

You have an ego, or else you wouldn’t think you could change the world. But you need to manage that ego. Move it out of the way so you can learn, see and feel.

Think about the power you have

There’s a power you get when you’re elected or appointed. There’s your power of influence. There’s the power of being something that other people want to please, and that’s power you can have and misuse very easily. Think about power and the power you have. Know the limits of your own personal power and know when you need to get more folks. There is no virtue in standing there being strong with tears running out of your eyes and incapacitated by fatigue when what you really need is some help. Go get it; find it.

Set personal goals for yourself

Every year, I set personal goals for myself. I’ve improved my friendships, stopped smoking, and quit swearing in public. A lot of people will ask, ‘Will you do this or will you do that?’ If I examine my reasons for saying yes or no, I’m in a better place. Don’t say yes because somebody wants you to. Say yes if it fits with your philosophy and the way you think you should go; say no if you don’t feel like it or if you think it’s not the thing for you to do. 

Put down your phone

Talk to people. Sit in the same room with people. You don’t have to have a topic. You can just hang out. You can talk about anything or nothing; it’s OK to have silence. This is how you connect with human beings. It’s part of community building.

Find new adventures

I’ve done things I’ve never done before. It’s paid off for me in terms of giving me ideas or sensations. They’ve taught me something about myself, about how much I don’t know, how much I can stay in my head and not in my heart. And they put heart into me. We live in a really complicated complex world, and I appreciate every opportunity I have to understand those complexities and recognize our own resourcefulness, our own ability to thrive, our own ability to connect. Find what brings you joy.

Look for opportunities to grow

At 81, I know a lot less than I did at 25. I knew everything at 25 and now I’m unsure. Thriving and joy all are intertwined. It’s about feelings, it’s about experiences, it’s about learning, it’s about teaching, it’s about being in community which allows you to support and celebrate — with joy — the accomplishments of the people around you.

Listen as Kathleen Saadat delivers her commencement address to the 2022 graduating class of PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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