Starting your own advocacy project – advice from a 17 year old

Sep 7, 2019

Aloha! My name is Dyson and I am a 17 year old high schooler living in Hawaiʻi who is passionate about protecting our oceans. Living on an island, I grew up surrounded by the ocean and I came to love it as my second home. It was so exciting to jump in the clear, cold water and see corals, fish, and–if I was lucky–a turtle! But, after some time, I began to notice that there were other things in the water, things that I thought ought not to be there. These were plastic items like chip wrappers, broken forks, and fishing line. Eventually, I realized that I needed to do something about this problem, so I created a project, Project O.C.E.A.N., to tackle the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. O stands for Outreach, C for Cut back on plastic, E for Emotional connection, A for Activism, and N for #notsucking.

When I first started Project O.C.E.A.N., I chose to to set a bar for success. Without that bar I would have been clutching onto whatever I could grasp–not necessarily a bad thing, but something I decided, early on, to avoid unless necessary. Of course I set bars such as how many events I should present at in a month or how many stainless-steel straws I should purchase before starting my project, but I also realized that I needed to set other kinds of bars for success too. I ended up identifying three bars for the success of Project O.C.E.A.N.

1. Be You-nique!

As a high-schooler, I found that there are a lot of social expectations that you need to meet to be “cool,” or whatnot, and these expectations could control a lot of oneʻs life, like what you wear, what you do after school, what kinds of games you play, what you buy–basically everything. The first thing I learned while creating Project O.C.E.A.N. is that this needed to change: you need to make the project fit who you truly are. Find what you want to do, combine it with your strengths, and tap into them! That is what I did with Project O.C.E.A.N.: I really loved working with kids, and as a youth I believed that I could make the biggest difference in the political world, so I developed Project O.C.E.A.N. to tackle plastic pollution in the education and activism fields.

2. Go For It!

When I first started Project O.C.E.A.N., I was a pretty introverted guy. I liked to stay in my comfort zone and talking to strangers was waaaaayyyyyyy outside of my shell. I soon realized, however, that many more opportunities lay outside of my shell. I began to make it a regular exercise to go to a variety of events that were interesting to me and ask questions at these events or meet new people there. It was a challenge that took a lot of willpower, and I took up the popular motto, “the sky’s the limit,” as a reminder that I should go for these opportunities.

Within a month, the fruits of my decision had begun to bear, and I was regularly seeing familiar faces at events and making friends with them. They began to help me by providing more opportunities to tackle plastic pollution, such as expertise, grants, speaking at events, connections, and even mentorship. Although I hit a few bumps on the road, each success encouraged me, and there was definitely more sun than storm. Now, I sometimes even get offers for more opportunities than I can attend. Thanks to this experience, my personal motto has evolved into, “the sky’s the stepping stone; always shoot for the stars.” No matter how far fetched your securing of an opportunity may seem, if you think it could benefit you, go for it!

3. Mistakes Are NOT Failures

As with any other human, I have made mistakes and I have failed multiple times. However, I only realized the difference between the two after creating Project O.C.E.A.N. Originally, I ran Project O.C.E.A.N. with two of my friends, whom I had invited as team members when I first started Project O.C.E.A.N. But within three months it became painfully obvious that my friends simply did not have the time commitment to be able to spend the necessary 3-4 hours a day running Project O.C.E.A.N. I was burning out quickly. In an effort to save Project O.C.E.A.N. I dismissed my friends as team members and re-evaluated Project O.C.E.A.N. as a team project.


This ended pretty badly, with my leadership confidence in tatters. Why do I share this story? Because even though my attempt to make a Project O.C.E.A.N. team failed miserably, I accepted it as my mistake and learned from it. Since then, I have drawn from this particular experience to make better decisions. To me, mistakes are when you make an error and its immediate consequences are negative, but, by learning from it, you avoid committing that same error again. True failure, on the other hand, is when you fail to learn from your mistakes–when you turn your head away and point the blame at someone else.

Using these three keys has unlocked the potential of Project O.C.E.A.N., and it has carried me further than I had ever imagined. Of course, they are not the only criteria for success, but are a major contributing factor to the success of Project O.C.E.A.N. I hope that you will be able to learn from my own experiences, and, whether it be for a project or not, good luck!