Maybe You Can’t Change the World
For all us bleeding hearts out there, for all of the people who desire so desperately to be and to do something with their lives, we grew up believing we could be agents of change. That we would be on a path to greatness, and that through one of our many actions of integrity, we would affect a change in the world so wonderful and so incredibly magnificent. We grew up with dreams of grandeur and that we would grow up to do something our parents would be proud of.
But then we grew up. We realized how difficult it is to do anything considered great. In a world full of entrepreneurs, independent startups, and charities out the wazoo, it’s hard to make your ideas and your drive stand out among all the rest.
So those of us who take the path less traveled–who leave what we know behind, to be taken to a place where big ideas still have a long way to go–think , this is the place where I can make a difference. This is the place where I can do something great with my life.
That’s what I thought when I decided I wanted to do the Peace Corps. That’s what most of us thought when we were on the plane and when we landed, exhausted and jet-lagged, but ready to start making instrumental changes to our new home.
Even when we were told by more experienced volunteers that we would fail, that we probably wouldn’t get started until our second year, we thought, well that won’t be me. I have more drive, more passion, more ideas with which I can change the world. I will be a positive force in my community, and I won’t give up.
But then we got wise. We now have failed projects lurking in our minds like skeletons in our closets. We have been humiliated and have hid out in our homes for a day, for a week. We have realized that our ideas are not applicable in our current settings. And then, we’ve realized we’re not as resilient as we thought. We don’t have what this community needs to change, and we cannot change the world.
But the more of this that we learn, the humbler we become. The more earnest we become in our friendships. The more vulnerable we become with our ideas. This is the real change. Maybe you didn’t change the world, but by coming to that realization, you’ve change yourself and your mindset in such a way that you seek to take the small advances where you can get them. You become more intentional in everything that you do. You learn that you need to listen to people to learn what they want and what they need. You learn to take criticism, and you learn that your ideas can be flawed.
In going through this transformation, you learn that you are not a failure. You learn instead that you are, in fact, resilient– just in a different way than you realized before. You learn that your failures really are something you can learn from, and you learn the best way to work with a community.
You won’t affect big change and you can’t change the world. That’s the honest truth. You may introduce a new idea or encourage open-mindedness. You might make significant friendships or give someone new-found confidence.
That might be all you ever do. But because you went through the ringer, because you tried and failed, because you changed yourself, you did a whole lot more.
Because if you can hold onto that–if you can remember how you got here, you’ll have a bigger effect than you think. People will notice your attitude. People will be willing to work with you. People will come to you for advice.
Not because you’re all knowing or because you’re brimming with great ideas, but because you know how to evaluate a situation, and you are honest with yourself and with others. Because you are humble, and because you want to find the best solution, even if it will only help one person.
You won’t be thinking of changing the world anymore, but if you focus instead on changing yourself, you’ll be in a much better position to help others that you could ever be. Because once you realize what you can do for yourself, you can impart that knowledge onto others.
And maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a ripple effect.