For all that I talk about being driven to make a positive difference in the world, I have to confess… I am frequently overcome by the fear that I’ll never be able to make ENOUGH of a difference.
I’ve had this fear for as long as I’ve had the drive, but with everything that’s happened since the 2016 election, that fear has been running rampant more often than I like to admit.
There are days when I just want to curl up and hide. Sleep is my escape, and being frequently tired from having a not-quite-2 year old – who I’m terrified is going to grow up in a world that will soon be unable to support human life… well, let’s just say it’s damn tempting to give up on making any sort of a difference, go back to bed, and sleep until the bombs drop…
Alexandra Franzen to the rescue
I was having one of those days not too long ago, and as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed (a close second for most common coping mechanism) I saw a friend share Alexandra Franzen’s new book, You’re Going to Survive.
I’d seen Alexandra speak recently, and she was even more wonderful in person than she seems online (I’m pretty sure I managed not to fangirl out TOO horribly bad, but OHMYGOD I GOT TO MEET ALEXANDRA FRANZEN!!!!... *ehem* sorry, moving on).
Anywho, obviously I had to get the book and read it.
And right there, in Chapter 5, was the story I needed to read
It All Matters
Alexandra shares the story of David Wagner, a hair dresser (stylist? I’m not really sure on the proper term) who saved a woman’s life, simply by being himself.
It sounds rather dramatic, but it’s not an exaggeration; she had planned on killing herself that evening, but his kind and generous attention (which was typical of his interactions with customers) caused her to change her mind.
When David found out what had happened (or not happened, as it were), he was moved and inspired to do more.
He wrote a book1 and created a website2 to inspire others to join him in making the world a better place by making someone’s day a little bit better. (1; Life as a Daymaker: How to Change the World by Simply Making Someone’s Day, 2;DaymakerMovement.com)
David saved his client’s life, and she inspired him to continue helping others. Now he inspires even more people to make a difference as well.
An email from Barack Obama
Shortly after reading Alexandra’s book, I received an email from Barack Obama (I mean, it came through via the Obama Foundation, but it was signed by Barack, so it totally counts). It was an end of year reflection, and it shared exactly the stories I needed to read;
- Kat Creech, a wedding planner in Houston, Texas, turned a postponed wedding into a volunteer group that grew to include hundreds of volunteers, who helped clear more than 120 hurricane-affected homes in a single week.
- Chris Long, a defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, gave away his entire season’s salary to fund scholarships at the high school he attended in his hometown of Charlottesville.
- Jahkil Jackson, a 10 year old in Chicago, Illinois, started Project I Am, which has handed out 5,000 Blessing Bags to homeless families in his home town.
Now, we can’t all be professional football players, able to give an entire season’s salary to help underprivileged high school students… but if a wedding planner from Houston and a 10 year old from Chicago can affect the lives of hundreds, even thousands of people?
Well, surely we can make a meaningful difference as well.
This is exactly what I mean when I say it will take a village to save the world
These aren’t stories of Lone Heroes saving the world. It isn’t even Superman flying around the planet so fast he turns back time to save Lois Lane.
These are “normal” everyday people who decided to make things better, who reached out to friends and family, and started something that took on a life of its own, becoming bigger than any of them.
I can’t save the entire world by myself. Neither can David. Neither can you.
But we can help a few people, and inspire them to each help a few more people.
Together, we can create a ripple that’s bigger than any one of us… bigger than all of us.
It won’t be easy of course, and it won’t be quick. (Much as we wish it would be, especially when we see all the shit going down these days.)
But if we give up and go to sleep?
It’ll never get better.
Granted, it’s easy to lose sight of the value of small changes, when there’s SO MUCH that needs to be fixed
Which is why I also say that support is absolutely vital to keep yourself going.
Not just logistical support (though that makes a world of difference in being able to get anything done)… it’s just as important – if not MORE so – to have what I call “inspirational support.”
There’s a veritable tsunami of negative news every.single.day. It’s easy to get swept under, to drown in a sense of hopelessness and despair.
But countering that shit is crucial, otherwise you’ll end up like I was that day not too long ago – curled up, wasting away on my Facebook feed, accomplishing jack shit.
*Because even knowing the solution doesn’t always save us from temporarily forgetting it.
As Mr. Rogers once famously said, “look for the helpers”
The nice thing about Inspirational Support is that you don’t necessarily have to know the people involved to benefit from the inspiration.
What you do have to do is actively look for it.
The media revels in sharing negative news (alas, it gets more views, and the news is as much about the bottom line these days as any other business). Positive news can be harder to find… especially if you aren’t in the habit of looking for it.
So get in the habit of looking for the people who are making things better.
Save stories about people and businesses doing good work.
Follow entrepreneurs and businesses who have committed themselves to a better world.
Fill your network with Change-Makers – even if you don’t know them personally, even if you never interact with them one on one, you can benefit from seeing that other people ALSO care, that other people ARE making a difference (which means it's not all on you).
Let yourself be lifted up and given hope, let yourself be inspired and motivated.
And then get out there, and do the work that will inspire others to make a difference as well.