Imagine enjoying a long and leisurely death. As you reflect on your life, you arrive at the question you have avoided until this very moment.
What impact have I made on the world?
The problem with waiting until the end is that it doesn’t leave much time to do something about an answer you don’t like. Dealing with the question right now creates opportunities.
Whenever I wrestle with this question, I usually feel overwhelmed. The question is too big. The opportunities are too many, and my likely impact feels too small.
In order to spend time with the question and feel inspired by it, I’ve learned to practice three strategies that work for me.
Resize the Question
Who said we have to address the world’s issues? Think in terms of your spheres of influence: Your family, neighborhood, work group, project team, church, or golf foursome are all places you likely can make a positive difference. Those people know you. You know them. You have influence.
The challenge for me is usually that there are too many interesting prospects, issues on which I’d like to work. So many in fact that I can’t choose, and instead do nothing.
Because I’m just one guy trying to make a difference, it seems reasonable to tackle just one issue. I force myself to focus my efforts. It’s also been helpful for me to remember that if the one I pick doesn’t work out, that’s an opportunity to move on to another.
At other times, nothing grabs my attention. The problem is lack of interest. It’s like hitting a gigantic buffet and discovering nothing looks good.
When that happens, I remain open to anything that looks even mildly interesting. And when an opportunity pops, I jump in to see what happens. I get to know others who are working on the issues. I listen to the stories. Through my involvement, I discover new ways to help that I didn’t even know existed until giving it a try.
I used to not care much about local government. As long as my streets got plowed before I needed to get out my driveway, I was happy. Then one day I had an idea to apply for a seat on the City’s Transportation Commission. The more I learned, the more I cared. After six years of doing what I could to help make my city’s local transportation systems better for everyone, I completed the two full terms I’m allowed. Now I’m again keeping my eyes and ears open for the next thing that piques my interest.
Add Your Drop
You don’t need to make a big mark. You already are having an impact. The goal is to make a mark that aligns with your values, goals, and interests. That’s what will give you a sense of satisfaction.
Mother Teresa summed it up best when she said, “What we do is less than a drop in the ocean. But if it were missing, the ocean would lack something.”