Have you ever wished you could do something that would make the world a better place? Have you ever felt like you weren’t enough to make any significant difference?
Are you frustrated because you can’t see how the work you do really helps anyone in a meaningful way? Do you ever think that it’s only certain kinds of people who can do the amazing, worthwhile things you’d love to do?
What if I told you that I know without a doubt you are more than capable of making a meaningful difference in this world? Would you believe me? What would it take to convince you?
I’ve long been fascinated by the ways people connect through story. I’ve marveled at how someone else’s story about an experience completely different from my own can bring up such a strong sense of recognition. Letting a piece of ourselves show through story assures others they are not alone.
I’ve longed to connect with others and help them through writing. But I never took steps to figure out how or make it happen because I didn’t believe I was enough. I admired other people who made similar dreams a reality, but didn’t believe I could be one of them. I was not the kind of person capable of doing great things.
Instead I worked jobs that left me feeling empty. I tried to convince myself every day that what I was spending so much time doing was really helping people and making the world a better place. I was frustrated, but didn’t believe I could do any better.
Slowly I’m learning and starting to trust that I can make a difference. There aren’t certain people who are capable of doing meaningful things while the rest of us are stuck just wishing.
I’m learning things I wish someone had told me long ago. I’m learning things I want to pass on to others. I’m starting to find ways to share the things that have helped me. I’m choosing to show up imperfectly and offer what I can.
I still hear all the doubts and arguments about why I’m not enough to make a difference. Who am I to offer a hand to someone else? I’m still right here in the middle of the muck. Wouldn’t they be better served by someone who knows more? Someone who is more figured out and pulled together?
Thankfully, the answer is no. We don’t have to be a certain kind of person to make a difference. We need to show up.
1. People don’t necessarily need an expert. They need someone who understands.
Think about the people who have helped you most in your life. Who has helped you feel most seen and whole. Were they experts? Did they have everything figured out?
In my experience, the most helpful people are the ones who are just a little further ahead of me on the journey. Their guidance isn’t empty or unmanageable because they aren’t looking back from a place of perfection. Instead, they can offer support in moving forward that comes with true understanding because they were just here themselves.
The same holds true when we want to help others. We don’t need to wait until we’re an expert or get everything all figured out before we have something to offer.
Instead, think about where you were six months or a year ago. What did you need? What have you learned? If you could reach back in time, how would you support your past self? Now look around. Are there other people with a similar need? How has your experience prepared you to support them?
2. Making a difference doesn’t require a grand gesture.
It’s easy to believe making a difference means fixing big problems and helping lots of people. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do something momentous. But too often we get so focused on that one big thing that we miss all the less grand, but equally meaningful, opportunities along the way.
One huge gesture could help a lot of people. But finding a way to offer support to one person a day adds up as well, especially when you’re equipping the people you help to support others in turn.
Don’t miss out on opportunities to make a difference right now because you’re waiting until you’re ready to do something big.
Look for the neighbor who feels isolated and lonely. Notice the new coworker dealing with the same struggles you faced earlier in your career. Watch for the friend who is being held back by self doubt. Be one of the people showing up to support others in your community.
Even if your actions don’t make headlines, they might make a world of difference in someone’s life.
3. You don’t need to have something unique to give. There are people who will connect with you.
It’s easy to fall into thinking we have nothing to offer that isn’t already being provided by other, more qualified people.
This person is a better writer. That person has a bigger platform. The one over there has so much more education and experience.
It doesn’t matter.
True, there are people they will help that you can’t reach. But the opposite is also true. There are people who will connect with you, not because you are the best or most knowledgeable or most prominent, but because something about who you are and how you share what you have to offer resonates with who they are and what they need.
Hundreds of people can share about a single topic and none of them will share in quite the same way. Some will seem like they are speaking directly to you while others won’t hold your interest. But they might be just the person someone else needs to hear.
So show up. You don’t have to have something new and different to offer. What others need and what you can give is to show up as yourself. You may be offering the same thing as someone else, but you’re doing it in a way no one else can. There will be people who connect with you in a way they don’t with others.
4. There is no greater gift than showing someone they are not alone.
We all fear isolation and loneliness. We are afraid we’re the only ones who experience our weaknesses and hurts. If we ever let them show then everyone will know just how messed up we really are.
But we’re not alone. So often we struggle in secret with the same issues as the the people around us. What we need isn’t necessarily for our problems to go away. We need someone brave enough to share their own experience. Then, when we’re assured we’re not the only ones, we can feel free to say, “me too,” and help each other along the way. You can be the person who goes first.
Showing someone they are not alone, that they are seen and valued, doesn’t require any special skills or talents. It doesn’t require publicly disclosing all your secrets. All you need to do is see and respond to the humanity in another person.
Sit with someone alone in the hospital. Listen to a friend without trying to fix her problem. Share when you faced a hard time and what helped you through. Encourage the one who doesn’t believe in himself. Be honest about not having it all together.
Whether it’s sharing your own struggles or being willing to sit quietly with another, the greatest gift you can give someone is to demonstrate to them that they are not alone.
I’d love to hear…what small thing are you going to do to make the world a better place today?