Make A Difference
“If you aren’t making a difference in other people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in business. It’s that simple.” – Richard Branson
Do you ever wonder if the fruit of your efforts make a difference? Have you ever felt that you were shouting something of great importance, but nobody was listening? Have you ever been discouraged because you know the solution, but nobody seems to recognize you as an authority? I know I have and I still encounter that feeling on a regular basis.
Many years ago, I was exposed to a simple story that to this day helps me put my expectations in perspective and reminds me why I need to keep going. It helps me keep my perspective even when it seems nobody is listening or I question if what I am doing makes a difference.
The Starfish Story
A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.
“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” he asks.
“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”
“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”
The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”
Adapted from the story “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
There is a great lesson available to us from this story. We may not be able to save the world. We may not even have the opportunity to convey our message to a large audience, though we know that others would greatly benefit from the knowledge and experience we could share. Our best opportunity to make a difference is to focus on those that are open to receiving our message and willing to accept our help. These are the people who are ready to listen and internalize our message.
There are many who would benefit from what we have learned through our successes and failures. Whether in our professional or personal lives we have a lot to offer others around us. In many ways as a leader we have a responsibility to develop those around us to allow them to better utilize their skills and ultimately help our team deliver success.
We are most effective when we concentrate on serving each person individually. If we concentrate on serving those who are receptive to our message, we may find that it leads to an opportunity to serve more people in the long run. Just as in the story, while we may not be able to reach the larger population, it may really make a difference to those we are able to reach. Taken one individual at a time over a long period of time, we will find we have made a difference to a large number of people.
I think about this story often. There is an enormous effort that goes into writing books, providing meaningful content in the blog, making videos, maintaining the website and corresponding with our community. There are times when it feels like I am shouting into the wind. Book sales come in one or two books at a time and the number of subscribers increases at a slow steady pace. Large audiences are not formed overnight or even sometimes at all. All of the hard work and long hours that go into writing the books does not automatically put the book in a wide circulation or place it on the Amazon or New York Times best seller list. I am reminded that overnight successes are years in the making.
It is the same when we consider the opportunities to mentor people and change the world around us. There are times when we will feel undervalued and it will be tempting to lose our enthusiasm. As leaders that is just the point where we need to apply our character and drive forward. One person at a time, one project at a time, one obstacle at a time. Over time our success will be measured by the individual successes we have along the way. In the end, we will know we have made a difference.
Here are 4 Tips for making a difference:
1) Knowing – Take an inventory of our knowledge and experience. We have a great deal to offer, but until we understand what we can offer our voice may just sound like static. Take some time to catalog our knowledge and develop a concise message built around our passion. This will be the something of value that other people will want to know.
2) Caring – Think beyond ourselves and have compassion for those who are in need. Ask your closest friends or intended audience, “What is the biggest problem that I can solve for you?“ and then provide that solution.
3) Giving – Be willing to give away the benefit of our knowledge and experience without expectation of anything in return. Offer our wisdom without expectation of compensation. Give freely and let the product of our thoughts develop the value. Eventually, we will receive a return on our investment by achieving a great sense of personal satisfaction. If the thoughts have sufficient value, they will become a currency of their own to be invested as we see fit. The value has to be developed before the opportunity for revenue exists.
4) Doing – Actually do something beyond just thinking about it. Reach out to someone that is in need of our assistance and, if they are willing, share the benefit of your experience. Take a chance and learn. The world is full of people who when approached individually, will respond to our coaching and message. Remember the expression “it made a difference to that one”.
I find it easy to fall into the trap of questioning the significance of my efforts. But then again I remind myself that I am not doing this for fame or fortune. My simple hope is that the products I produce meet your need and make a difference in your life. When I keep that purpose in mind, the occasional email response, request to speak, or just the opportunity to sign a book provides the motivation to keep going. Thank you for the privilege of being able to serve you.