5 Ways to Make a Difference in the World
That cost nothing and might even help you find your purpose
In an age of change, when job choices and work boundaries are being reconsidered, it’s clear that more than ever people want to make their lives count. Rather than waiting for a personal crisis, the pandemic created a global groundswell toward making the most of life.
Is that you? Are you reviewing not only how to live your life, but live it in such a way that you know you can answer the question, “Are you making a difference, does your life have meaning?”
If you’re not quite there yet, then here’s one method to help you with your first steps. I call it “The Starfish Method”. It’s based on the starfish story.
The story, if you’re not familiar with it, goes like this.
A person is walking along a beach and every few steps they reach down and pick up a starfish stranded on the sand and place it back into the water. Someone watching says “Why bother? Look at them, there’s hundreds, you can’t help them all .” To which the person picking the starfish up replies, “No I can’t help them all, but I can help this one.”
In a world of “influencers’ and follow counts”, it might seem that your individual efforts don’t matter. But as the starfish story goes, your effort matters to the ones you do help. What I’ve learned throughout my life, is that basic kindness and thoughtfulness can make a profound difference to others. In ways that you can’t even imagine. And of course, there’s more than just one way to make a difference, and that’s where the starfish method comes in.
Just like a starfish, this method has 5 points. Your choice, any or all.
Point 1 — One a Day
This is the underlying principle of the whole method. Your only aim is to make a small difference in one person’s life. Focusing on this task means you’re going to look outside of yourself. With reports of impatience and rudeness towards retail and restaurant staff on the uptick, imagine the difference you can make by simply seeing the person beyond the job they’re doing.
For instance, picture a clerk who’s just been hired at a retail store for the holiday season. They’re new, and there’s more that they don’t know than what they do. They’re likely to take longer than usual to ring up your purchase or to find the answer to your question. Their newness is a perfect opportunity for you to make a difference in their day.
We’ve all had “first days”. Remember any one of yours and then radiate out the kindness and patience that lets them know you see more than a clerk, but a person who’s trying their best.
Let them know they’re doing okay. Or even give them a true gift by telling them that it’ll get better over time. This one effort can make a difference to someone’s day, week, or perhaps life. You may never know. One person, each day. It costs you nothing but time and attention.
Point 2 — Share Your Unique Knowledge
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead
Do you know what a “living library” is? It’s a group of people who act as resources to people in their community. Instead of checking out a book, you book time with someone and have a conversation. That person could be you.
What are you passionate about and what knowledge do you have that would be useful to someone else? Whether you’re book smart, life smart, or both, your knowledge could be the very thing that makes a difference to someone else or even a whole community. (Find out more about what’s involved here.)
Point 3 — Reach Out to Friends and Family Members
Is there someone in your family or friend group that isn’t as well connected as you? Or perhaps they have more time on their hands than they might like?
In the spring I was “skirting depression”. I refuse to say I was depressed, and yet, it was tough going. Without friends in my new community, and community groups not yet holding in-person gatherings, my mental health was dropping.
My saving grace was my daughter, who reached out weekly to see how I was. Despite her busy schedule, she either came to see me or invited me to join her and her partner for Sunday meals. It made the difference between a full depression, and the ability to cope until things in my life shifted.
Just because people aren't telling you they're not doing well doesn't mean they aren't struggling. Whether it's continuing ideas of putting your "best self forward" or the British "stiff upper lip" you may have friends or family who could use a friendly hello and time with you.
When your life is busy and full, it's easy to think everyone is experiencing the same life, and that your efforts to stay in touch don't matter. They do.
With mental health on the decline, a consistent effort on your part could mean the difference between someone feeling loved and cared about or feeling alone and forgotten. By reaching out to them, until they get back on their feet emotionally, you can be the bridge to them moving from surviving to thriving.