When I graduated from college, I didn’t realize the next three years wouldn’t be filled with similar, likeminded people who wanted to change the world.
At my liberal university, I was fueled by the belief that changing the world is simple and everyone can do it as soon as we enter the ‘real world.’ This was the default, not the exception.
I didn’t realize that life throws you challenges that deflate your motivation, veer you off path and leave you feeling isolated. The complicated situations of life started to slowly unveil themselves like the cringeworthy qualities of your bad Tinder date. And soon after, disillusionment set in.
Self-doubt inhibited me from trying to live my utopian vision. Mix that with financial strain and career stress, I was just another person accepting the backwards way our world works. I was anxious for not only not trying, but not knowing how.
Full disclosure: If you don’t know what you’re doing, or where you’re going, or how on earth to redirect your life…don’t ask me. I’m just as lost and stuck as you are, but I know better than to lose sight of my vision for the world.
Here’s what I’ve found helpful in my journey to being a catalyst for change, regardless of circumstances.
Develop Habits to Stay on Path
Guess what? Changing the world is a long-term goal, not something you do by the time you’re 25. Like writing a book or earning your PhD, societal change is a lifelong project. If you’re like me, you prefer chipping away at clay instead of rock. The path of least resistance is always so tempting. That’s why finishing short projects is more satisfying than working bit by bit on something that might take a lifetime.
How do we combat this? Achieving a goal is about establishing habits that will eventually result in finishing it. If you want to publish a book, you write every day until it’s complete, even if you only dedicate 10 minutes a day. Do you give up if it takes more than a few sittings?
So if you want to have a positive impact on the world, adopt daily habits that spark change on a small scale. Small shifts, both internal and external, will one day show results on a wider scale.
Regardless of what’s happening at work, with your relationships or in your environment, committing to daily habits will keep you on the path to sparking change, even when everything in life is so uncertain.
Remember Why You Care
When we’re removed from the issues we care about, they become less relevant, and therefore less pressing. We can’t forget what we found most important just a short time ago.
Make a digital or hard copy collection of inspiring (or igniting) materials, and read/watch/listen to them often. Remember why you found them so powerful. The important part here is to feel. Life is great at numbing and normalizing, so remember the feelings that drive you to act, not acquiesce.
Routine is the enemy of intrigue. That crazy flute player at your subway stop? A few months ago you were amazed, but now you could play the songs yourself. Overcome this by finding new ways to go beyond the surface. Take a different route to work and write down what you see. Come up with a question of the day and ask it to your cashier, MTA worker or waiter.
Do you remember the last time you were so moved by an act of kindness that it brought you to tears? Did you have a conversation with a stranger that left you pondering for hours?
These simple rehumanizing actions might not seem directly related to changing the world, but they keep you engaged, vigilant, and connected to those around you.
Notice the Power You Have Where You Are
Our news is full of anomalies: the 23 year-old who started their own social enterprise and became a billionaire, and simultaneously lifted thousands of teen mothers out of poverty. Wow…how can we compete with that when we’re living with our parents and don’t even know what career to go into? There will always be someone more qualified and better read. Well, so what? Am I going to do nothing? No! I’m going to do what I can.
You may have heard the following piece of advice before, but that’s because it’s valuable. Figure out what you can do where you are right now, even if the actions aren’t tied to your end goal.
Visit the coffee shop that donates tips to local service organizations. Buy from second hand shops instead of new clothes at the mall. Try to order a vegan meal, even if there isn’t one on the menu.
Focus on Love Instead of Purpose
A friend of Rehumanize Me, Justin Wolverton, started an Indianapolis-based nonprofit called The Department of Love. I recently interviewed him for an article. Wolverton explains that for many, purpose is an endless search. When not easily found, it only exacerbates our agony. Instead, Wolverton argues that we should focus on how to best express altruistic love. When the emphasis is no longer on finding purpose, but rather on creating value and meaning right now, we find ourselves working towards a better world instantly.
Loving one another and seeing the value in each human will inevitably make a positive impact on the world. And look! By focusing on love, you’ve rehumanized yourself, the community, and the world.
Allison Yates is a co-founder of Rehumanize Me and if you can't find her in a cafe, she might be enjoying a meal with friends, laughing about an uncomfortable situation, or writing about her life experiences. She believes in the power of humor as a tool to connect the most unlikely of friends.