On October 28th in the United States, we celebrate Make a Difference Day – a day dedicated to service for the benefit of others, through organized volunteer events across the country.
It’s a great concept and it has many benefits – it encourages people to volunteer, it supports great causes and a wide variety of non-profits and through its awards program, it provides cash as well as volunteer time.
But it is only one day. How do we make a difference on ordinary days, and with the complexities of Triangle life? Most of us would love the world to be a brighter, kinder and more equitable place but working out how we can change things can be overwhelming.
Add to that the fact that, as Triangles, we are often either coming or going. Arriving in a new country or culture or returning to an old one can consume so much of our mental, emotional and physical energy that the idea of making an impact on the world is beyond fantastical. Knowing that we might be leaving soon can also leave us unsure about how to get involved or make an impact.
Here are the four things that have helped me feel like I can and do make a difference, even in strange and unusual places – every single day.
Sometimes we can overlook the basic questions. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, I was struck by people’s need to do something, anything, to make a difference. In their enthusiasm, they often didn’t stop to ask what was really needed. It’s a critical question and it often yields surprising answers – sometimes, what those we want to help have simpler needs than we imagine.
And sometimes what we want to give isn’t appropriate at all.
This also applies to finding the right organization with which to volunteer, if that’s the path you choose to follow. Be curious about what’s going on around you, find out who is doing what to tackle the issue you are interested in, find out how they treat volunteers or donors. Ask about how they are funded and how they use their money. Don’t be afraid to be discerning in order to maximise whatever impact you have the potential to make.
Sweat the small stuff
Bear with me, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Last year, I had the opportunity to hear Annie E. Clark speak. Annie was sexually assaulted while she was at college. She went on to co-found the non-profit End Rape on Campus; was a complainant against her college in a Title IX suit; and helped write the Campus Safety and Accountability Act. She has had a huge impact and she’s not even 30 yet. Annie was an inspirational speaker but it was what she said about activism that stuck with me. She is passionate about ‘everyday activism’.
She reminded me that for some people, activism is marching in protest, leading legal challenges and other ‘big’ actions, but sometimes, activism is simply saying ‘I believe you’ or listening to someone tell their story.
What can appear to be small, every day, intimate actions can have an impact far greater than we can imagine. Its these small connections and most human of moments that often make the biggest difference to someone else’s life. And a million small actions might just change the world.
Most of us not only want to make a difference, we want to know that we’ve made a difference. And sometimes, we can measure our impact. Sometimes, it’s tangible and immediate. Donate a certain figure and a non-profit can build a well or provide a child with medical care for a week. More often than not though, we don’t have that certainty.
And it’s OK. If we’re really want to make a difference, sometimes it has to be about the effort, not the results.
Brene Brown makes this point beautifully in her book, ‘Daring Greatly’. It’s not about the ‘wins’, it’s about being in the ‘arena’, trying to make a difference. As Brown says: “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make. Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”
Remember that you are enough
Not everyone can start a non-profit, win a Nobel peace prize or even found an online community for Triangles. With so much need around us, and with many of us living comparatively privileged lives, there can be a lot of guilt. Please remember that whatever you can do, whatever you can give, is enough.
You are enough.
Believing that might just set you free to make an even bigger difference to the world around you.
Author: Sarah Black
Originally from Ireland, Sarah Black moved overseas for the first time at 40! She previously lived in Stavanger, Norway and is currently in Sugar Land, Texas with her husband and two rescue dogs. A former marketing & communications consultant, she is passionate about non-profit work, community involvement and volunteering. She is writes about expat and triangle life, and whatever else might come up! When not writing or working, she is volunteering, travelling, planning her next trip or walking her own or shelter dogs.