You can change the world if you want to. Start your own ripple
Updated: Nov 6
Feel like things are out of your control right now? That’s because they are. But that doesn’t mean that you’re at the mercy of your circumstances. These are the choices that I’m focusing on, the ones that create a ripple effect that's bigger than anything I can do on my own.
“Have you voted yet?” “No…. I can’t…”
This is a conversation I’ve had several times recently. As a green card holder in the US, you‘re what is known as a resident alien. I have no intention of battling Sigourney Weaver. It means you can live and work wherever you want. You are given the privilege of paying US taxes (why, thank you!) But you can’t vote. That’s only for citizens. In other words, I have no say who’s in the White House. And no more should I, because I’m not an American.
What a… development opportunity it is to be living somewhere surrounded by political campaigns, and incitements, even pleas to vote, and have absolutely no involvement. A “development opportunity” is what my first boss used to call it when he had something for me to learn that was going to be good for me in the long run, but I was probably going to scowl the whole time I was going through it.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re powerless
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. Dr. Seuss
I‘m not at my best when I feel at the mercy of my circumstances. For example. I sat on the waiting list for said green card for some time, waiting for my in-person interview to verbally confirm with a very serious face that neither I nor my parents had ever strapped explosives to ourselves. It’s a first world problem I know, I wasn’t one of the people waiting to immigrate at the border in a concentration camp (what? That’s what they are.) But my life decisions went on pause. I felt like I was stagnating. I am the kind of person that goes out and does things. I don’t wait for things to happen to me.
Actually now, I can see that time I was a gift. Because the skills I picked up have been oh-so-useful in the past weeks with the world is raging around me. It’s been so tempting to default to the old thought that life is out of my hands and there’s nothing I can do about it.
You know what that thought is? It’s nonsense. No, I can’t vote. No, even if I could, my vote on its own wouldn’t have been enough to swing an election. But there’s a gulf between that reality, and the idea that I’m at the whim of the universe.
Pick a ripple and start it
I’m writing this article on election day. I don’t know who will be the next president when I wake up tomorrow; or if there will be a next president; or when he will be announced; or whether there will be a transition period; or what that period will look like. Nor do any of us. But what I do know is that whatever happened at the polls, we’re in for a whole heap more uncertainty, for an… uncertain amount of time.
If, like me, you aren’t a control freak, but you do want to feel like you have a way of impacting what’s around you, I have news. You have choices. You are a pebble in a lake. The way that you interact with the world has a ripple effect that you may not always see, but, trust me, it’s there. And every tsunami starts with a ripple. Please note: that last sentence may not be true, I never paid that much attention in Geography, but it sounds feasible doesn’t it?
1. You get to choose how you spend your time
Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth Mohammed Ali
I preface this with the understanding that the work-from-home world has put more pressure on us than ever before. Remote working has demolished the boundaries of office hours, which in theory is a great thing for flexibility, but in reality, means that many of us feel like we’re on-call 24 hours a day. Coupled with home schooling, and all the other demands of pandemic life, time management has for many turned from a skill to a laughable dream. So I‘m not proclaiming from my ivory tower that we should all carve out 4 work hours a day to fulfil our passions.
However. For the time that you do have that’s yours, it’s your decision what to do with it. So choose what ripple you want to start.
I can’t vote, so I can’t translate my opinions about what a good society looks like into choosing a US leader. But I can translate them into my own actions. I recently joined #HIREBlack as an ally. It’s an organization created to support women of color in the hiring process. I can’t singlehandedly remove institutional bias. I can’t promote diversity and inclusion in hiring in my organization, because my workplace of one is a little limited in what it can do. But I can offer my time and expertise to talk to women who are looking to make career moves.
That’s the ripple I’ve chosen. It’s not the biggest time commitment in my week; I offer 30 minute slots to have a chat, I’m not claiming to be a selfless non-profit warrior who’s going to change the world single-handed. But maybe the conversations I have with women who ask me for advice will make a difference. Maybe one perspective will help them prepare for an interview differently, or think about the process in a new way, or decide that something they thought was impossible is actually an option. And maybe their life will be in some way better; they could even get to a position where maybe they also can’t singlehandedly remove institutional bias, but they can do something more tangible about it.
And maybe one day they‘ll remember how it felt to be supported by a stranger and do the same thing. And maybe we’ll get a nanometer closer to a world where we share our advantages instead of jealously hoarding them. Almost like, you know, life is a community, not a contest.
2. You get to choose how you use your voice
Your voice can change the world Barack Obama
I’ve spent the last week sharing the stories of people I find inspiring on LinkedIn and Instagram. I’m sure if I had a social media coach they would have me put together a content calendar with key messages derived from my brand positioning, sequence out my posts so that they’re live at the optimal time for site traffic, and select collaboration partners with a sweet spot overlap with my own audience (see guys, I do remember SOME of my marketing theory.)
But I didn’t do it because I think I’m some kind of influencer, aiming to get $1k a post for posing with a diet shake (#ad.) I did it because they were stories I loved and felt deserved to be shared; because I thought they could inspire others at a time when everything feels so gloomy; and because being recognized for your efforts is what we all want, but never ask for because it seems self-centered.
Giving a voice to positive news is my other ripple. Maybe those people celebrated a spike of traffic to their website, maybe it made not the slightest bit of difference to their business. But either way, they knew that somebody out there saw them and cared. What would you feel if someone did that for you? Maybe you’d make a decision you’d been putting off. Or realize that what you’re doing is extraordinary, not everyone can do what you do. Or maybe it would just be the little moment of celebration and recognition you need to lift your mood, and spread those happiness ripples to the people around you.
I live in a country with freedom of speech, which is a wonderful thing to be thoroughly appreciated. But also where I sometimes get sad and angry at the things that I hear around me: the bigotry, the hate for difference. We can’t stop those voices, or the toxins that they spread. But we can use our own to drown them out, even for just a moment. It doesn’t need to be a national broadcast. How are you going to use yours?
3. You get to choose who you surround yourself with
Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher Oprah Winfrey
If consciously starting a ripple is too much, I get it. 2020 is hard. Getting out of pajamas is an achievement. In retrospect, yes, the initial shock part of living through March and April was tough, but there’s almost a degree of nostalgia for the part where we made banana bread and watched Tiger King. Because it felt like a nightmarish blip, a weird battle that we were facing and it was all going to be over one day and we’d feel normal again. Now the realization drips day by day that for the foreseeable future, this is normal; life comes with a mask, food is eaten outside, and travel is that distant memory of a thing that you used to look forward to (or dread, you know, depending.)
Sometimes it’s about surviving, not changing the world. But you are your own ripple, whether you intend it or not. How you show up in the world has an impact on everyone you come into contact with.
It goes both ways. Without going into energetic mumbo jumbo talk, you are who you surround yourself with. Like attracts like, like nutures like, like likes what it sees and finds new ways to find more things to like.
I’ve spent the last few months surrounded by people who want to coach for a living. They’re the kind of warm, supportive people who make it hard to drift into focusing on the bleak side of life. I’ve also met so many entrepreneurs who’ve introduced me to new ways of thinking (hit me up for a chat any time on “passive income” and “multiple income streams.”)
We are constantly growing and changing, whether we realize it or not. And where do you source your thoughts and ideas from that are the key to that metamorphosis? The things we’re exposed to every day. We are, in a very real way, our relationships. Choose carefully who those relationships are with and where they take you, because they are a huge part of your own personal ripple effect on the world, the one you have whether you plan it or not.
4. You get to choose your thoughts
"All that we are is the result of all that we thought” Buddha
There may be some boggling going on at this concept, if we could choose everything that goes on in our heads, wouldn’t life look pretty different?! But hear me out.
You can’t choose facts; they are what they are. And bad things happen when we suppress our thoughts, when we tell ourselves that they don’t exist, or ignore them and hope they’ll go away. So this isn’t the hands-over-ears-and-hope-it-goes-away strategy.
But you can choose what you do with your thoughts, and how you choose to let them rattle around in your head.
Sit doom-scrolling through Twitter and you’re going to be bombarded with negative messages. So how about as a first step, putting down your phone?
Try interrogating your thoughts the way a therapist would with a person with depression or anxiety: are they true, are they helpful, are they kind? It’s a good filter. If you can’t answer yes to all three, are they thoughts you want to pursue or are they prophesies of doom?
Is the convoluted chain reaction of assumptions going on in your head the only outcome that could ever happen? Is it a one-sided story?
Or is there a ripple that you can’t yet see?
For instance: the experience of recent years has been hellish for so many in US society and beyond, and no doubt made other people feel way more powerless and frustrated than I do. But has living through it ignited something in a generation who wouldn’t have otherwise seen politics as their thing? In fact, as a result of life since 2016, is there somewhere right now a great president of the future, a true leader? One who cares for the people they’re responsible for and wants to make the world better place, fired up with a will to do better? I want to believe there is. And I'll choose to hold onto that thought instead of doom-scrolling.