10 ways to make a difference: Advice for change agents

Let’s say you’ve got a cause you care deeply about, and you want to move it forward. It may be an initiative at work, a political issue, a community concern, or something else that matters. You may be at the beginning, in the middle, or tantalizingly close to success.

I deliberately gave this post a somewhat breezy title, but you’ll see my intent is to be more “big picture” as opposed to “checklist” or “plug-and-play.” What follows are hardly the first or last words about making a difference, but perhaps you’ll find them useful. In no particular order:

1. Be responsibly bold — I’ve been using this phrase a lot in talking about social change. Real change is neither reckless nor timid.

2. Take a next step — If you’re stuck, take a next step. It doesn’t have to be the next step, but it should be an affirmative one. It may lead you to something significant.

3. Put it on paper — Writing out your ideas pushes you to think logically about your passion. Let your right brain inspire your left brain, and vice versa.

4. Persevere — Sounds obvious, right? Well, if you’ve ever seen the resume of a very smart, able individual whose work record is a long list of short gigs, you know what I mean. Or maybe it’s someone who cares deeply about a cause but keeps addressing it in stops and starts or by constantly switching gears. Chances are they’ve never stuck with something long enough to make a deeper impact.

5. Learn — Change agents are lifelong learners. Pick up a book, talk to people (and listen!), dig into that website, read that journal article, scan the paper, watch a documentary, just keeping learning. A key to your initiative may be in the next study you read.

6. Affiliate and organize — Individuals can make a difference, but it’s awfully hard to effect change as a lone wolf. The right affiliations with other individuals and organizations can have a tremendously galvanizing effect and bring together complementary skill sets. (And if you find that there’s no core group of people addressing your cause, start one!)

7. Take a break — Burnout is real. Sometimes the best step forward is to step out for a bit.

8. Plan, do, evaluate, repeat — A good mantra to follow.

9. Celebrate victories, then get back to work — If you celebrate too long, you risk deluding yourself that the task is over. If you don’t celebrate at all, you’ll be pretty glum and miss a chance to recharge your spirit. So, take occasional bows, and then ask what comes next.

10. When despairing, dig deep — Changing some small part of the world for the better can be challenging, frustrating, and difficult work. Setbacks are almost inevitable. When they occur, dig deep . . . perhaps into your devotion to the cause, your faith or spirituality, or your connection with others who share your commitment.

7 responses

  1. Hi David,

    Wise words and sometimes very difficult to follow. My mission in life – my calling – is to help leaders create great workplaces for their employees, which in turn provides numerous benefits to employees, their families, their community, plus the company and its leaders.

    In addition, a great workplace is the right thing to do. Ending misery in the workplace is a noble pursuit. It is the ethical action to undertake. But this is not pie-in-the-sky thinking. These benefits have been researched and documented. Yet, despite all the evidence, there are CEO’s who will never adopt and model a positive culture.

    Numbers 10, 2 and 7 are my biggest problems, and in that order. There are times I get down. In our country’s culture, I am swimming upstream. I am driving against the traffic,

    Sorry for my long comment. This is a great article to review and take to heart. I have already shared this with my social network.

    Please continue your mission in life. You are making a difference and I greatly respect you for charging on.

    Your Friend,

    Kevin Kennemer
    The People Group

    • Kevin, we’re just going to have to make this a mutual admiration thread!

      I agree this is easier said than done, and I, too, can get pretty down about the state of our institutions and organizations. It does seem like we’re swimming upstream all too often.

      But connecting with people like you and others here helps to sustain me. And it reminds me of how qualities of integrity, ethics, and a sense of humor can transcend many other identities and political labels.

      Be well,

  2. David, I so love your post and use them as inspriation. I am walking the walk and talking the talk in Washington DC this week on the Clean Air Act. Talk about big money bullyhing in DC. i am appalled how big money equates to lack of accountability for the environment.

  3. Thank you for the inspiring and thought-provoking article, David. I do think that it is so helpful to focus on our deeper life’s convictions, when we are able to.

    For so many folks who are bullied at work, as well as in other situations, it is so easy to lose sight of one’ sense of self due to a multitude of reasons.

    Recently, since my firing I have turned more of my attention to the workplace bullying issue, as now I do not have to ‘watch my back’, so to speak, as I live in a very closed community.

    Prior to learning about this grassroots movement, which is how I phrase it as, I had been focusing on advocacy work pertaining to media reform as it seems as though the tabloid-style reporting that has infiltrated some of our more reputable reporting sources of celebrities and other individuals, alike, is more focused on sensationalism and less on facts.

    Moreover, some of the reporting has a bullying aspect to it, as people are characterized in a very denigrating light for shock value and increased reader/viewership. Holding media accountable is a daunting endeavor, to say the least.

    For a few years I have been involved in online advocacy, consciousness raising, letter writing, phone calls, etc., in an effort to expose the troubling trend from respectful journalistic practices, that include citing at least two primary sources (I believe), prior to confirming to the public that the story line occurred. There are still ad hoc online groups that I check in with from time to time, in order to engage in collaborative oversight of the work being focused on.

    Changing economic trends – competition for the almighty dollar – has negatively impacted upon our more reputable journalists. Some of our giants have even written books about the downward trend.

    With the escalating abuse at work, I have not been able to be as focused as I would like to be. However, I do see the need to not lose ourselves in our journey to wholeness from our experiences of abuse. In any chronic abusive relationship, it is so easy for the target/victim to lose track of who she/he is in one’s essence.

    Articles/topics of this nature truly remind us that our souls are much bigger than the present-time/recent past-time tragedies that we are/were enduring.

    Excellent article, inspiring focus! We certainly do not want you to experience burn-out, if at all possible, David, as your caring and soulful concern for the topics that you commit yourself to provides stellar role modeling and inspiration for others.

    We shall overcome and rise up from the ashes of our torture with more power, more strength, and more insight and more nobility!

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