So you want to make a difference? You want to change the world? Save it even? Well, I have some bad news. You can’t. There it is. Feel free to go about your day and thank me later for not making you sit through another lengthy blog only to deliver that spoiler at the end.
Now for those of you with a wee bit more time on your hands or those who like to contest such generalized provocation, let’s look at the problem a little closer. First of all, it’s not that you can’t make a difference; rather that many of us ineffectively go about trying to manage the changes we want to see. But you knew there was a twist. You’re too smart for such baiting tactics. However, there is a reality to what I am saying and if you don’t change your approach, your attempts to make a difference will be moot.
How many times do you find yourself saying, “if only they would _____ or “so and so should have totally ______.” It is amazing how well we seem to know how others should do things differently. Yet, we fail to see the role we play in the overall situation. We can focus on other people’s failure to make a difference, from the safety of our cube, but we fail to add to the improvement, only to the noise.
Growing up, I used to think of making a difference as, “How can I change the world around me?” If only the people and things around me were different, then everything would clearly be better. To insure my lack of success, my approach usually involved “boiling the ocean.” I couldn’t see how making small adjustments could possibly make a difference, especially within myself. After all, I grew up in the era of LIVE AID and WE ARE THE WORLD; big statements from important people (or at least celebrities acting important) that showed us their way of making a difference. It was clear, change could only happen when you had U2 or at least Bono as part of your team.
If I were alive in 1934, then perhaps poet and author Dale Wimbrow’s personal reflective work “The Guy in the Glass” may have influenced me sooner. If I am being completely honest with myself, I had no excuse for missing the same message in the late 80’s when it was delivered by Michael Jackson via “Man in the Mirror.” No excuse other than being blinded to the lyric because of the song’s infectious rhythms and melodies. Like so many signs, they were all around me; I was simply not ready to hear them.
Fast forward to the 90’s; this is when I first began working in the disciplines of project management and business analysis. Two compelling components drove me to a life changing decision following my interview with a Colorado executive management training company.
One: there were two dogs working in the office. Full-time!
Two: the company worked with the Social Security Administration (SSA); which always seemed at risk of going under.
I sincerely believed that the company I was applying to work for was doing work that really could help the SSA and in turn make a difference to those in need of social security benefits; people like my own grandparents. I didn’t need Bono; although, Bono, if you are listening, I would never refuse your assistance. I saw what I would be doing, in even a small way, as championing the benefits of project management and embracing proper business analysis in an attempt to make a difference.
In the beginning I was lauded more for my multi-tasking and firefighting skills, but over time I learned that I could not keep up that pace. It was not always easy but I eventually learned to embrace the core of project management and business analysis. Once I did I began to experience first-hand how planning for a project, gathering the right requirements, and keeping the lines of communication open, dramatically improved the success of my project work.
Making a difference isn’t about changing what is happening around you. It is about changing the way you interact with everything and everyone around you; doing your small part of the greater whole to participate in greatness.
So even if we can’t change the world, perhaps we don’t have to give up on trying to make a difference. That is if we stop trying to boil the ocean; do our own part, and work to understand the roles and responsibilities of those around us. That is unless you know Bono; then have him wave his magic microphone and everything, whatever it is, should be just fine.