You Don’t Have to Change the World

You Don’t Have to Change the World

It feels like there’s this big push in our era to find your One True Purpose and live and breathe it every single day.

I’ll be the first to admit, I got caught in that trap.

And for me, it’s often got in the way more than it’s helped.

While I do think it’s important to find work that is meaningful, aligned and enjoyable, sometimes we can get too caught up in making it epic that we end up getting in the way of… doing the actual work.

The truth I’ve found is this: we live in a capitalist world. No earth-shattering insight there. But what that means is even if you’re doing work that lights you up, by the very nature of our system you must dumb down and cut off parts of yourself in order to exist and thrive in this system.

That might not be the popular, rah-rah message we’re all used to getting in the motivational self-development culture, but it is the truth.

It’s not practical to think that you can get paid for all the parts of you, for all of your interests, and that you can always, 100% of the time get paid for being on the leading edge of your passion.

100% alignment with your purpose is a myth. Being on fire and passionate all the time is a fantasy. If you get too caught up in it, it can get in the way of doing work that can actually help people.

There is a place for doing epic things. For sure. There is a place for being high, pushing your edges, daringly following what your heart is guiding you to. But there is also the reality of the world we live in: to work on your own terms you must to some degree define or create a niche for yourself. Sometimes that means you will be doing things that you don’t necessarily want to do, but are necessary evils based on the system we’re in.

Of course we can work to create new systems, new cultures, new ways of life where we are more autonomous and don’t have to rely on the structure of capitalism. But in the meantime, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache and make your escape faster if you add a healthy dose of groundedness to your work-life strategy.

All of that is really heady, so let’s bring it down to earth and make it a bit more concrete.

Our world = always on, all the time

One of the downsides of the world we live in is that we’re expected to be continual producers. Our world favors and rewards those that show up consistently, even when they don’t feel like it, or it’s not most aligned with their natural rhythms. Our world doesn’t have a lot of room for living in harmony with the seasons. If it did we could feel free to produce at some times, and be more introspective and withdrawn at others.

Now, you can work to save money, create passive income, or live a more minimalist lifestyle where you don’t have to be “on” all the time. But what are you going to do in the meantime? To be successful enough to extract yourself from the “always on” game, you need to produce and be consistent, even during those times when that doesn’t feel authentic or natural. You can either fight against this and complain about it, or accept it and move on.

At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves: what is most practical and effective given the reality I’m currently in? What mindset will get me the results I want?

If making everything epic and world-changing is getting you the results you want, keep going. Keep doing that.

If it’s getting in the way, maybe you need to ask yourself, what is a more useful, practical approach to my work?

Often that is just showing up, facing your fears, your resistance and helping people, however you can.

You work doesn’t have to be world-changing and epic to make a difference. And especially not if it’s getting in the way of you actually showing up consistently.

At the end of the day, lack of consistency in our world is a huge vulnerability to creating the life you really want.

You don’t need to be epic or doing earth-shattering work to do that. Doubly so if that pressure is paralyzing you from showing up and putting one foot in front of the other.

Sometimes we need to dial down the spiritual and emotional significance of our work in order to make space for getting our hands dirty and making real, lasting progress.

What matters most is consistently showing up

Personally I’ve been feeling a lot of freedom lately in allowing my work to be more like a job, and less like a world-changing mission.

Maybe that will change next week, or next month. But for now I know that what I need to default to is showing up and helping people, owning the real value I can bring, and doing the work no matter what. I need to get out of my own way by making everything epic all the time.

Even nature can’t sustain hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanoes of energy all the time.

Steady and slow may not be the sexiest thing. Focusing on the foundations and the fundamentals may not light you up the way setting audacious goals and taking massive action does, but at the end of the day, what matters is what’s useful and sustainable.

What are you doing today to make real, lasting progress? Do you need to throttle up your why and mission, or is it time to make your priority showing up and doing the work every day, no matter what?

You don’t have to change the world. You just need to show up and help people.

Comment & Add Your Voice

Ant carter October 12, 2016 at 10:29 am

“At the end of the day, lack of consistency in our world is a huge vulnerability to creating the life you really want” ….

Love that. Turning up – it’s the foundation to everything.

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Jason October 12, 2016 at 10:42 am

Great blog post and something that I can relate to.
Since 2000 I have been on this search for doing work with some big epic meaning. I wanted to create the next best thing that will change the world in some way. But I was never really able to get things off the ground. Firstly, I felt like I didn’t have enough experience or knowledge to make it happen the way I wanted to make it happen ( therefore not launching anything). I wanted to create something BIG… not some little thing, and so because of this… I never got started in anything.
The past few years, I have found myself searching for something to fill my spiritual needs… hopping from job to job, hoping to find something I am passionate about or can really sink my teeth into and take off… but the reality is… none of these jobs ever fulfilled me… because deep down inside I was looking for a way to avoid getting down and getting my hands dirty and actually working. I wanted easy, but in reality nothing is easy. In reality work is rewarded. I also in some way felt like I was worth more… even though I hadn’t prove my worth by accomplishing anything… and so I used this way of thinking to justify why I was better then my job and why I should only give it my minimum effort since they only paid me the minimum they could… but now I know, I was only cheating myself. Cheating myself from growing. I wanted more without working more… this equation does not work in reality. And so… today I find myself at a cross roads… to be honest with myself and do the work that is needed ( even though it may not be glamorous…) and finally feel good about myself. Or continue on the same path that thinking I can change the world and am better then others, but never actually take action towards anything.

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Aron October 12, 2016 at 10:53 am

Wow, true to the core. Thank you for sharing some reality check. It totally resonates with me. It is really easy to do thinks in a moment of inspirations, when you eat well, sleep well, are in the right mood for writing, designing, giving a lecture or in whatever creative outburst you are in. There is a but. When people like your product and buy your service it will be not always easy to follow up, but hard (impossible) to maintain that creative outburst.

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Larry Banner October 12, 2016 at 10:58 am

Thank you, Jonathan. Point well made and well taken – and appreciated.
~ Larry

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Michelle October 12, 2016 at 11:01 am

I so hear you. I think it’s something larger than capitalism that soured me on being epic. Human nature, maybe? Not sure…but I decided that if being epic means I have to create daily, automated (urgent/excitement-filled) email sequences reminding people who liked my freebie how much they now need to buy my larger dose of it, right up until my arbitrary deadline to get it…THEN I send an email to all of those who ignored me, actually asking “do you hate me?” or to fill out a survey intended to reveal their enlightening yet mysterious reason for not taking that action…I have no desire to be epic. I’m not formulaic and the human natures I’m hoping to attract aren’t either.

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Michael October 12, 2016 at 11:22 am

Thanks for this, really. It’s exactly the kind of grounded, mature insight — from a genuine, high-energy go-getter — that I can trust and that I needed to read today. This is exactly the problem I’ve been working through for the past year or so. I just graduated with good grades, tonnes of interests, and some pretty solid talents and skill sets, but I’m continually tripping over my desire to find THE THING to do next/until I retire/until I pass on. I’ll be coming back to this page in the coming months a few times to remind myself of your key points, I’m sure.
My sincere thanks again,
Michael

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Drea October 12, 2016 at 11:53 am

This speaks to me as well. After battling severe adrenal exhaustion because of an ever present drive to exceed my own expectations, I can see the simple wisdom in ‘chop wood, carry water’. That may be the only way to make it up the hill to that epic vista…one small step at a time.

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Dennis Foore October 12, 2016 at 11:54 am

Slow and steady wins the race. Productivity is highest when we work in sprints, at least in software development.

As human beings, we are our most powerful when we are completely relaxed. Stress eats away at our efficiency and grace.

In terms of changing the world, as long as we stay true to ourselves, the results will be a natural outcome of our daily walk.

Love your thought provoking posts. Keep up the good work!

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Peter Fritz October 13, 2016 at 12:28 am

Jonathan – again, you hit the nail squarely on the head. I always appreciate your honesty and candour. It’s so true, nothing intense is sustainable and it’s the consistent grinding away of obstacles and the work itself that ultimately leads to freedom. This “Follow your Passion” mantra is wonderful but an instrumental component of that is, as you say, showing up day after day after day. And delivering something that people actually value and are prepared to pay for. Otherwise, it all remains a fantasy.

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Clare October 13, 2016 at 1:48 am

This was great, thanks Jonathan. I need to go back to trailblazer month one I think, and reassess what is really sustainable. It’s definitely not something I could figure out without trying a few things, so I don’t regret the time I’ve spent so far exploring a few ideas, but looking at it again with this lens of “less epic, more helpful” will be healthy I think.
Also huge kudos to Jason above – you’ve shown real self awareness, and I want to acknowledge you because being able to see yourself so clearly is a real gift. Use it don’t lose it, it’ll serve you well your whole life.

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Peter Fritz October 13, 2016 at 3:25 pm

I second Clare’s comments about Jason. I think a lot of us are guilty of this obsession with being ‘epic’. Yet, when we really think about it, the ones who’ve impacted our lives the most have usually done so in a way that’s subtle; not epic.

Dennis is so right, too. “As human beings, we are our most powerful when we are completely relaxed. Stress eats away at our efficiency and grace.”

This last fortnight, I’ve pushed myself way too hard – 15 hours a day hard with no breaks – and now my work has gone to shit. I’m sporting a migraine that would kill a large dog and my composure is the antithesis of relaxed. I have to remind myself: slow and steady, with the odd sprint here and there. That’s the only way.

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Kalen Bruce October 15, 2016 at 12:37 pm

So true! Consistently showing up leads to huge results, which has the potential to change your family, your community, or possibly the world. But it’s about contributing to the world, whether you change the whole thing or not. Like you said, you just have to help people. I always tell myself as long as one person gets something out of every article I write, I’m doing good.

Awesome read!

Cheers,
Kalen

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