As I promised (to myself) in my last post, We do not all have to shine, I’m exploring the idea of what makes an impact important. I’m a dreamer. I dream of changing the world. I dream of making a huge difference. Previously, I thought this means you have to do something so groundbreaking that the world knows who you are. Well, I’ve changed my mind.
So let me tell you a story.
Reflecting on my life and how I become the person I am today, I realized that I had no way of knowing I’d end up with the thoughtful, analytical, and yes, cynical and judgmental mind that I have today. Looking back, the path that I went down was but one of the infinite possibilities possible. Given the right–well, wrong–circumstances, I could have easily become a drug addict. Or a typical student without regard for the meaning of life.
What brought me down this path? Well, that’s hard to say, isn’t it? It’s a combination of the people I met, the environment I was in, the opportunities that were handed to me, and perhaps genetics too. Whether these elements were part of a divine plan I do not know, but what I do know is that my path–and yours–was truly a unique set of ingredients that coalesced to form who we are today. Even small events–seemingly insignificant at the time–may lead to new ideas, new inspiration, or new connections, a ripple effect that amplify the impact of the original incidence beyond any reach of imagination. Such is the beauty and complexity of life. What this means, then, is that if one of the ingredients were to be removed, our lives could have turned out profoundly different. Let me give an example from my own life.
I’ve spoken at length about my love for the LeaderShape program and how it changed my life. Without LeaderShape, I probably wouldn’t be complaining about how our higher education system is failing or why the widening income disparity is not okay. I would have just been the person who thrived in this current socioeconomic system, not asking too many questions and not protesting against it. I still shudder at this thought. So how did I get to LeaderShape? Let’s trace it back.
I first heard about LeaderShape from Circle K–no, not the convenient store, the other Circle K, a service organization that I got involved with during my time at Michigan. How did I get involved in Circle K? Well, I first signed up for it during Festifall, an event organized to bring together all of Michigan’s student organizations in one day. Without Festifall, there may not have been LeaderShape in my life. So this event put on by Michigan’s Center for Campus Involvement turned out to have a larger impact on my life than it seemed at that time–more than it was designed to do perhaps. But wait! Let’s go further back.
To get to Festifall, I would have to first be at Michigan. How did I get to Michigan? It wouldn’t have been possible without a scholarship. Now here’s where it gets interesting. I took the scholarship test once in 2007 and didn’t make the cut. I could try to take the test again the next year, but I thought the test was impossible and did not want to do it again, especially since I would have to fly back from Singapore, where I was studying at the time, to take it. Furthermore, the test date was during my school’s examination period too. So despite my mom’s insistence, I decided not to come back. But this was not the end.
What happened in 2008 was just… mind boggling, to say the least. Thailand was bogged down by political unrest at that time, and the testing date was right in the middle of the heat of the crisis. Transportation systems were disrupted, and many people would have been unable to travel to the test site. So they decided to postpone the test for a few weeks! My mom again insisted for me to come back, and I relented this time. I took the test, and with luck and grace, haven’t looked back.
So my participation at LeaderShape could have also been attributed to my mom, who both found this opportunity for me and forced me to take it (mother knows best!), or the political unrest in Thailand. I could go further back in my life’s history, but you get the point. Many things could have gone differently. I could have not listened to my mom. The political unrest could have come at a different time. Or I could have just simply decided not to go to LeaderShape, which, mind you, was almost the case. Right before LeaderShape, I was having an especially unhappy time questioning myself repeatedly why I wasn’t happy. I was trapped in a mundane life, and I thought no program could answer that question for me. It turned out I was wrong.
Anyway, my point is that any single event in one’s life is a convergence of many other countless occurrences. If LeaderShape is important to me, then Circle K, my mom, and even the political unrest, are all important too.
My two biggest takeaways are:
– Since you really can’t know what impact you may have at any given moment, then you should always put your true self forward.
– We tend to celebrate only the change agents who have a visible impact, but not the people or events that made the change agent possible. It’s time we give more credit to those behind the scenes. This is why I’ve given a lot of thought to teaching. A great teacher’s impact can be amplified a thousand times.
Linking this back to my earlier post We do not all have to shine, I’m trying hard to change the way I approach impact creation and meaning-making in my life. It shouldn’t be all about finding a way to create another big bang. What it should be is an honest and compassionate life that’s true to my values. And if you know me, I’d have to sprinkle in some passion and stubbornness too 🙂
Next up: I’m still playing around with this idea that we have to redefine impact. Lately, when I watch movies I’ve been thinking a lot about the people who helped to shape the protagonists. What would Stephen Hawking be like without Jane Wilde? Solomon Northrop without Samuel Bass? What about Hazel Grace without her mom? Or even Tony Stark without Pepper Potts?
Examples of meaningful impact are everywhere, but in my own narrow lens, I refused to see them.