0313 – What is impact to you? And how would you measure yours?

The idea of impact has been running around in my mind recently. Seems like measuring impact it’s all the buzz these days. We hear about cool organizations like Acumen Fund using social metrics to measure impact from its investment and the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship adopting the tagline “Impact Driven.”  And there’s now the global movement to develop well-being indicators as an alternative way to measure the government’s impact, which I’m SUPER EXCITED about.

Anyway, my friend recently asked me whether I see myself starting a family and raising children, and how I am going to balance that with my activism on sustainability and happiness. I responded that I do dream of having my own family one day. I dream of witnessing my kids growing up. I dream of a loving family. I dream of warmth and fulfillment. I continued on and mentioned that finding that balance between activism and my personal life will be hard, and it’s a challenge.

I didn’t have much more to say.

But it did get me thinking. There are many other sustainability advocates who face the same challenge. We all want to make an impact. We all want to make a positive difference in the world–albeit in different ways. I have been programmed with an ingrained sense of responsibility to work towards large-scale systemic change. It’s a character trait (shared by most if not all activists I believe) that really has been a double-edged sword. Most of my friends in the environmentalism field knows what I mean–we care so much, and it’s so easy to get so involved and depressed and angry about the whole dang thing. Yet, we care so much, and we are called to do this work and we will continue to do this work. Because we know it matters. And we need everyone who has the purpose to do it to actually be committed to it.

Right after my conversation with the abovementioned friend, I came across this quote by Alice Walker:

This resonates so profoundly with who I am. And I’m not going to be able to let it go, even if I try. It is who I am. The challenge, in my opinion, is then to remain engaged, but not attached. I wrote about it almost nine months ago, and it is still an ongoing struggle.

I must acknowledge also the other type of impact–one that is more personal and one that my friend identifies with. There are many of us who work on a micro level, forming deeper connections and spreading goodness and making an impact to our social circles.  I conjecture that it matters less to these folks than to me what kind of career they have–as long as they like it and it gives them the work-life balance that enables them to sustain relationships, they’re good. Correct me if I’m mistaken. As for me, it is of extreme importance that my career is directly related to my passion. I just won’t be happy otherwise. The “work experience” dimension plays a huge role in determining my happiness. While I will strive to find that work-life balance (and I suck at that), I need to understand and be able to envision the impact of my efforts.

It’s taken me  long time to come to terms with the fact that both types of change are equally valid and needed in our world. I used to think that it should all be about big changes, but the work on the ground on the micro scale needs to happen in order to slowly shift our conscience and to induce individual changes (which can then combine into social change).

Do I wish that sometimes I am programmed differently? Yes, I do. Often. But that’s not going to change anything. Those moments of doubt are an integral part of the growth as an activist. I take comfort in the fact that there are so many others like me. Like us. Who recognize that this is so hard to do. Because it hurts. Because it takes forever. Because we have to be tough as nails. It is a curse because sometimes the personal inflictions and stress get the better of you, but it is a blessing because I love the challenge and the excitement and the potential impact that activists collectively may have.