Over the years I’ve thought about what I believe to be a common thread that weaves through all humans. We all want to make a difference. It could be big, like curing cancer, or small, like helping an elderly neighbor. We all just want our lives to matter.
Sometimes the desire to do something, anything can be so overpowering that we become paralyzed with inaction. We think to ourselves Making a difference is a BIG deal. How can I possibly do that?
1. Live the Example
What I’ve come to understand is, often, the biggest hurdle to doing anything is just getting started. Once you do, momentum takes over. And, in case “how?” is a concern for you like it has been for me, here are ten ways anyone can make a difference.
The simplest way to make a difference in the world is to live a life that shows others the way. Be the best version of you. Chase a big dream. Try something new. Become the person you want to become because in doing so, you set an example that A) it can be done and B) they can do it too.
The good news about this example is you don’t have to worry about anyone else. You focus on getting yourself where you need to be. They will see you and learn from your actions, mistakes, and successes.
2. Seek Opportunities to Help
Living the example is a quick and easy way to get started making a difference. But we can make a greater impact by directly affecting others. There are always ways to help a person or situation. We only need two things: to be on the lookout for them and to be ready to act when the time comes.
Reading this you might feel like that’s an abstract suggestion and not so easy to initiate. Don’t forget that these actions don’t have to be enormous to be powerful. Sometimes the smallest acts create the biggest ripple. And other times they open up bigger opportunities to help even more.
3. Just Be Kind
This is another way to make a huge difference just by living your life. Once being kind becomes part of our regular behavior, it takes very little effort to bring it everywhere we go. You will act that way without even noticing. I don’t know about you, but effortless difference-making sounds like a good deal to me!
I realize this isn’t very specific, but that’s the idea. There are millions of ways we can make a difference but eventually, they all boil up into some fundamental principles. One of the most important principles is being nice to others. When you are, even though you might not be there to witness it, you could change the course of their entire day.
4. Mentor Someone
Becoming a mentor is a bit more intentional than some others on this list, but it has the potential to pack a huge punch. No matter how far along we are in our journey, someone else is always further than us.
In other words, there is always someone we can learn from. In the same way, there is always someone who can learn from our experiences. We can help them grow faster by sharing what we know and guiding them away from obstacles.
Volunteering to help a cause or a person is among the most impactful things we can do. Often the organizations or individuals in need of volunteers have limited resources. In that way, they are looking for any support. Giving money is always an option. But donating your time, blood, sweat, and tears can have an even greater impact — on you as much as the organization.
And there are no shortage of opportunities. All you need to do is look around your own community and see what’s going on and for what causes. Find a cause that speaks to you and go see if they need some help. You’ll be amazed at how much it affects everyone involved.
6. Listen to Someone
Every day there are people all around us who need help. Often the help they need is someone to listen to them. To acknowledge them. To assure them that everything will be okay. Unfortunately, they probably won’t come out and say so. But if you’re trying to make a difference, keep an eye out for them.
The most important piece to this is the “listening.” Don’t try to solve their problems. Don’t offer advice unless they ask for it. Just listen. Allow them to ask for specific help. Assure them they can always come to you. But then let them talk.
7. Practice Empathy
Some days I am convinced empathy is shrinking from society and will soon be gone entirely. Those are sad days. But other times I read about incredible acts of kindness and my faith in humanity is restored.
The thing about empathy that we all need to remember is you don’t have to understand the person’s pain to practice empathy. You only need to acknowledge that they are experiencing pain. We live in a hardened world, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Show someone else that you understand their struggle, their pain and that you will help them however you can.
8. Notice the Small Things
By now this idea is cliché. But clichés become so for a reason — there’s an element of truth to them. In this case, the “truth” is that the small things matter. Not only do they matter, they are all that matters.
Life is nothing more than a series of moments strung together. And within each of those moments are the smiles, the laughs, the hugs and the tears. And surrounding them are the natural beauties and subtle joys. When we acknowledge them we become aware in that moment and that allows us to be present for those around us.
9. Teach Something
What is something you love and know more about than most people? Teach it. It could be a formal class at a university, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be you getting four friends together and walking them through a new skill you acquired. The scale doesn’t matter. Transferring knowledge is what matters.
When we teach someone, we are shortening their learning curve. They could go out and learn it on their own. But how long would that take? How expensive would that be? How frustrating? When you have a teacher, you have a skilled instructor and (maybe most importantly) you have someone to encourage you. You don’t need a certificate for this one. We’re all teachers. So teach.
10. Launch a Life Changers Project
Okay so this one is a little bit self-serving. But I can speak from experience here. Since launching the Life Changers Project five months ago, I’ve felt the impact of my own letters. And you can too!
The Life Changers Project is about expressing gratitude for those who have made a difference in our lives. Chances are you have had dozens of those people in yours. And since we’re talking about ways to make a difference, now is as good a time as any to make a difference in the lives of those who have made a difference in yours. Learn how you can get started.
What Are You Waiting For?
It’s never going to be the perfect time. Life will never get less complex. But the opportunities to make a difference are all around us. And, believe it or not, they’re not as difficult, time-consuming, or expensive as you might think.
The list above is just an idea starter. I’m sure there are dozens more that you can come up with. The most important thing is that you pick one and go with it.
What will you do today to make a difference in the world? Leave a comment below or tag me on Twitter @rjlicata
I am a marketer, a writer, and a thinker. Sometimes I do all three at once. My greatest achievement is convincing my wife to marry me. We have three kids and yes, one of them is my favorite. I'm the author of "Lessons for Joey: 100 Things I Can't Wait to Teach My Son" and "Where Greatness Lives".