Instead of desperately seeking to "make an impact,” which is ultimately ego driven, seek instead to serve others in a meaningful way. Do it well and do it repeatedly and impact will surely follow.
So often I observe changemakers focusing on their deep desire for impact. While their heart is in the right place, this ultimately gets the goal of changemaking backwards. Impact is the end result; the consequence of our work. It mistakes that which we can control for that which we cannot.
It reminds me of a college student I was mentoring who told me his life goal was to be on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. This student had no idea what he would do to be selected for the list — he just wanted to be on the list. While it no doubt feels good for the ego to be on such a list (sadly I’ll never know as I write this from the other side of 30), being on such a list is fundamentally meaningless as a goal — it’s seeking recognition and approval rather than reflecting a desire to do impactful work.
Just as we cannot control what Forbes editors think of us, we can’t force our way to creating a positive impact. Whether we have an impact or not is ultimately up to others — those whom we seek to serve — to decide.
But what we absolutely can control is choosing, every day, to serve others in a deep and meaningful way.
What does this looks like?
- Rather than sitting in an office or classroom concocting a new social venture, it’s involving the beneficiaries in the creation of a solution itself, putting their ideas, needs, involvement and feedback central to it all.
- It’s practicing servant leadership. Doing whatever it takes — from removing metaphorical obstacles to emptying the trash — to help our teammates be at their very best and do their very best work.
- It’s recognizing that we are constantly being given opportunities to serve and choosing consciously to act on them.
- Rather than assuming we always know best, it’s trusting that others know what they need and then selflessly serving them while graciously receiving feedback and adjusting our behavior based on what others tell us.
By separating the ends (impact) from the means (service), we can choose to focus our full energy on serving others with our full heart and mind. And if we sincerely seek to have a positive impact on others, by adopting a mindset of service and consistently choose to serve others, there is no doubt that our desired impact will eventually come.