How can one person make any difference at all?

I’ve wanted to make a positive difference as long as I can remember. Since I graduated from Rotterdam School of Management, I’ve been working for over 25 years in varying roles as a change consultant, coach, trainer, communications consultant, entrepreneur, team leader, and author – aiming to develop people and organizations.

At times, I’ve felt discouraged and disappointed during my search for positive change. I know how it feels to let the reality, the critics, and the cynics get you down. “Change is hard. Leaders are greedy for power and money. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Work is about making money. Employees are just waiting for five o’clock.”

There was only one enthusiastic me – but I was getting exhausted trying to create positive change in the workplace. I made a living, but not much of a difference, or so it seemed.

Over time, I developed the Change Circles approach that made more of a difference. But what certainly also helped was that I started to see it differently.

Seeing it differently

I started shifting my mindset from scarcity and problems to abundance and possibilities. I began to see how I contribute to every situation through my responses. I noticed how I influenced others through my interaction and actions. One response at a time, one person at a time – situations changed when I intervened differently. I became more aware of my presence, and how I influence the system that I’m part of.
That’s why we have to turn our focus on “me” first, to make a positive difference.

We have to turn our focus on 'me' first to make a positive difference Click To Tweet

Before I continue, I’d like you to suspend judgment and stay open-minded.

You may hear the voice of your inner critic judging anything you read immediately. Everyone has this little voice – repeating earlier judgments like a parrot, commenting on everything that happens in real time, ranting along, probably with the best intentions.

Some of what the inner critic says is based on internalized judgments from your past – some of it is habitual chatting that you can’t easily turn off (the monkey mind as Buddhists call it) and some of it is meant to protect you from possible harm. That harm could be anything: the harm of betrayed ideals, false hope and subsequent disappointment, or losing face and feeling worthless and ridiculous.

“Yeah right, let’s all make a positive difference as of tomorrow. As if that would be possible in my situation. Dream on.”

Don’t let that voice get you. You can thank it for its good intentions and choose to ignore it. For some people, it may help to say: Shhhhh. Thank you but shhhh, I am reading.

I also ask you to slow down. Please be patient while you read, and reflect on the text. We usually don’t learn from reading, seeing, hearing or doing something. We learn from reflecting on it. My writing can’t give you actionable insights – only you can.

Alright. Let’s see if it is correct that you can’t make a difference, all by yourself.

Making a difference?

Are you currently making a difference? When you look to answer this question, you probably assess yourself by the results you achieve.

Did you guide a successful change program? Did you make the deadline? Does your boss give you a bonus? Does your team perform well? Is your company serving a real need that customers have? In the grand scheme of things, does it matter what you do at work?

But the simple answer is: Yes, you make a difference by being present.

You may not be satisfied with your impact at this point – but you already make a difference. You can try to increase your impact (we’ll get to that later on). But let’s first discuss a bit of philosophy and science.

Philosophy and Science are on your side

There’s only one of you
Here’s a fascinating fact to start with: amongst over 7 billion people on earth – no one has the exact same pool of genes. Nor is there anyone with exactly the same experiences, feelings, and thoughts that you have.

You are incredibly unique. Never before did someone exist who’s exactly like you – and there will be never again. You are a truly unique creation.

You are unique, your presence and your actions influence the world Click To Tweet

This fills me with awe when I think about it. Your presence and your actions influence the world – from your circle of control to your circles of connection and collaboration (your circle of influence in Stephen Covey’s terms) toward your circle of concern…

It’s as simple as ripples in a pond. You throw in a jewel (that would be you) and it creates ripples – influencing everyone else in the water as well. Your presence keeps on creating ripples because you are alive and you keep moving – stirring everything and everyone around you with the things you think, say, and do – the decisions you make – the mood you radiate, all the time.

This counts for all 7 billion of us and it is not trivial because we are with so many. We are connected in many ways and that’s how we influence each other and how we can make a positive difference.

This is book post #8 – level: ME

Here’s the earlier post
Here’s the next post

If you’re confused – please start with post #1 or check the Positive Power overview and read the Positive Agent Manifesto.

Leaders, employees, consultants, citizens – everyone can make a positive difference from any position, without needing permission or resources from others. This blog will help you see positive possibilities and (re)claim your positive agency. Unstuck yourself and engage others via your interaction and actions. Transform into a positive organization where people and performance thrive.

I’m blogging my next book: “Positive Power at Work – How to make a positive difference from any position.” Your feedback is appreciated!

You can help me by liking, sharing, and commenting.

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Raphael

    Awesome. Yes by reflecting and being present, we so make a huge difference. Thank you for the message.

  2. Clive Bevan

    Adapting from the Connerites groupthink on Consulting and adding to Marcella’s themes,[1] Be true to yourself [2] Deliver by adding value to those who work with you.

    Believe in what you can achieve and in the absence of an obvious next step do what you think is right.

    Change starts with me… be a life long student of what works…smile through the uh-oh emotions when you meet the unexpected… as this is the learning spiral opening up to take you to a higher level.

    Organisations transform one thinkbox at a time and as you upskill on how to surf the change wave you will find that others will follow.

    Thanks for the thinkbox nudge Marcella.

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