Remember that change is made in small moments

We are coming up on one year in a global pandemic. For many of us, this time last year was more familiar and much simpler. We had our routines down. We were juggling work and family commitments while trying to stay on top of New Year’s resolutions, and perhaps planning our next trip. As I write this now in my PJs on my couch, it’s the usual time I would have been on my way to the office. 

Much has changed. 

Since this time last year, a mass resurgence of the movement for Black lives swept the nation, bringing with it deep pain and sadness as we saw a continued lack of accountability for police officers that have conducted the systematic killings that got us there. We have seen the impact of  climate change continue to ravage communities across the world. And of course, the pandemic and a particularly tumultuous election season. 

It’s a lot to deal with, and signs of hope can be fleeting. On a personal level, I vacillate between counting my many blessings and feeling isolated and disconnected, worn down by the repetitive daily grind of this version of life. I’ve found myself wondering if I’m in the right job. But I know I am. I love my job! But many of the things I love about it are diminished or absent entirely in a world of Zoom meetings and physical isolation.

Facing the problem

I’m sure many of you can relate to this. If you’re doing changemaking work, it’s very easy to feel powerless. Tired. Burned out. The constant sense that you’re not doing “enough.” We see the world crumbling around us, and we want to do more. At the same time, we’re not sure we have enough gas left in the tank to get through the day, let alone impact the world.

What I know about change

Understanding change is what I do for a living. The principle of making a difference in the world has defined my work and my approach to life. What we’re up to at Javelina is working with our clients to create systemic change, and I have had the privilege of interviewing changemakers from all over the world for our podcast, How to Change the World. Here are three foundational things I have learned about creating change:

    1. You have to believe that you can.

If I could only say one thing, this would be it. Losing sight of this makes the work infinitely harder. If you struggle to believe that you can make change, look around. People are making change all around us, and if you can see it in others, I believe that you can see it in yourself. Remember a time you have made change in the past (spoiler alert: we all have). You have done it before and you can do it again. 

    2. Change is made in small moments.

Oftentimes when we think about change, we think of the huge things – culminations of decade work. Think of the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States – it wasn’t just the Supreme Court decision that day in June of 2015. It was millions of small moments that changed public opinion, millions of hours of advocacy work, every time that someone came out to their friends and family, every time somebody saw a neighbor persecuted because of who they loved – all of those moments, adding up into something massive.

    3. It begins with you.

If you follow the logic that change starts in small moments, understand that you can and must drive change. It begins with how you treat yourself and others, how you think about yourself and the world around you. Your ability to create change in your own life is the very first starting point in the process of creating change in the world.

Overcoming the problem

Taking those 3 principles into account, we can return to the problem at hand. We are exhausted, we are burned out, and everything feels hopeless. When you feel overwhelmed by the world’s insurmountable problems, localize it. Bring it back to your neighborhood, your block, your household, yourself. Bring it back to the smallest moment. You aren’t charged with a lone mission to fix democracy, or solve climate change, or end racism – you are only charged with making the next small change.   

Take action

If you’re feeling stuck, here are ten small things you can do to make change in this localized, personal way. These are in no particular order, and I could certainly go on – but these are actionable, manageable, important – and possible. You can do these things, and in the process of doing them, you are fighting back against that sense of hopelessness.

Ten small things

    1. Reach out to your local elected representative to tell them what you’d love to see in your local area.

    2. Send someone who you haven’t connected with in a while a postcard. 

    3. Set up a standing donation for a nonprofit that works on issues that are important to you.

    4. Every time you find yourself obliged to do something, rephrase the sentence to start with the words: “I choose.” So instead of “I have to go to this boring Zoom meeting”, you think “I choose to go to this boring zoom meeting because….(I respect my coworkers, or I value the work my client does, or I need my paycheck).

    5. Have a hard conversation with someone you care about.

    6. Buy local for one thing you’d usually get at a national chain – one item, one meal, one birthday gift, etc. 

    7. Recommend a podcast or book that resonated with you to someone else and tell them why you liked it.

    8. Ask someone how they are – how they really are. And then listen to the answer without giving advice. 

    9. Babysit for someone with young kids. 

   10. Replace an unkind thought about someone with the most generous way you can describe their thought or action. An unkind thought hurts us more than it does the person you’re thinking it about. 

What to remember

There are so many more of these small steps you can take. It’s an endless list. But there’s a few things that they all have in common:

  • They remind you that you have more agency than you think you do. You understand and believe that you can.
  • They put you in the driver’s seat. You are acknowledging that change is made in small moments, and thus it starts with you.
  • They sow a seed. While nothing on this list will change the world immediately, each item will impact the people around you. Change is infectious. Others will see you do it, and it changes what they think they’re capable of.

Let me leave you with this: Remember that, before anything else, you can. In the face of a tidal wave of overwhelming pain, you can, even in small ways, stand in its way. You can make it a little easier for someone else. When the big picture feels overwhelming, keep your eyes on the next small moment. 

For more on how to make change in difficult times, check out What Now?

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