I spent most of my early twenties putting a lot of thought into how I could make a difference in the world. As a young Christian, I wanted so badly to make an impact. So I thought and I dreamed to the point that it gave me anxiety, burned me out, and made life feel like a burden. I went to bible school, did a few church internships, moved to Florida to do full-time ministry, did some public speaking at outreaches, led bible studies at skate parks, and moved around a lot always chasing this dream that I could never seem to grasp. All because I was on a journey to make a difference and an impact in the world. The great irony in all of this though, is that all the times I felt like I made the biggest impact on people, was when I wasn’t trying to do so. The random kid I befriended at the skate park, the guy that I met at the skate shop that just moved to the area that I invited to come skate with us, people that I have met at a coffee shop and just struck up a conversation, or even just inviting people over to my house, has made a difference in people’s lives. The problem I found with all my searching and striving is that I always thought about it in big, glamorous ways. It was like Martin Luther King Jr, Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis level or bust. I put so much pressure on myself to do big things that I saw little to no value in any of the little things. And it left me feeling like my life was a waste and meaningless. It took me a while to realize that all the real value in life came from the things that I wasn’t trying to find them in. And it didn’t come from endless brainstorming and planning on how I could use my talents and gifts to accomplish something great and worthwhile, it just happened from me making myself available to people and being myself. My experience with all of this taught me that the people that need to make a difference so bad, often don’t appreciate themselves, because they always feel like they aren’t doing enough for the world and for God. I eventually came to the realization that it is ok to just be me and to be average without all the glamor that I felt like I was destined to have or needed to have in order to live a meaningful life. I see a lot of young people that follow this same pattern. They feel like being their average self is not enough, they need the following, the glamor, the assurance that they’ve done something significant with their lives, and so on, and it’s a bit of an epidemic. I told myself and others that all my striving, and brainstorming to make something happen for good, was for God and people, but the reality was it was all for myself. I had an insecurity that my life was insignificant, I felt like me being me was not enough. I needed to feel like a bigshot, and I needed the assurance that I had done something worthwhile with my life. My biggest fear seemed to be living an average life, with an average job, making an average or little impact on the world.
There is a paradox here wherein all our striving and trying so hard to do something significant, stifles us from being able to actually make a difference. We are so focused on “big things,” that we ignore the little things, and it is the little things where we are actually the most likely to have an impact on people. We never know what people are going through. The smallest act like inviting someone over to our house, or out to coffee, or to a hike, to play basketball, or to go skateboarding could have the biggest impact on someone’s life. People that enjoy life and love people will always be making a difference, just like adding sugar to something will always make it sweet. If I love and care about the people around me, I will make a difference, there is no other possible outcome. It is not something I need to think about. All the thinking, striving, wondering how I can make a difference, actually inhibits us from doing so. When I am playing my saxophone, if I come to a place in a song where I need to think long and hard about what I am playing, it will cause me to stop playing. But if I can play a song without giving it too much thought, it will come out smooth and beautiful. If I have to put a lot of thought into how to, or if I am making a difference, chances are it is causing me to stop doing so. When we get stuck in our heads, it immobilizes us.
I was talking to someone the other day that told me they really want to have kids one day and make a difference in their lives. When we say things like that, there is an unsaid implication that there is a chance that we will not. If we love people, our kids, and are seeking the betterment of everything and everyone, we will be making a difference. It is not something we need to think or worry about. A tree doesn’t need to think about bearing fruit, it just does it. As long as it has water and sunlight, it will bear fruit. As long as we are giving everything and every one our best and are caring about the well-being of people, there is no other possibility than to make a difference. When we are stressed out and anxious about not doing and being enough, it makes life all about us, which stifles us from loving and caring about people; our water and sunlight for bearing fruit. Being ourselves and being average without all the glamor, spotlight, New York Times Best Sellers Lists, Nobel Peace Prize, huge Instagram followings, and so on is enough to make a difference and to have a meaningful life.