A key component of making a life that matters is taking action in small ways in our home, our workplace, and our local community. This week we discuss ways we can give back and make a difference in the lives of others.
Giving back to others can make a big difference in their lives and can change our lives for the better too
In the TPW community, we often talk about making a life that matters, and what that means for each of us. To me, part of a life that matters–a meaningfully productive life–is about doing good in the world, contributing in some way to the well-being of others besides myself. Former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama is quoted as saying,
“Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Specifically, I’ve thought about how easy it is for me to be so focused on my own life, my own little world, that I neglect to do anything to help those outside my four walls.
I recently read an article that said, “As humans we yearn to make a difference, to leave our mark. And most of us know helping better others’ lives has positive impacts on our own — making us happier, more balanced, and instilling a greater sense of purpose in the everyday. But it can be easy to get bogged down in the daily grind and miss the benefits, to ourselves and our communities, that getting involved can provide.”
What does it take to make a difference in the world?
Do we need a big platform, tons of resources, or lots of influence in a big arena?
I don’t think so. If it did, that would exclude most of us. Some of us can make a more visible difference at the state, national, or even global level. But I believe all of us can make a difference in the world by taking action in small ways and in small environments–like at home and in our local community.
So many issues facing the world. So much suffering. So much fear.
Sometimes it seems like all we do is argue about issues and point fingers while blaming others, but nothing changes. The truth is, if it really matters, we’ll do something about it.
It seems everybody’s waiting for someone else to fix the problem. But like I talked about in episode 396 (where I talked about A Manifesto for a Life that Matters), looking outward is not the answer. “My job in life isn’t to make other people do good in the world. It’s to do good myself. And maybe to hope that by my example I can inspire someone else to do good too.” I can’t control what others do; I can’t make anybody else do better. But I can choose to do better myself.
I saw a quote on a friend’s Facebook post:
“I’ve found that if I pray for God to move a mountain, I must be prepared to wake up next to a shovel.”
A lot of things have happened in the past few years that have generated fear and anger among many of us.
Anger can be a catalyst for action, but simply acting or speaking out of anger accomplishes little. Yelling at or criticizing others rarely changes anything. It’s better to manage our own thinking and act out of a true caring perspective.
What’s the best way to make a difference?
Get personally involved. Changing the world and making it better, requires each of us to be willing to give something: Time; Money; Talents or skills; or Attention. What that looks like will be different for each of us, depending on the stage of life we’re in, our economic resources, and other things. But no matter what our situation might be, there is always something we can do.
Many years ago, my husband was working for a ministry and traveling often. I was 21 years old, our first child was an infant, and we had very little money, so we received some public assistance (WIC). One time I was at the county’s social services office for an appointment, and in the waiting room I sat next to a young woman who was there with her baby. The infant, only a few months old, was shockingly thin, lethargic, and grayish looking.
I sat there wondering what to do, and then started talking to her. I learned she was a teen mom whose family had abandoned her when she decided to keep her baby, so she was on her own. As we talked, it became clear to me that she loved her baby but was completely uninformed about how to care for him.
Long story short: I offered her a ride home and then invited her to dinner with me at our apartment and ended up taking her under my wing, introducing her to some older moms in our church, and together we helped her learn better how to care for her child.
The point isn’t that I did a wonderful thing. It’s that although I had no money, I made a choice to do something and help this person who had even fewer resources than I did.
It doesn’t have to be a “big” action on a big stage
We can make a difference in the world by taking small positive actions on a very one-on-one level. It can be kindness at home, being kind to the people we live with and are closest to. We can help one individual in need, maybe by offering them a ride or inviting them over for a meal. Caring words or actions directed to one sad or lonely or angry person can have a ripple effect.
A few ideas about what we can do to make a difference
- Give money to a cause or organization that you believe in, to an individual in need, or even to a teacher for use in buying supplies (a gift card from Amazon or a local teacher or art supply store?)
- Write letters to elected officials, to those who are shut-in or isolated (illness, age, etc.), to deployed military personnel (for ideas, check out 8 Websites Where You Can Write to Soldiers), or to people in jail or prison (there are several articles linked below about how to do this safely). Send thank-you notes to teachers or 1st responders. Operation Gratitude offers a way to send letters to military personnel (new recruits, wounded warriors, deployed servicemen and women) and first responders.
- Volunteer in a school – tutor, read to kids, be a teachers aid, or help out in the office or the library. Volunteer at a hospital–most have volunteer opportunities. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, for domestic abuse victims, refugees, or pets. Volunteer for a political campaign, an organization that serves a cause or constituency you care about (environmental, social, other) such as Habitat for Humanity. Check out your local library; you could help children learn to read. Try volunteering at a local food bank.
- Visit seniors in assisted living centers or nursing homes. Mike, from time to time, contacts the activities director and arranges to come and play music for the residents. He took our son with him a few times. You could also visit hospitals, shelters, or the lonely neighbor down the street or in the apartment next door.
- Share your talents and skills–and you do have some! The things you know, or know how to do, might seem basic to you, like something everybody knows. But that’s a mistaken idea. There are plenty of people who don’t know the things you know. Examples:
If you are a crafter, create something beautiful to give to hospital patients or nursing home residents.
If you have business skills, mentor a young entrepreneur or the person in the next cubicle.
If you have parenting skills, try to mentor a new mom. As a young wife and mom, I benefited in numerous ways from older women who came alongside me and shared what they knew about parenting, home-making, and more.
You could also start a podcast or a YouTube channel or write an article, a book, a blog post, or a song.
Simply find a way to use what you know how to do to share with other people to make their lives better.
- Open your home and your heart. You could do this by foster parenting. It doesn’t require a lot of money and can make a huge difference. There is also adoption. There are hundreds, if not thousands of children in the foster care system who cannot be reunited with their families and who need a loving home.
On a more local level, you could invite neighbors to a potluck for a holiday or summer barbecue or host an exchange student or people from another country or culture (immigrants or foreign students at a nearby college). When Mike was in grad school, he invited foreign classmates from several different countries to our home for Thanksgiving dinner. We had a wonderful time getting to know them and talking about cultural differences.
I have friends who foster animals, nurturing and caring for them until they have a new permanent family.
- Run for office–school board, city council, county commission, or mayor. One of my sisters, with zero political experience and only a high-school education, saw a need for change in her very small community and ran for mayor. She was elected!
- We can make a difference by organizing. We could do a neighborhood clean-up or a food or clothing drive. We could organize a book club or some other type of group where friendships can be built and support and encouragement offered. We could organize help for refugees or victims of a natural disaster.
I googled “how can I make a difference in my community” and came up with dozens of articles suggesting simple things we can do. Some examples:
- Donate blood
- Organize a charitable event or fund-raising drive
- Become a mentor (If you don’t know a person you’d like to mentor, one article suggest checking out organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters, futurpreneur, or Trudeau Foundation [from 10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in Your Community]
- Adopt a neighbor–that elderly widow or widower down the street; the young mom from your church whose family lives far away; the single parent or military wife next door–run errands, pick up meds, watch their kids, simply visit to talk and listen.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but apparently he didn’t say exactly that. What he said is:
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
From the very beginning of this podcast, our definition of a productive woman hasn’t been the one who gets the most stuff done. It’s the woman who orders her life in such a way as to maximize her positive impact on the world. Productivity isn’t just about successfully managing our homes, our careers, our personal well-being. It’s also about making sure we make time in our life to do good for others, to make a difference in the world outside our four walls. A productive woman–a community of productive women–can truly change the world for the better.
When facing the grave issues in the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, even hopeless. What can one person do to change the way things are? There are so many areas where help is needed. And it’s true that one person can’t do everything. But that’s no excuse to do nothing. As we’ve talked about before, no matter how far the distance, even small steps in the right direction will eventually get you where you want to go. Even a small step is more effective than no step at all. If all of us find one thing to do–no matter how small–the cumulative effect will be astounding.
What do you think?
What are you doing to make a difference? Post your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me
Resources and Link
- Be The Change
- 8 Websites Where You Can Write to Soldiers
- Letter Writing Campaign – Compassion Prison Project
- Write A Prisoner – Prison Pen Pals
- Everything You Need To Know About Writing Letters to Inmates
- 10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in Your Community | by WholeFamilyHappiness | The Whole Family Happiness Project | Medium
- 25 Easy Ways to Make a Difference In Your Community | Charity For Hope
- 26 Creative Ways to Make a Difference in Your Community
- Letter Writing – Operation Gratitude
- TPW396-A Manifesto for a Life that Matters
- WIC-Women, Infants, and Children
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Amy Williams says
I am playing catch-up and was fortunate to listen to this episode this morning. It is such an inspiration and a message we all need these days. Thinking about what we as individuals can do to can make a difference is a terrific message. Thank you for the positive message.
Thanks, Amy. I’m glad you liked the episode. Hope all is well with you and yours.
Tammie Evans says
Just listening to this episode as I type. Great to hear Laura recommending writing soldiers and inmates. I’ve been writing US inmates since 2002 (I’m in England). More recently, 2016, I signed up to be a volunteer with an organisation that supports US military and I’m now on four of their teams including letter writing, sending cards and packages.
Thank you, Tammie. I’m glad you’re enjoying it–and I’m glad to hear you’re already making a difference in the lives of your inmate and military penpals.