Last week I asked you to share your definition of "making an impact". Thanks to everyone who responded. All comments are worth reading. You're all amazing! Here's my perspective.
What does it mean to “make an impact”? Impact what? The world? The people around me? Myself? How do I start making impact? Who should guide me on this journey? How do I know I’ve made enough impact?
I’ve been asking myself these and similar questions from time to time. I don’t have all the answers yet. These are hard questions that require a lot of thinking and reflection on what is important in ones life.
Looking back, there have been days when I believed that I had to be this amazing software developer or entrepreneur who constantly comes up with novel ideas that can change the world. This may sound as having high aspirations but these are not some light thoughts that can be just carried around. They also have an effect. The effect on me was a self-imposed expectation that I must be doing something incredible, and the feeling of guilt if I’m not, ate me from the inside.
At that time, my definition of “making an impact” was related to impacting other people, preferably the whole world. There are a few problems with this - it requires years and years of work, it’s definitely beyond the capabilities of a single person, and the ultimate result is not something I can control. The last one is important because I can put a lot of hard work over a long period of time and still fail to achieve the result I had been hoping for.
But even if I didn’t do it all on my own, I’ve also had days when I was seeing my career as mediocre because I’m not part of a superstar team in a big company that is working on something that will change the world. Changing the world was a common theme back then, I guess.
These days I’m a bit more relaxed. I still have high ambitions but I’ve also realized that I’m not in a competition with anyone. I’m only competing with myself trying to get better over time.
Then it recently hit me! I realized what “making an impact” means to me. It doesn’t matter how hard I think about it, I always come to this conclusion:
Before you can impact the world around you, you first need to impact the world inside of you.
Or said as a programmer, the impact you make on the world is a side effect of the impact you’ve made on yourself.
You care about others because you get a warm feeling when you do it. You respect others because you believe that’s the right thing to do. You strive to become better at your craft because you want to grow as a professional. You teach others because you love seeing how they use this knowledge to create amazing things. You help others because you want them to have a better life.
However, when it comes to negative feelings, you make an impact by replacing them with something positive. Feeling jealous of someone's success? Focus on your own instead. Feeling arrogant because of some achievement? Become humble by the fact that there are people who have achieved more, etc.
This makes a lot of sense to me now. A healthy motivation for doing anything should always come from within, not from outside. And more importantly, the foundation for all of this should be love and empathy. Bad feelings can also be used for changing the world, but not for the better.
Now comes that hard part - how do I implement this? You’ve probably heard the popular saying “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. Unfortunately feelings and inner motivation is not something that can easily be put on a chart. So what’s the solution?
I think it’s a combination of self-reflection and journaling. It’s not enough to say once that I do things because I’m selfless. I must continuously use my foundational values to drive my actions and decisions. People can change very quickly and the outside world can have a big impact on ones personality. Therefore it’s important to write the things I believes in down and come back to them every so often. By doing this regularly, I can make sure that the foundational values are unchanged. On the other hand, by reading past entries in a journal, I can identify possible places where things have started to go in a different direction.
Focus on making an impact on yourself, everything else is a reflection of it.
Even though everything I’ve written so far might sound like I’ve figured my things out, I must say that I’m struggling with applying it just as everybody else. I’ve gotten better but it’s a process that takes a conscious effort. That doesn’t make it not worth trying though.