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How to change the world
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
How to change the world
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
How to change the world
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
9 January 2018

How to change the world

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Written by John-Paul Flintoff

This story originally ran in issue #34 of Dumbo Feather

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

If you had the chance, would you change the world? Of course you would! There are plenty of things you would change right now, if you were given a magic wand. Things that keep you awake at night with worry, or thrilling dreams about wonderful things that don’t yet exist.

But we often conclude that changing the world would be hard work, if not impossible, so we don’t even try.

That’s a shame, not just because the world could do with improvement but for us too, as individuals—because actively pursuing what we believe in has been shown to give greater pleasure than a life of sheer hedonism. It gives us access to deeper reserves of empathy, opportunities to be creative, and a habit of fearlessness. Not bad. So how to start?

One of the first things to do is to identify what really matters to you. Try to be very specific. You can’t get rid of ‘poverty’, because rich and poor are polar opposites, like north and south. But if you are bothered, more specifically, by the fact that, say, some people have no shoes, or that children in your neighbourhood don’t eat three square meals, you can probably do something about that.

Make sure you choose a mission that you really care about: if you do something because you think you “should”, you won’t enjoy it and you won’t persist. So, if ending war isn’t your thing, don’t be hard on yourself. You may be more useful to the world as a guerilla gardener, or as the founder of a theatre group.

The simplest way to identify your mission is to ask yourself this question: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? As if success was guaranteed. By asking it this way, you get round that internal saboteur, the voice in your head that asks, Who do you think you are?

Go on, ask yourself now.

Putting your idea into the world, even if nobody sees it, gives it a thrilling reality that it won’t have if you keep it in your head.

But having a magnificent idea can be dangerous: you may be so wowed by it that you put it on a kind of mental pedestal, like a beautiful statue. But if you don’t shape the statue, it won’t exist. Instead, try to think of it as a piece of music, to be enjoyed as it goes along. It’s already started. All achievements take small steps, one after the other. Neil Armstrong didn’t just wake up one morning and go to the moon. Lots of people had to go into the office at NASA, day after day, for years. Much of what they did may have felt tedious. But don’t make the mistake of enduring the small steps: enjoy each one in its own right, because otherwise you’re in danger of using the end to justify the means—never a good thing.

When you enjoy the process, you no longer feel intimidated by the scale of what you hope to achieve in the long term. And each small achievement gives you confidence to do something even bigger next time. So the other question to ask yourself is this: What can you do in the next 24 hours? It doesn’t have to anything very big. But if you don’t do anything in the next 24 hours, what makes you think you ever will?

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