I mentor a set of young upstarts who want to ‘change the world’.
It’s a privilege, mostly because you cannot believe the things I learn from them. Not only do I take their money to tell them stuff they already know, they pay me to teach me.
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We have all sorts of conversations when we’re working. One of those conversations started when I asked the question, Why do you want to change the world?
They looked at me like I had suddenly sprung horns and a forked tail. “To make a difference,” one of them finally said, after a long minute of silence.
“Why?” I persisted.
They were rapidly getting frustrated; that much I could tell by their expressions so I defused the situation by cracking a joke. And then, I made my point.
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I’m not interested in changing the world. It’s too much trouble to change myself.
This year I resolved to push my push-ups from three sets of thirty to three sets of fifty. I did the first set of fifty the first day and that was it. I couldn’t even do more than that.
Does that sound like someone who wants to change the world?
But then, I realise that a lot of people started out on their life with the mission statement ‘To change the world!’ without really thinking what it means. As a result, they burn out midway, frustrated and disillusioned.
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No. I am not interested in changing the world. But I do want to live a meaningful life. And if in the course of doing that, I change the world, then damn. Bonus points.
Talking about ‘changing the world’ sounds grandiose and far-fetched and oftentimes, said to impress without really putting much thought to it. Like I said earlier, I don’t think anyone who actually made a difference woke up saying they wanted to change the world and then started to figure out why. They most likely looked at a problem, found a solution for that problem, and in the process revolutionised the way people thought about a particular thing or process.
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That’s how to truly change the world.
Ambition is powerful, but purposeless or misdirected ambition is useless and at best dangerous. Whatever you intend to achieve, the first thing is to be specific about it. What is the goal? You have to have a target before you aim and shoot.
What do you want?
Another thing you need to be mindful of is mere talk. Remember Mohamed Ali? He was a great man, a great boxer, a great father, and so on. Ali had a mouth on him and it was often considered a deadly weapon – almost as deadly as his fists. He bragged a lot, slung poetry at his opponents, and made fun of them. In fact, allow me to quote one of his greatest quips.
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“I’ve wrestled with alligators, I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning and throw thunder in jail. You know I’m bad. Just last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick. I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”
Big words, right? But then, the whole world knows the man stood by his words. His entire legacy speaks for itself. Don’t be somebody who speaks empty words; choose your words carefully and then follow through. Don’t say you will do something if you have no intention of doing it.
These days I try to stay away from the word ‘passion’ because I feel it’s one of the most abused when it comes to entrepreneurship and related fields, but it doesn’t make it any less true. It is important. It is the fuel that will keep your car going long after the tires are worn, the brakes no longer handle right and the car itself is an eyesore.
That day, I left my mentees with simple thoughts.
Leave changing the world. Find yourself. Find your spark. Fuel it.
And maybe an entire world will be set ablaze.
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