It can happen between a blink, a breath or even mid-sentence.
One minute your life makes complete sense. You’ve got it all figured out, know exactly what you want and how to get it.
The next minute, absolutely nothing makes sense! You are at a loss, wondering, what the hell happened?
This is what happened to me.
I was at the top of my game. Years of hard work had paid off: I owned a large home in a neighborhood plucked from a Hollywood New England movie (think Mystic Pizza); had a well-paying job in a Fortune 50 company working on a global IT team; went on annual vacations to the Caribbean; and taking a quick glance in the rear-view mirror of my posh car, I realized that at 33 years old I looked hot (or at least I thought I did lol) with my new Halle Berry haircut!
For one fleeting moment, I had a glimpse of all that I had worked so very hard to get.
It happened on my drive home from work. Right before turning the last corner, my eyes opened for the first time – allowing me to take in the breathtaking beauty of my perfect life! It was a moment of pure calmness as I watched in slow motion the golden swirls of red tinted leaves blowing across the legendary Pequot Avenue. Then a thought hit me like a thunder bolt: I HAD MADE IT!!
I turned the corner and woke up!
More precisely, a loud voice screamed in my head: WTF are you doing?
Looking again at my perfect life, I felt a great sadness. The sum total of my life’s work had been driven by the desire to get things: get a degree to get out of the ghetto, get a good job to get lots of money, get a posh car and a big house to get respect. While I enjoyed my ‘things,’ the motivation to have them was not a conscious decision, but instead motivated by the need to demonstrate my level of success to others.
The loud voice kept screaming in my head like a broken record ….until I got the message!
Taking one last look at my perfect life, my sadness switched to gratitude, for all the material success I had achieved.
At that moment, I made my first conscious career decision – a pact with myself. I would spend the rest of my life doing things that mattered, things that made a difference. I realized my life had not been spared, nor had I escaped poverty, for me just to spend it working hard to collect crap I didn’t really want or need.
Simplistically, I challenged myself to find ways to ensure my giving greatly outweighed my getting.
Moments of clarity
Moments like this are a rare opportunity to re-assess our lives, and if needed, make course corrections. For me, they are often initiated by a WTF question! These objective moments of clarity allow us to see our lives in their technicolor glory – the good and the bad – offering us the opportunity to seek meaning and purpose in them.
Doing things that matter
While this first WTF moment only lasted a split second, the impact has had a lifelong effective. Six months later, I followed my passion and started a fair trade retail business with $500. Three years later, I left the corporate world. Ten years later, I sold my business and re-entered the workforce. Today, I continue to seek ways in which to do things that matter and create positive change.
I share my learnings in hope that they may help others seeking to live with purpose by doing things that matter and creating positive change. As always, take what works for you, leave what doesn’t.
Here are four (of many!) ways we can become agents of change:
1. Through Working
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that we spend 58% of our adult lives working. An effective way to create positive change is where we spend the majority of our time, at our jobs! Changing careers is not an easy option because of our financial needs to support a family, costs for re-training and availability of jobs. Some may easily transfer skills to another job – one that has a mission aligned with their values – but for some, this is not an option.
Putting aside ethical or moral considerations, the great news is that most of us have an opportunity to create positive changes through our existing jobs.
For example, we can:
- Help to create a more positive work culture
- Lobby for an employee volunteer program
- Inspire innovation through diversity
- Build a case to make your company more socially responsible
2. Through Volunteering
The use of our time is another way to make positive change. On average 27% of employed Americans regularly volunteered about 52 hours per year with retired Americans volunteering up to 95 hours a year. In the UK, volunteering is on the rise with 29% of people regularly volunteering and 44% volunteering at least once per year. Volunteering allows us to give back, tackle social problems and create change, through churches, communities, charities and schools.
In Helping Others While Yourself, volunteers may also experience surprising personal benefits, including: connecting with others, increasing social relationships, combating depression, keeping us healthier and giving us the opportunity to find “new meaning and purpose” in our lives by helping others.
3. Through Purchasing
There is an expression I used to say to customers “we create the world we buy.” With the advent of currency, the consumer was created. In today’s society, we have become disconnected from those we purchase our goods and services from. But we have a choice to remain nameless, faceless consuming individuals, or we can use our spending to affect change. Every dollar (euro, pound, rupee, yen) we spend, or choose not to spend, has more collective power than any other single action to facilitate change. Where we spend our money empowers those who receive it, with or without our intention, knowledge or permission. Connecting our spending with our belief systems allows us to empower those that are aligned with our values. From food, clothing, energy, to our homes, we are influencing and shaping the world we live in, dollar by dollar. We can choose to build stronger communities by supporting local businesses, taking public transportation to reduce carbon or buy fair trade to create opportunities for people.
4. Through Creative Expression
Artists, musicians, writers and poets have created positive impact through their expression. They create empathy, connecting us to one another and raising our awareness about issues. As a result of their creative endeavors, artists and writers such as, Sojourner Truth, Van Gogh, Frederick Douglass, Federico Garcia Lorca, Frida Kahlo, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Prince and k.d lang have opened a window for others to empathize, understand and experience compassion for others. These and other brave artists have challenged our beliefs, broke down barriers and moved us toward living a more conscious life.
Creative expression is not for a selected few,
it is open to all of us.
In today’s electronically super connected world expression is fast becoming a powerful vehicle for raising awareness, making a difference and creating opportunities for positive impact.
Last word about change
We can influence change or be influenced by change. We can make changes that impact ourselves and others. Or we can impacted by changes others make. The first two are 100% within our control; the latter is not within our control. As we cannot control the actions of others, only our responses.
Change is a catalyst for expressing power,
the power we have to build, create and transform ourselves
and the world we live in.
Many will experience WTF Moments, or some other life changing event that challenges us to think differently about our work, our time, our money and our expression. As there is no one right way to make a difference, there is no one right answer.
There is however, one question we may find ourselves having to answer:
How will I choose to make a difference?
Do share. Have you ever had a WTF Moment? If so, how did it change the way you see your life? What did you do about it?