Are we doing enough?

How can we do more?

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We all have the potential to make massive positive contributions to society and to the world but so often this isn’t the case — often we are holding ourselves back.

So what’s stopping us?

This depends on the individual but there are certain patterns. For me, the main three have been fear, naivety and ego.

I have been fearful about doing anything that wasn’t part of the ‘standard path’ or explicitly accepted by society. This included not questioning conventional wisdom as well as making ‘safe’ career choices.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

I have been naïve, with unrealistic expectations about how to make a positive impact. In the past, I have spent a lot of time contemplating grand schemes without taking action, not appreciating that endless planning will take you nowhere — it is the accumulation of small actions that produce results.

I have also spent a lot of time worrying about things that, in the scheme of things, are very unimportant.

“Most people major in minor things”

In the absence of a greater purpose, it is easy to let yourself shrink to your immediate surroundings, lose perspective and worry too much about small things.

My ego led me to give unnecessary attention towards how I appeared to others, sometimes caring more about doing things that appear good on the surface than actually getting to the bottom of what action is truly the best.

To liberate ourselves and make positive contributions to the world we need to remove our personal limitations. This is a gradual process but it involves conscious effort. To reduce my anxiety, I actively do things outside my comfort zone. To reduce my naivety, I keep asking myself whether I am maintaining perspective. To combat my ego, I take measures to reduce the effect of others in motivating my actions.

But how do we make a positive change to the world?

This may be the hardest question of all and I can’t claim to be in a position to answer it. In reality, there isn’t a clear answer. However, three important stages are required as a minimum:

1. Become aware of the situation

Understand the reality of the world and where you fit into it. Develop realistic expectations regarding the outcome of different actions. From my experience this is gained from a combination of personal real world experiences and tapping into the cumulative wisdom of others in the form of writing and audio.

2. Decide what you are going to do

Assess your strengths and personal interests in the context of the reality of the world and find something that you could dedicate your life to.

The Singularity University suggests “If what you’re working on couldn’t benefit 1 billion lives in the next 10 years, it’s not worth doing”. This is a pretty tough metric, but it emphasises the need to think big, beyond what we initially perceive as possible, to find a worthy goal.

3. Commit to it

In order to perform meaningful work, it is essential to commit as any meaningful problem will require someone to devote their whole life towards it.

An analogy is drilling for an underground oasis. You may drill 10ft in one area then change your mind and start working in another. After getting 10ft down, you may again decide to change spot. However to have the best chance of finding the oasis, you must choose an area to drill and commit to it.

Cal Newport describes how scientific breakthroughs are found in the ‘adjacent possible’ — the area just outside the edge of your chosen field. Therefore to be in the position to discover it you must first get to the cutting edge of your field — this requires sustained work.

In summary

We all have the potential to make massive positive changes to the world but we often ourselves back. To do this, all we need to do is develop an accurate view of the world, find our life goal and spend our whole life working towards it. Simple, huh..


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Originally published at Chris Lovejoy.