By Jim Weaver, COO of The Ōnin Group
I hear a lot of people, particularly young people, talk about their desire to have an impact. I can relate to the desire to live a life of significance, and I feel an instant connection to anyone with this mindset – we are kindred spirits. Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of folks get tripped up in their pursuit of impact, falling far short of this grand vision for their lives. For many, the once inspirational desire to have an impact morphs over time into a gnawing, almost cancerous, sense of lack and emptiness. This “lack” mindset tends to lead to behavior that further undermines our ability to have an impact accelerating a very negative cycle. This is a cycle many never break out of.
The good news is that it is pretty easy to break the cycle by embracing some simple practices. Be warned, the trouble with simple ideas is that they are just as easy to not do as they are to do. I have outlined below six often overlooked truths about having an impact. Put them to practice over time and you will have the impact you so deeply desire.
Whatever you do right now – customer service rep, waitress, teller, sign-holder, sales assistant – be awesome. When aspiring to have an impact, the most common mistake people make is looking past what is right in front of them. New opportunity rarely comes until one stewards the opportunity at hand.
When you read the biblical account of the Israelites leaving Egypt, there is an interesting detail often missed in the story. Once Pharaoh finally acquiesces and lets the Israelites go, God tells Moses, who in turn tells the Israelites to ask the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold from the Egyptians. The Egyptians are broken at this point and give the Israelites whatever they ask for, and as a result, the children of Israel leave Egypt with not just the shirts on their backs but the wealth of Egypt. How does that apply to you? You may be enslaved in Egypt, metaphorically, in your current gig, but there is treasure for you to walk out with. Unless you fully engage and steward the opportunity you have, you will leave with only the shirt on your back.
Today as I look back at all the terrible jobs and poor managers I worked for, and I am thankful. In retrospect, they were lily pads. Occasionally I had some success, and many times I failed, but I found there was always something to learn and character built when I fully engaged, even at the crappy jobs. Those struggles have given me a depth and a strength that I never would have gained had I gone about those jobs half-heartedly. Whatever you are doing, strive to be the best ever at it. I guarantee you will grow, and doors will open for greater impact.
It is impossible to have an impact if you need to be told exactly what to do. The people who shape our world figure out issues that can’t be googled. The world is full of people who need to be told exactly what to do. I think, in a lot of ways, our educational system breeds this. Having a nose for what is wrong is nothing special either, unless that sense of what is wrong is paired with a talent for developing and proposing solutions.
What if you are not creative? Is it hopeless for you? Absolutely not. Creativity is a muscle. We all have it in us. It is naturally stronger in some, but anyone can develop creativity if it is exercised. There are many great resources out there to develop creativity. James Altuchur is one of my favorite writers about the topic. Know this up front, the biggest enemy of creativity is fear of failure. When working to solve interesting problems, fail-forward-fast. Solve problems. Have impact.
3. Take the Long-Cut.
Anything worthwhile takes time. We live in a microwave world, but there are still some things that require a slow cooker. Having an impact and living with significance takes consistency over time.
Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can accomplish in five or 10 years. I think this is a real temptation for young people to expect too much, too soon in their careers and then jump around looking for the breakout opportunity. There is certain wisdom and perspective that only comes in time. If we get out ahead of that process we set ourselves up for a fall.
I am reading a great book right now by Jeff Olson called “The Slight Edge.” In it, he talks about how our seemingly small, day-by-day, consistent, positive actions compound over time just like the compounding interest curves you see. At a certain point the slope turns north and the returns really start coming in. Constantly switching direction in search for the “impact gig” is like continually switching investments because of mediocre short-term returns, never leaving the investment alone long enough to see the big upswing. As the rabbit found out in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Unbridled impatience is an enemy of real impact.
4. Discipline trumps motivation.
Motivation comes and goes – consistent discipline over time has impact. This point dovetails nicely off of the previous point. Patience in and of itself is not enough. It must be mixed with discipline. It is an act of will to do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. It is an act of will to run through the tape every single day. It is an act of will to make a habit of doing a little extra. It takes discipline to follow through on commitments to yourself, and if I betray my own trust, how will I have any influence in this world? Motivation is an emotion and emotions are fickle and easily influenced, discipline keeps us on the path whether we feel like it or not. My buddy, TQ Berg, used to say, “Sometimes inspiration must be pursued.” The fuel for that pursuit is discipline.
5. Raise Your Average.
Jim Rohn first articulated the truth that a person is the net average of the five people they spend the most time with. Think about the five people you are with the most, and I think you will find this to be true spiritually, financially, psychologically, physically, etc. This is amazing, right? If we seek to make an impact with our lives, we need spend time with people making an impact.
When I was in my 20s and early 30s, struggling to get out of the pack and do something significant, there were some crazy people in my orbit constantly pulling me downward. The people in the lower 50th percentile of your circle generally don’t want to see you do more with your life. Why? In many cases it makes them feel insecure about their lives, or they might worry they will lose you. Impactful people are not “normal” people, they are exceptional, and they do things that normal people don’t do.
We can’t choose family, so I am not advocating cutting off family, and I am certainly not endorsing divorce. We can, however, choose our friends and business associates. Who do you need to spend less time with, and who can you spend more time with to raise your average? To have an impact we need to surround ourselves with impactful people who challenge us to raise our game.
6. Get the stick out of your backside, and have some fun!
I left this one until the end because I think it is the secret sauce for living a fulfilled life, and probably the most overlooked element to having impact. Do you really think that you can have an impact if no one wants to be around you? I get it – life can be hard, very hard at times. The world is full of injustice, contradiction, nasty people and other evil things. Humor is the secret sauce in an impactful life and all the contradiction and nastiness in the world makes for great satire.
We need to make a choice to lighten up and not take ourselves and things so seriously. We find what we look for and what we focus on will expand in our lives. There is beauty, grace, goodness inspiration all around us; just look for it.
Perhaps you have suffered pain, loss or injustice, and that is the root of your angst. I don’t want to minimize the bad things people go through. We don’t choose many of the things life throws at us, but we do choose the effect those events will have on our lives. If a seemingly negative event is causing us to walk through life in angst, we need to rewrite the script. I have heard Tony Robbins say “Life doesn’t happen to us; it happens for us.” This is a profound paradigm shift – one that has the power to remove that stick from our backside putting that frown on our face. Consistent joy is rare and highly impactful – “go get you some.”