Your Impact on the World
When we’re just one person in this world of 7.4 billion people, it’s easy to think that we don’t matter. But all of us have an impact on others by virtue of being alive. Even when we think that we’re just quietly living out our existence, we are still impacting others by virtue of what we do (or don’t do).
For example, a smoker smokes. By doing this, he fills the air with smoke, which is then inhaled by those nearby. Because of his decision to smoke there and then, he causes others to breathe in pollutants. He also affects the health of his family members, and worries them with his higher risk for lung/other diseases, by virtue of his habit. According to CDC, there is no risk-free level of passive smoking.
Another example is rude people. I’m sure all of us had encounters with rude people before, where someone said or did certain things that made us feel bad long after the incident. The rude person probably doesn’t think much about their actions or comments, yet that one action or comment can cause us to feel bad about ourselves, sometimes long after the event.
Clearly, it’s not difficult to create an impact. These examples are of negative impact, where you create negative value in people’s lives. Other examples of negative impact are
- Being rude to someone
- Losing temper at our loved ones for no good reason
- Not honoring a promise or agreement
- Handing our work late, hence impacting others
- Abusing someone’s goodwill
- Writing insensitive comments online
But then there is a different kind of impact: positive impact. Impact that makes a positive shift in others’ lives. For example
- Doing the right thing, even if it’s not popular
- Acknowledging when you are in the wrong
- Extending help to someone in need
- Voicing out injustice when you see it
- Being the better person and forgiving someone for their misdeeds
- Speaking up for a cause you believe in
Making a positive impact requires you to start thinking outside of yourself, and about others. Here I want to share three examples of people who create positive impact by their simple actions.
Larry was one of my first clients. He was 57 when we started our coaching. I still remember when he told me, “I feel it’s time I gave something back to humanity.” While most people his age would be thinking about retirement (and there’s nothing wrong with that), Larry was interested about serving others, possibly through humanitarian work.
Since our coaching and for the past 6 years, he’s been in Peace Corps, teaching and making an impact in the local communities. He’s 65 now. His first stint was in the Philippines, lasting 3 years. For the past 2 years he’s been based in China, helping the country meet its needs for trained teachers.
Larry is American and had never been to the Philippines or China, so these were totally new grounds for him. He had to learn Chinese and learn about the local culture to integrate. Recently he taught a 6-week English class to doctors who teach Chinese Medicine subjects. He also gave a talk to 100 university students, sharing his life as a foreigner in different Asian countries.
The students he meets wonder why he isn’t retired. For Larry, it’s because he sees his purpose as “To give something back to humanity” and “To continually learn and grow as a human being” (statements he set for himself during our coaching). He feels that these are the most meaningful things he can do, and this is the impact he’s creating in the world.
While many kids talk about hating school, Malala Yousafzai has been busy fighting for women’s rights to education. She is 19 as of 2016, and is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Born in Pakistan in 1997, Malala started speaking about education rights since she was 11. At that time, Taliban militants were taking over her home district, banning TV, music, and women from going to school and even the market. Bodies of beheaded policemen would be hung in town squares. To the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group, women are not allowed to work or study except study the Quran. To them, the women’s role is to marry, have kids, and care for the family.
Malala was outraged. She loves to study. “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” Malala spoke at a local club, in a speech covered by newspapers and TV channels.
In 2009, Taliban militants banned girls from school, claiming female education to be contrary to Islam. By then, they had blown up more than a hundred girls’ schools. Malala started to publicly advocate for female education, at a time when people laid low out of fear of being targeted.
As she became more recognized, the Taliban leaders decided to get rid of her. On October 9, 2012, Malala was attacked on the school bus, shot with one bullet through her head, neck, and shoulder. She was just 15 then. She survived and had to learn to speak and walk again. Her recovery, with no brain damage, was a miracle.
Today, Malala is an activist for human rights and education. She says:
“I want to see every child to get quality education. And in order to make sure that dream comes true, we have to work hard. And we have to take action. […] We are raising our voice saying that not just primary education should be focused on, but both primary AND secondary education should be available to every single child.”
And at the 2015 Oslo Education Summit,
“The money to send each child to primary and secondary education for 12 years for free is already there. If the world leaders decide to take one week and a day off from war and military work, we can put every child in school. Books, not bullets, will pave the path towards peace and prosperity.”
Clearly, the ability to create impact doesn’t just start when you graduate or reach 21. Malala leads an organization today called the Malala Fund which enables girls to complete safe, quality primary and secondary education. Check out Malala’s speech at the UN Youth Assembly here.
Terry Fox (1958–1981) was a Canadian athlete and cancer research activist. He was 18 when he was diagnosed with bone cancer. When his right leg got amputated due to the disease, he decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. That’s a 8,000 km (5,000 miles) in length, running on just one leg and an artificial right leg.
On April 12, 1980, Terry began his run. Every day, he ran a marathon (42 km/ 26 miles). His friend and brother drove closely behind in a van, to watch over him should anything happen. Despite gale force winds, pouring rain, snowstorms, and sweltering heat, nothing stopped him.
Unfortunately, the physical demands of running a marathon every day without rest, on only one leg, took its toll on Terry’s body. He was forced to end his run after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 mi) as his cancer had spread to his lungs.
Up until he was forced to stop, Terry had barely taken any days off, not even on his 22nd birthday, except for events that he believed would raise more money for cancer research.
Terry died on June 28, 1981. He was 22. The Canadian government ordered flags across the country to fly at half mast, an unprecedented honor usually reserved for distinguished statesmen.
Terry brought Canada together in a way not seen in history. Donations poured in and everyone prayed for his recovery while he was being treated before his death. As the then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said, “It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death… We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.”
By his death, Terry had raised over $24 million CAD, or $17.5 million USD. The Terry Fox Foundation was set up by his mom Betty Fox and has raised over $650 million CAD as of 2014. The Terry Fox Run, a non-competitive charity run, is held every year in commemoration of his vision and to raise funds for cancer research.
Since Terry’s death, the cure rate for bone sarcoma (the disease that Terry got) has increased from 50% up to almost 80% in younger patients and 70% in older patients. Most patients today don’t get amputations but limb-sparing or limb-reconstructive surgery. This can be said to be due to advances spurred by the millions raised in Terry’s name, along with people like Terry.
The impact that one person can have on the world cannot be underestimated. The examples above are just some of the changes that some people are making for humanity. Their impact cannot be quantified in ROI, GDP, or monetary terms.
Rather, their impact is an intangible one that improves our world and make it a better place.
Perhaps you are already creating an impact on others. Perhaps you don’t care about creating an impact. Perhaps you are more interested in your own development without caring about others.
But you already have an impact on the world by virtue of living in it. Your actions affect people one way or another. Your non-actions, similarly, affect others too, in more ways than you imagine.
What is it to you? What is the impact you want to create? Who are the people you want to change? And how can you make this change happen, starting today?