How many people have you ever heard say, or imply, that they want to do something to “change the world?” I once worked in the admissions office of my alma mater, Chowan University, and I cannot tell you how many students I met who said they aspired to do something in their life that would “change the world.”
Naturally, people want to make an impact. They want what they do to make a difference. However you want to say it, many people want to spend their life doing something that can “change the world.”
If you will indulge me, I’ll take a stab at developmental, self-help non-fiction today; this is something I’m very passionate about and feel people need to hear. And if you’ll indulge me further, I’ll preview some of my upcoming novel, A New Requiem, in the process.
There is a big misperception in our society about what it means to “change the world.” And unfortunately, we often sell ourselves short on how we can achieve something that can make a big impact. What does it mean to “change the world?” I’d recommend looking no further than the world around you. We all have our own world; why not start by focusing on it?
I remember at my college graduation, I was afforded the opportunity to speak, and I’ll never forget what I said on that hot Saturday in May 2009: I announced my candidacy to the Presidency of the United States…in 2036 (to much applause, though I’m not sure why). By November 2036, I will be in the last quarter of my 49th year of life…that’s a good age, right? Major news outlets will refer to me as energetic and youthful, yet still experienced enough to relate to the establishment. But they won’t need to bother, now: there’s no way I’m running for the Presidency. There are a lot of things I want in life, but the Presidency is no longer one of them. Beto O’Rourke, Democratic candidate for the Presidential election in 2020, said he was “born to do this”; I frankly, do not share that sentiment about myself.
Sometimes I wonder: what is it that made me want the Presidency? I surely did at one point, but now things have changed entirely. I believe the reason I wanted it is because, at that point in my life, I believed that’s what I needed to do to make a real difference. To make an impact. To “change the world.”
The highest office in the land? Really? That’s what I believed it would take to make a difference? Evidently so. But that’s incredibly wrong. Where did we (or I, if you never shared this struggle) get the notion that we can only “change the world” by doing something on such a large scale?
I recently asked five people “Who is someone to comes to mind when you think of someone who has changed the world?” Some of the answers I got: Barack Obama, Ellen Degeneres, J.K. Rowling, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, and Lebron James.
What do they all have in common? They’re famous. They’re known world-wide. Almost everyone would recognize those names.
The underlying misperception is that to change the world you have to “be somebody” or be well-known in order to do it. Nonsense! It’s time we all realize that if we want to change the world, we should start by changing our world.
It’s okay to “be in your own world!” If you want to make an impact in life, how will you ever make one in the “greater” world if you can’t commit to making an impact in the world in which you live?
After completing my masters, I taught political science as an adjunct professor at Chowan University two nights a week. I served as a town councilman in the town I lived in, Conway, from 2012 to 2014 before I moved to Jacksonville for a job promotion. I volunteered as a video tech at River of Life Church in Jacksonville while living there; I did all these things to make a difference in the world I live in, and I’d like to think through these things and a number of other outlets, I’ve made a difference.
In my upcoming debut novel, A New Requiem, the protagonist and main character Ben Bailey, a local defense attorney in the fictional town of Freeden, deals with an inner-struggle to “fit in” with a populous that he so starkly contrasts with. Ben realizes he has allowed the world he lives in (Freeden) to mold and shape him into the man he has become; this is something he regrets in Chapter 2 of the novel:
Ben had made a life in Freeden, but had become the guy Freeden wanted him to be: a good ‘ole boy just like the rest of them that fit in there. Once he came to know his hometown as a place full of hypocritical, backward-thinking people, he still allowed it to direct him and the way he lived. And he was silently ashamed of it.
Ben ultimately finds a way to overcome this dilemma, but it takes realizing that his friend, Dwight, who has been there for him during some of his own dark times, needs Ben to save him from Freeden and the corrupt justice system’s wrath. This is Ben’s way of impacting the world he lives in; he chooses to help a friend that needs him now more than ever; he makes a decision to defend Dwight, a man hardly no one believes is innocent of the crimes he is charged with. The town practically excommunicates Ben when he elects to help Dwight, but Ben’s decision goes far beyond moving past his own personal struggle; not only does he work to vindicate Dwight, but his effort to show the town its ugliness becomes an even greater mission: it ultimately changes people in Freeden. It changes the world around him.
Sure, the town of Freeden only has about 9,500 people, but it’s a place that needs changing, and Ben realizes early in the novel that he can make a difference right at home.
Dwight, on the other hand, has his own personal struggle. He moved away to college, but then returned afterward to take care of his ailing mother. Once she passed away, he chooses to stay in Freeden, working as a teacher at Freeden High School and as the choir director at Freeden Baptist Church, but he continues to struggle with finding his purpose in “his world.” Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 8, perhaps the darkest, most meaningful chapter in the entire novel, where a flashback scene provides a look into a positive, mentor-like interaction with Dwight and the boy he is later accused of murdering, Braxton Jones:
“…that part of the world, they’ll judge you because you’re different, but you’ve got to come to terms with whether or not you’re okay with that.”
“It’ll take time, trust me…I know!”
Braxton and Dwight shared a laugh.
“You have a bright future young man,” Dwight said. “You’re going places. For me,” he leaned back in his seat, arms crossed, “I was called to come back here. I’m not sure why yet…I always thought it was to take care of my mother before she passed and that I had just gotten stuck here long after that moment in my life had come and gone, but I still am trying to believe there’s something else.”
If I tell too much it’ll ruin the story, but let me be clear: Dwight finds his purpose in A New Requiem, and despite the fact that its greatest impact was immediately felt in Freeden, its ability to stretch far beyond this small town, as you will see when you read it, is monumental.
Take a step back, and realize how significant changing “your world” can be. This morning I was in Boone, North Carolina at Appalachian State University for formal interviews for prospective insurance agents for the company I work for. I participate in this event each year; App State has one of the best Risk Management and Insurance schools and it is always a pleasure to meet their students, who I believe are truly prepared for working in the industry. My colleague wanted a quick breakfast, so prior to the interview sessions we enjoyed a true Southern, fast food delicacy: Bojangles.
We walked in, and I immediately noticed the cashier; she was a middle-aged woman named Peggy who blossomed with personality, and took considerable pride in the fact that Bojangles was raising money for muscular dystrophy research and awareness. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I have been to Bojangles elsewhere recently (not a great idea for a guy who is trying to be physically fit), and in line they passively asked me after I placed my order, “Would you like to donate to muscular dystrophy research?” Not Peggy. Peggy came right out of the gate with confidence, asking for a minimum $5 donation and selling all the benefits I would receive from giving. Once she finished her enthusiastic pitch, I chuckled, then said, “I can tell you are passionate about this!” Her response: “Honey, to God be the glory! He has given me life, and I’m passionate about life. I just want to make a difference.”
We all need to strive to be like Peggy. Peggy realizes that at the Bojangles in Boone, she can make a difference in this world. She can “change the world.” I challenge you: think about what you can do in your life to change your world for the better. Like Dwight in A New Requiem, your efforts can eventually make an impact that goes far beyond the world you live in.