Change doesn’t happen because of good will. It happens when people of good will do tough things.
When it comes to social action, it’s all too comfortable to think in grandiose terms and bold pronouncements. Words are nice, even necessary, but they are insufficient if your mission is upending the status quo.
American civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer‘s gravestone reads: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She earned the right to have her words heard, to say those words at all, with her expert skills as a community organizer. What skills are earning you the right to be heard?
Keeping your options open may sound clever and even exciting. Indeed, it even sounds like smart career advice. But, while you are embryonically evolving your life mission, get yourself some damn skills.
“Pick one thing you’re passionate about, and just do it to acquire [leverageable] skills along the way,” advises Yuwei Shi, Dean, Monterey Institute of International Studies. In other words, get started.
In her useful book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter And How to Make the Most of Them Now, Meg Jay recommends, “You need to claim something.” The primary obligation of a change agent, political activist or social entrepreneur is to stop talking about what you plan to do, and make a choice to do it well and with competency.
Jay adds, “A life of infinite possibilities [feels] like a disorienting and overwhelming burden, but it is also a liberating fantasy….Saying yes to one concrete thing [feels] like saying no to an interesting or limitless life. In fact, it’s the other way around. If [you don't say] yes to something, your life [is] going to become unremarkable and limited.”
Skills matter in social change. You cannot, repeat, cannot, get much done from the unskilled cheap seats. Choose to know something, and choose to have the skills and knowledge which your clients and partners-in-change need.
Doing tough things requires having tough skills. As we will affirm next week at the Opportunity Collaboration, Delegates should be doers — not talkers. Have the courage to make your skills good enough to scale up your life and your impact.
– Jonathan C. Lewis, Host/Founder, Café Impact (original blog at Huffington Post)