Recently, I have become fixated on what my role in the world should be. I find myself grappling with questions along the lines of: What is my next era of meaningful work? What is my best and highest use to society? Where can I make a real difference?
The longer it takes to figure this out, the higher the bar seems to get. After all, the longer you wait for the equivalent of Mr (or Ms) Right to come along, the less willing you are to “settle” for “good enough”. Nothing short of being completely swept off your feet will do.
Fortunately, I did find Mr Right in my personal life, and in a moment of despair, I mournfully blurted out, “I wish I could figure out what my role in the world should be.” What I wanted from my husband was sympathy, advice, and maybe even some ideas about my professional life. This was his reply:
“Well, I’ve got news for you. You don’t have much of a role in The World.” Brief pause. “So stop worrying about it.” Then, silence.
Fortunately, after 25 years of marriage, he still finds a way to make me laugh and stop taking myself so seriously, usually from blunt but true statements like this. Then again, maybe I have learned to laugh rather than take frequent offense. Most importantly, he usually is right, especially when I have my face pressed right up against the mirror and cannot see things clearly. This is both irritating and gratifying, sometimes in equal degrees.
“The world is big,” he went on to say, “and most people won’t ever know you. But there’s a big difference between your world and the world. Focus on your world and make a difference there.”
Upon reflection, very few people actually make a lasting difference in the world, and the half-life of public recognition is briefer than we think. Can most people name the past leaders of their countries, much less what they accomplished? In 50 years’ time, will the world at large remember even Oprah? And if so, will it be for doing good deeds, being a shrewd businesswoman, or overcoming adversity? And some people are notable for making a negative difference: Hitler and Stalin come to mind.
Even people like Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi who did change the world started out small, touching just a few people at a time. So you never know how things may turn out, but sometimes it is by doing small things well and with care that they become bigger things than we ever imagined.
At least for now, I am back to a more realistically achievable goal of making a difference in my part of the world. I have to say the load feels much lighter! And it feels good to laugh, even if it is mostly at my own expense.