A little while back, Jennifer and I were on our way to an event we’re throwing for entrepreneurs where we’re going to be getting up on stage and talking about making a difference, and how each person should be maximizing the value that they are providing to the world, and that maximizing that value is the key to, not only their success, but to their sense of fulfillment and happiness.
In the car, on the way to this event, I am listening to an interview on NPR. This man, who is almost exactly my age, has been to Sudan 37 times on peacemaking missions, meeting with warlords and military and government officials to try and help end the war. He would legally enter the country so that he could help people and give them food and help increase intelligence so that people would have advance warning of attacks and be able to get out of the area. This man had totally dedicated his life to saving the lives of these Sudanese.
And I thought what the heck am I talking about? I’m such a fraud.
When I was thinking about making a difference or contributing, I was thinking about it in the lines of helping entrepreneurs who are already in the top 1.3% get into the top 1%. I was thinking about it in the lines of helping people who basically have every creature comfort and human right well protected, and are at the tip of Maslow’s spear and helping them get even further.
I felt inner conflict. I was disturbed by the question about whether I was really making a difference. Suddenly, some of the words that I would say about that felt empty and hollow.
What Brightens Your Light
Then I realized that there is value in leading the life that’s most exciting to you. In some ways that value or the benefits of the planet in doing that exceeds making bigger sacrifices than you’re prepared to make in order to help people who are disadvantaged.
I think it’s not that we who are more fortunate have a responsibility to give all we can to anyone who’s less fortunate. I think it’s that we have a responsibility to know what brightens our light, to know what makes us shine the brightest, be nourished by that, and take that light as far and as deep into the darkness as we can without getting it dim, without extinguishing it. And then the minute it starts to get dimmer and dimmer by our distance from what sources us, it is our responsibility, even our duty to the world, to return to that, what sources us, and get brighter again.
It doesn’t do Sudan any good for you to go there and let the difficulty and the tragedy of the situation there destroy your hope for the planet. It only does good if you have the resilience and ability to go there and remain bright and remain hopeful and protect and hold sacred your sense of positivity and possibility.
I think we should go as far as we can into the darkness with our light and we need to protect our light and return to what sources us. I think we should strive to go further each time. We should strive to be able to go further and deeper into the darkness without it extinguishing our sense of possibility and positivity about the world, but we should also be respectful and gentle and compassionate about our own limits to do that because they are what they are.
That frame has helped me both stretch farther into making a bigger difference about things that are more important, and it is also given me a sense of relaxation and purpose when I’m faced with people who are much more resilient than I am in terms of their ability to stay awake as they travel into the most difficult locations on the planet and are the first responders to the outrageous pain that we are currently experiencing collectively.