Never doubt your ability to make a difference

by Heather Thatcher

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You’re so dedicated to the people you serve at work and you’re there for your family and friends as much as you can be.

But some days you’re left wondering is it enough?

Am I doing enough?

Am I really making a difference?

My friend, never doubt your ability to make a difference. The impact you have reaches further than you know.

I want to start off with a story about a hummingbird.

There was a big forest fire, and all the animals of the forest were on one side of the river, comforting each other as they watched their homes being destroyed.

A little hummingbird was zipping back and forth, picking up a droplet of water in its beak and flying over the fire, dropping the little droplet of water, and going back to the river for more.

The other animals watched this little hummingbird zip back and forth dropping one little droplet of water at a time on the massive blaze.

The elephant asked the hummingbird “What are you doing? You are so small, your wings are so little! You cannot carry much water and the fire is too big.”

And the little hummingbird, without wasting any time says “I’m just doing the best I can.”

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Small actions have a huge impact

Sure, sometimes it may seem that you’re dropping little droplets of water on a fire and those water droplets are evaporating before they even hit the ground.

Right now you may feel overwhelmed by everything that’s going on in the world, in your life, in your work, or with your family and feel that you’re just keeping your head above water unable to change anything.

But all the little things that you do for others – those make a difference because by helping that person out, it means that they have more energy and mental white space to help out someone else.

All the little things you do for yourself – those make a difference because you’re refilling your energy reserves and making sure that you’re able to keep helping others around you.

You, leading with your compassionate heart – that makes a difference because compassion is what will heal this world!

What you are doing right now is making a difference. Here are three things you can do to help believe it.

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#1 – Think beyond the initial impact

Even though your actions may not directly be having a huge impact on the situation, what you’re doing isn’t pointless.

You can be leading others to question their current choices, or inspire them to also step up and do something. There are always multiple layers to the impact that you’re making that go way beyond that initial action.

So even though it may seem that your best isn’t enough – think beyond that initial impact.

What is the ripple effect that you’re creating?

#2 – Step back, connect with your Objective Observer and re-evaluate your methods

When we’re right in the centre of the problem, it can be very challenging to find a solution. We’re so caught up in everything that’s going wrong, it’s hard to find the solution.

There’s a beautiful Einstein quote that I just resonate so much with and it’s “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

When we’re caught up in the problem, we’re operating out of default survival mode and we’re there in the little boat in the middle of the ocean, getting tossed about on the wave of a perfect storm.

We’re reacting, just trying to stay afloat and unable to see what’s coming over that next wave.

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to step away and get a fresh perspective. Mindfulness and meditation are a great way to do this, as well as going for a walk and listening to quiet music and just allowing your brain to wander (which works really well for me and one of the reasons why an hour long walk with our dog Takoda is non-negotiable). 

By stepping back from the problem, you’re no longer forced to keep reacting with your Inner Critic’s pre-programmed emotional reactions and habits. 

You’re connecting to the part of you that’s thinking your thoughts – your Objective Observer – and are able to see more clearly if our tactics are working or if we need to adjust.

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#3 – Focus on what you can control and release what you can’t control

When we feel that we’re losing control of something, our initial Inner Critic driven reaction is to try our best to control absolutely everything possible.

We believe that if we can control as many things as possible that we will feel more calm and be less reactive.

But the opposite is true.

It’s one of those mysteries of life that if we release the need to control everything, we actually feel more in control. When we aren’t trying to control everything, and focus on what we do have the power to influence we can see the results of our actions and know that we created that.

When we try to control everything, we’re constantly seeing all the ways that we’re “failing” because things aren’t going according to plan. 

I’m not religious, but I do really resonate with the Serenity Prayer. I’ve adapted it to be without religious connection and more aligned with my beliefs in that we will always have the ability to make conscious choices.

My version of the Serenity Prayer goes like this:

I give myself permission to let go of the things I cannot change, the courage to step up and change what I cannot accept, and the wisdom to know the difference.

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Bringing it all together

Now I would never leave you in the abstract theoretical sense of all this information without anchoring it in reality, so I want to show these three steps in action with a story. We started with a story, and we’ll end with a story. How about that?

A few years ago I worked in a very toxic work environment where there was a clear lack of respect between coworkers, and a lack of respect shown by the leadership team to the front-line workers.

To say it was challenging would be an understatement. I left work crying frustrated tears more times than I care to count.

I’m a fixer, and maybe you can relate to that, so I can’t just stand by while people are being awful to each other without trying to change it.

But after 6 months of trying to help shift the culture of this workplace, I was feeling defeated. It felt like I was that little hummingbird putting droplets of water on a fire that was determined to destroy everything.

I was losing my drive to keep trying to change the environment at work, and was starting to lose my ability to care about the situations, so I knew I had to step back.

I decided to only work the overnight shift for a few months because then I could create some distance between the worst of the politics and toxic culture and could work on reconnecting to my compassion for the workplace.

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Within a few rotations I was starting to feel better and was able to show up with more compassion and connection to my fellow coworkers.

Shortly after I switched to only night shifts I started noticing a change in the people around me.

People would stop by my desk to talk, connect, run things by me for my opinion or advice. And when the culture started getting to them, they would also come to me to vent knowing that what they were saying was safe with me and that it wouldn’t be repeated to anyone else.

I started to realize that I was making an impact now beyond my initial actions. By sharing my compassion I was showing others how they could also make a change in the culture, and the ripple effect was started.

This wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t stepped back and connected to my Objective Observer that helped me realize that I couldn’t keep working on shifting the culture if I was still stuck in the centre of the storm every day. So I had to step back and only work the less politically heavy night-shifts so I could start having the energy and compassion to be able to make a difference again. 

And finally, I released what I couldn’t control. I can’t control others’ actions, I can’t control how the leadership team supported us on the front line, I couldn’t change the respect shown to others. I could only control my space, my actions, and my thoughts in response to what was happening around me.

I know things seem like an uphill battle right now, but you can do this

Believe in yourself enough to try. 

That may mean that you have to step back for a bit to focus on restoring your energy (or your faith in humanity). 

Taking this little break isn’t quitting. It’s making a decision that will ultimately set you up for success in the long run.

And that, my dear, is what will make all the difference in your corner of the world.

My action step for you is to be like the hummingbird – just keep doing the best you can and know, my love, that you will always have the ability to make a difference.

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