WIIAWO Issue #5: What if I don't know how to have an impact?

When I was a kid, I used to be too nervous to even say "hi" back when someone greeted me. Even in college, I rarely asked questions or expressed my opinions in class. In each of my jobs since, one recurring piece of feedback I received was that I needed to speak up in order to move up. One of my bosses even got me a personal coach to help with confidence and presentation in meetings. And yet, time and time again I was unable to bring myself to talk on the spot in a roomful of people, partly because of the fear of saying something dumb or wrong, and partly because I sometimes have a hard time listening and processing at the same time. Also because, I just prefer not to.

Although I've grown in confidence, I am still quiet and introverted, with a healthy dose of social anxiety. I'm chronically indecisive (more on this next week), generally risk-averse, and a rule follower. I have a tendency to avoid conflict at all costs—not the typical stuff that presidents, CEOs, and activists are made of.

All this to say, I've spent a lot of my life thinking that I couldn't be a leader, and by extension, that I wouldn't have a significant impact on others. 

Luckily I’ve learned there’s all kinds of work that need to be done, and so many different ways to lead and participate in the world. 

1. There are many different ways to have an impact

There isn't a single best way to make an impact. There are endless ways to lead and contribute, and we need every one of them.

2. You can choose the impact you want to have

Rather than fitting myself into the mold of what I think a leader should be, I've learned to evaluate what needs exist and then tap into my own unique set of internal strengths and interests, as well as external resources.

I've tried door-to-door canvassing and phone banking, and was both extremely stressed and not very effective at either. And I will probably never be the one baking cookies for a fundraiser or driving anyone anywhere. But I can make posters and march, write letters to prospective voters, and donate to campaigns and organizations on the front-line. I may not be able to rally a crowd, but I can always recruit a friend.

Greeting cards might seem like a surprising vehicle for change, but for me, it’s a small but significant way to help someone feel comforted during a really hard time in their life, or feel validated and supported in their feelings and choices.

Creating and sharing through Kwohtations (this email series included) is the best way I’ve found so far for me to advocate, open up hard conversations, and foster connection, given who I am. 

The impact you have will look different depending on your strengths, interests, and resources. If you're not sure what yours are, ask the people who know you well! I'm sure they can come up with some that you've forgotten or can't see in yourself. 🙂

And remember: you already have all the tools you need.

Do you have your own story, experience, or advice about making an impact? I'd love to hear it! Just comment below.

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