Planning the big, hard stuff: Creating social change

Holiday card painting cropped (1)

Original art by Jeffery Slim. Title: Indispensable.

I told you last week that December is all about planning.

This is not some big Virgo plot to sort our messy lives into neat buckets (although as a Virgo, I have to admit I do want this), but rather a call for deliberate, focused thought about how we want to spend our lives.

Watching the news of last week, I was pretty overwhelmed by the grief, anger and despair felt by many people in my community. We have so much work to do to create a society where all people feel safe, valued and respected. It is hard for many of us to have thoughtful conversations about topics like race and privilege. Yet we must have these conversations, or find ourselves fractured, divided and hurting.

I remember when I was studying International Development in college, and had internships in Mexico and Colombia. I was often overwhelmed by the enormity of problems faced in the communities I worked in. I felt like a tiny gnat, incapable of making change.

When it all felt like it was too much, I would grasp for something concrete. What could I do, today, to make a positive contribution? Working in a day care center on the outskirts of Bogotá, I spent time listening to and loving the kids. I spent time helping the teachers in training organize their classrooms, or pass out soup at lunchtime. I created educational programs to bring to schools in the U.S, to help educate students about life in different parts of the world.

By taking action, I felt renewed, inspired, and hopeful.

What kind of world do you want to live in?

My friend Greg Hartle shared a powerful question when he spoke at the workshop I held with my Dad this summer for the Build a Movement Change the World workshop in the Port Costa School:

What is the world that you want to live in, and what are you building to contribute to this world?

As I shared his quote on Facebook, Greg wrote back:

“I’m in Ferguson right now working with residents to answer this very question. Thanks for sharing and supporting.

I learned long ago that if you watch the news and there’s a tragedy in a community, that neighborhood connects to yours, and you’d be surprised how few roads it takes to get there.

I’m convinced that in the face of terrible failures — even ones that cost lives — we can flourish rather than flounder.

Much like what I did in New Orleans post Katrina, I started with the little things (because they are always the big things): boarding up buildings, sweeping the streets and parking lots, reading books to kids at the library, and telling ‘I’m white, but not that white’ jokes.

Meetings with community leaders tonight. Focused on active-constructive response and how we can plant seeds for long-term positive progress.

You start where you can with the resources you have and you focus on getting better at getting better.”

Small actions

Our body of work is everything we create, contribute, affect and impact, throughout the course of our lives. So I turned my thoughts to actions I could take that would create the kind of world I want to live in. This is what I did last week:

  • I revisited my annual objectives for next year to make sure that I have initiatives related to leadership development for young, diverse change makers. I will continue my commitment to support, mentor and feature stories of diverse voices on my own platform, since I believe firmly that the more we know each others stories, the more we see our common ground.
  • I spent time hanging out with my kids and their friends in the neighborhood, problem solving some inevitable scuffles and misunderstandings at the park, and talking about how we can work together to make every kid in our neighborhood feel valued and respected.
  • I spent a few minutes talking to strangers in the aisles of Target. I got to hear a powerful story from a recently retired Air Force veteran, who takes so much pride in our country.
  • I baked a double batch of cookies and shared them with my neighbors.

Cookies? Yes, cookies.

When the world falls apart, I bake. 🙂

So building on the original questions I asked you to ponder for planning last week:

1. If 2015 were to be the last year I could create and contribute something uniquely meaningful to the world, what would that something be?
2. Who do I care about serving next year? What do they need?
3. What brings me great joy to create, and leverages my strengths?

(Here was the post with the instructional video: )

Here comes the next step:

1. When I know what the people I care about serving need, which specific actions can I take to serve them? Break down your big goals into specific actions that you can measure.
2. How do I want to carry myself as I am walking through next year? What are my values and beliefs that drive these behaviors? (Curiosity, Tenderness, Strength, Clarity, Zeal, Fairness, etc). The way you carry yourself through day to day interactions (cookies, anyone?) will create the emotional wake that follows you on your daily walk.

Despite the enormity of the challenges we face as a global society, when we have a plan, we can and will make positive, inspirational and fundamental change in our own lives, and the lives of those we care about.

I am never giving up on us. I am counting on the fact that you won’t either.

Reader Interactions


    • Yvonne says

      Thank you so much for this. I was actually quite moved by your commitment to mentoring a diverse group of changemakers on your platform. You have been my mentor from afar and I can see now that that wasn’t by accident. Keep up the good work. I am really proud of you. 🙂

  1. Maia Duerr/Liberated Life Project says

    Thank you for how you embody your commitment to supporting a diverse group of leaders, Pam. One of the things I have loved about being in your professional community is what a beautiful group of people have gravitated in your orbit, from so many different backgrounds. Diverse communities are resilient and creative communities, and we so much need that in our world right now.

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