Changing it up in September – 5 Tips on Being the Change You Want

September 15, 2016

Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. Put into the context of our lives as they intersect with our careers, what the heck does that mean?

I readily admit to struggling throughout my career to see whether anything I was doing was really changing the world for the better. As a journalist, I didn’t uncover the great scandal and write the expose that put bad people out of business. In the arts, I didn’t discover a hidden genius and promote her into a spotlight of recognition. In the major event world, I often tussled with whether events I worked on were making the world a better or worse place.

Gandhi’s further statement helps: “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age — as in being able to remake ourselves.”

That is an easier one to get my head around: the idea that in remaking myself, which I see as a lifelong work in progress, could make a change.

With September upon us – a month we often see as the true beginning of a new year – it is perhaps worth taking stock of how we might be the change(s) we want to see in the world. Here are the tips from Mahatma Gandhi that resonate for me:

  1. Changing your outer world does not work unless you first change your inner world.
    Quitting your job and moving to another one, won’t necessarily give you the change you need. Just like deciding to “retire” and live a different life of some type, won’t work unless you have made the internal changes that will give you a new way of looking at things. In either case, you may just be dragging along all the baggage you had from the previous situation, arriving in a new physical location but with the old way of looking at things. Recipe for disaster.
  2. You are the only one with your hands on the controls.
    “Nobody can hurt me without my permission” said Gandhi. You can’t control what happens to you, but you can certainly control how you react to it. You can choose to go into hysterics, react with abnormal calm, or simply process it and move on. Understanding that you are the only one who is the boss of you is an incredibly powerful muscle that gets stronger as you exercise it.
  3. Action trumps everything.
    “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching” said Gandhi. In other words, just do it! In the business world, there is much discussion about what brings the most success: strategy, execution, culture of an organization, etc. In my world, thoughtful (and sometimes not so thoughtful) action has reigned supreme. It may be the wrong move, you may need to course correct (even repeatedly) but move! Enough talking or you may end up as another mentor of mine once described: “That guy is all hat and no cattle!”
  4. Hang in there.
    Here’s what Gandhi said on this one: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” And ain’t that the truth! In this world of instant gratification, we can be too quick to give up on our dreams, on making the changes in our lives that we want. Hang in there – it is a marathon, not a sprint.
  5. To thine own self be true.
    Invoking Shakespeare here, but the above is also one of my mother’s favorite pieces of wisdom. Gandhi’s take on it: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Trying to achieve this can be easier said than done. There is a veritable bear pit of bad behaviors that we can fall victim to. Telling people what they want to hear instead of what I really feel is one that I need to safeguard against. But how can you make change if you are not owning up to being authentic?

Like I said, I am a work in progress on being the change I want to see in the world. But the greatest pleasure – and satisfaction that I may finally be doing something that makes at least a tiny dent in forming a better world – is working with others to help them make their change. Let’s talk!

Happy September!

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