How best to change the world? As an activist, this question has consumed me more than any other. The question makes sense: I know I want to give back, so why not give back in the most productive way? What doesn’t make sense is how, until recently, I’ve tried to answer it.
Since graduating from college in 2005, the question of best changing the world has materialized for me as hunting for the right job. Until recently, finding the right job meant finding the field of work in which I could create the greatest change, objectively. From this mindset arose questions like: which is more important for saving the world – green energy or sustainable food? If sustainable food, is it more important to work on increasing supply or demand? If supply, should I settle for working at a large-scale distributor like Whole Foods, in order to reach more people? Or should I stick closer to my values by working at a small-scale coop, knowing my reach will shrink?
I was convinced that when I found the best way to make change (and yes, I never doubted I would), everything else would fall into place. I would be satisfied with my contribution to the world. But that moment never came. Each new job, which I painstakingly chose, was a letdown. The world, despite all of my efforts, seemed to stay the same. And I didn’t enjoy my jobs. For me, taking a job was about making a difference, and because I wasn’t, the jobs let me down, like I felt I was letting the world down.
I’ve come to think differently about how I will make the best change. Last fall, I started a graduate program in statistics. Not because I’ve given up, but because I’ve come to realize that “best” depends on the individual. Statistics works for me. I’m good with numbers, and enjoy working with them. Environmental organizations need statisticians. Whether I apply statistics toward clean energy or sustainable food, by doing something well that I also enjoy, I will make a difference.
But enjoying something isn’t the same as loving something, and making a difference isn’t the same as making the best difference. I realized that when, in the fall semester of my master’s program, I joined a school theater troupe. I suspected I would love theater. I did, more than anything else I’ve ever done. I am not giving up statistics for theater. Not yet. But I suspect that if I did, and if I succeeded as an actor, I would make more of a change for the world than by doing anything else.
I’ve come to believe that to make the best change, loving the process (e.g., acting) is as important as loving the goal (e.g., world change). When I act, I am the most passionate, the most excited to work, the most engaged. I am keen to think of ways to pursue world change through theater. I want to make it happen. I need to.
I believe we can only make the best change when we love the process, because the best change we can make is to do what we love – to give up our pursuit-of-goals-at-any-cost mentality (whether for more money, or a better world) and steep our lives in the richness of moments well-lived.
I’ll end with a question I recently asked myself: If you had a chance to save the world, but had to give up who you are in the process, would it be worth it? I don’t mean going against your morals – for example, killing someone to save the world. I mean, in a sense, killing yourself, simply by not allowing yourself to be who you want to be – your best self. By inhibiting yourself in order to create change, whether by giving up time with friends, or taking a desk job though you thrive outside, you are, to be dramatic, killing yourself. You are giving up on your best possible self. In some ways, this is much more sinister than death by knife or gun. It is much more subtle, and may go unnoticed, but it is death all the same.