Dear 27-year-old self:
I’m afraid it’s true: the more you learn about and understand the world, the more your sense of empathy will be overwhelmed by how sad, unfair, and difficult life is for so many people. Just as sad to you will be your realization that the small minority of fortunate people in the world have very little concern for the vast majority who are suffering. However, you can’t be overwhelmed. You can’t ignore it. You must do something about it by helping out. Here are five ways I have found to avoid being overwhelmed and allow me to make a small difference in the world around me.
1. Focus on a few things
You will get much more out of “doing a lot on a little” as opposed to “doing a little on a lot.” Pick one or two areas to focus on at a time; you can always change them every once in a while. Giving one or two areas of focus your undivided attention for a few hours weekly will move the needle much more than you think.
2. Leverage your expertise
Pick the areas where you have expertise and can actually add value. Leave areas you know little about to others who can be more effective than you. Given you have little time, it’s important to maximize that time by focusing on the areas where even a few hours can make the largest impact.
3. One person at a time
You can’t help everyone. It’s simply impossible. There are too many people needing help with too many problems needing solutions. In fact, not everyone can be helped. Even “one at a time”, over a long period of time, will create a trail of impact that will surprise you. What’s important is to start helping the first person.
4. Do it locally
I know it’s hard to focus on your own locale when you know the world is so much bigger; but, alas, you are able to make an impact where you spend the majority of your time. Further, you must count on others in other locales doing the same thing and focusing on their neighborhoods, towns, counties, and states. You can make the biggest difference right where you live.
5. Gather support
Finally, while you must count on yourself to make a difference, you should also do your best to solicit support from friends who might be able to help. Communicate your message. Ideas definitely spread and, before you know it, you’ll have a small army helping make a difference.
Your 42-year-old self.