We often hear people talking about the importance of making a difference, it seems obvious, but do we really know what it means, or indeed why it is so important?
“You can make a difference positively or negatively”
Instinctively we think about making a difference, as a positive thing. Imagine a football / soccer match, and your team is losing, nothing your team does seems to work, that is until the coach pulls you off the substitute bench in the last ten minutes. You are energised, motivated and inspired; you lift the spirits of your team, you give them belief in themselves and courage, that they were lacking. Reinvigorated, together you turn the match around, score three late goals and win. Before you came on the pitch the team was losing, but after you came on, you made the difference, and turned a losing situation into a winning situation. Perhaps you scored the goals, or maybe you didn’t. This is a great outcome, another scenario is that your team were winning, you were pulled off the substitute bench, you played appallingly and your team lost, arguably you made the difference between winning and losing and in this scenario the difference you made was a negative one. Perhaps we should use the term “making a positive difference”.
“Making a difference is doing more than is considered normal or expected of you.”
I believe that when many people talk about making a difference there is an assumption that it is about more than just doing your job, and doing what is expected of you. It is perceived by many to be going the extra mile, the above and beyond the call of duty; even a desperately small thing, like a smile, a short word of encouragement, helping someone up who has fallen down, picking a piece of litter up and putting it in the bin, or volunteering to clean up your community, helping other people, donating or fund raising for charity. Making a difference, can in practice be so many different things. In some ways it is about differential, which is the difference between amounts of things or quality of things; two people can do the same job, but their productivity or quality of their work may be different.
People can make a difference at all levels, from the workers doing work, to leaders of countries or organisations. Sometimes the difference you make is on other people, when retired tennis ace Boris Becker started coaching world number one Novak Djokovic, his performance improved, he undoubtedly made a difference, there are countless other examples.
“Making a difference means positively impacting other people, organisations or things.”
Making a difference usually relates to an impact on something you do to other people, or other things. If you recycle your rubbish, or walk to work rather than using your car, you probably are making a positive difference to the planet, and to other people. If you help a colleague who is struggling at work, you help them, but you also help the organisation.
It is easy to think that the benefit of making a difference goes just to the person or thing who has had a difference made to it, but the reality is, that making a difference is just another form of giving, and ultimately and perhaps counter-intuitively, giving is more rewarding than receiving. Many of us, will perhaps have experienced the joy of being given a gift as a young child, but we will probably remember the joy was often relatively short lived. Our lives are richest, when we give or share with others, or where we make a difference to other people or other things.
According to the mindful word website: “Academic research and thousands of years of human history confirm that achieving meaning, fulfilment, and happiness in life comes from making others happy, and not from being self-centred”.
A few years ago I was doing some work as a tutor for a leading business school. I got to take a group of senior executives from a leading UK bank, on a discovery learning programme, to a homeless shelter in central London near Victoria Station. To say it was awkward for the senior bankers to begin with was an understatement; eventually they ended up volunteering to work in the kitchen, preparing lunch for the homeless people, they would normally have walked right past. In the kitchen, were a number of volunteers, the bankers were humbled by their selflessness, but one of the volunteers, candidly said “I’m no angel, I do it more for myself than I do for them”. Undoubtedly his free labour was helping the charity and helping the homeless people, but the reality was, that as far as he was concerned, the benefit to him, of making a difference to others, was actually greater than the benefit the recipients of his efforts were receiving. This really points to the magic of making a difference is, the more you give, the more of a difference you make, the more comes back to you. Just look at all the super wealthy people who spent years accumulating vast wealth like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, only to dedicate the rest of their lives to giving it away, and making a difference to others.
I once made a leadership education video programme on leadership excellence, where I got to interview super successful leaders from business, the military and academia. One of the people I interviewed was called Michael Wilson, he cofounded a company called St James’s Place, a financial services company that grew to be one of the UK’s largest companies in the FTSE 100 share index. It was clear that the charitable foundation that he created, gave him more pleasure than the business.
Being a force for good in the world, isn’t just about doing good for the world, and other people, it is about feeling great yourself.
The surest way to find the ultimate in happiness and fulfilment is to set out to make a huge difference to others and the planet. The lovely thing is that there are an infinite number of different ways you can contribute, and make a difference to others; you just need to tap into your imagination and get creative, to discover more and more ways you can make a difference. Give up your seat to an old lady or a pregnant women on the underground, pick up a piece of litter you find on the ground and put it in the bin, be friendly to others, say nice things, compliment people, be generous with your smiles, show courtesy and consideration at every opportunity, try to do that little bit extra at work with everything, set yourself goals every day of nice positive things you can do. See how many people’s days you can brighten up, simply by your presence. Do what you can, when you can, do what you feel comfortable with, one of the greatest joys is to make random acts of kindness a part of your every day life. Surprise people, often the smallest things make the biggest differences.
Making a difference to others is likely to make you feel great, it will help you to get friends, be promoted at work, earn more money, have a better quality of life. James Reed from Reed the Recruitment company wrote a book with a Harvard Professor, which was based on research findings that employers preferred people with the right attitude or mind set, rather than people with the best skill-set. One of those attitudes was being good, which is being a nice person and making a difference to others. Making a difference is likely to help your career too.
In my new book “Career and Life Game Change”, I suggest that for most people the objective of life is surviving first and then thriving, which means getting on, getting ahead, getting good jobs, good money, accumulating wealth and having luxuries, better houses, cars, holidays etc. , almost the pinnacle of this aspiration, is being “rich and famous”, looked up to by others as successful, but there are countless people who have become rich and successful, and who are miserable, unhappy, depressed, and who often succumb to broken relationships, additions, and often suicide or early deaths.
There is nothing wrong with being rich and famous or achieving the career success you desire, but in itself it is not the end game. To game change your life you need to centre your life on three primary goals:
- Being Happy,
- Being Fulfilled.
- Making a Difference.
- Achieving the career success you desire, whatever that might be.
- Meeting all your financial needs and desires.
Happiness and fulfilment are closely aligned, almost the same thing, but not quite, fulfilment is a longer term happiness that comes from being who you really are in the world, doing what you love and loving what you do, being all that you can be, living life on your terms, being the author of your own life story and movie. Happiness is something that can change from minute to minute. All these things are related, to be happiest and most fulfilled you need to make the biggest difference, the bigger difference you make, the more likely you are to achieve the career success you desire, and to meet your financial needs and desires.
It is a new paradigm by which you can improve the quality of your life. By all means strive for the career success you desire, but know why you are doing it. Many people have sacrificed everything to achieve incredible career success, but their health and relationships have suffered. The earlier in life you realise what it truly important, the better. If you focus all your efforts on being happy and fulfilled, and making as big a difference as possible, your life will be amazing.
If you’d like to be kept informed when my new book “Career and Life Game Change – Change the way you live your life and manage your career forever” is available, please send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org . Let me know if you’d like to be involved in reviewing it before publication, so that I can ensure my book makes a big as difference to other people as possible. I am also looking for Guinea Pigs who are happy to come to Henley on Thames for a brainstorming session and discussions, on revolutionary new strategies for achieving better lives and better careers.
Tel: +44 (0)787 33 33 0 33
Lead, Inspire and Make a Difference.