Dear Dr. Ash,
Sometimes I feel like I’m not contributing anything to make the world better. And I’m not sure what to do when there’s so much needing help. It makes me feel kind of powerless and like I should be doing something to save the world. What’s the best thing for me to focus on?
Signed – Feeling Helpless
Dear Feeling Helpless,
The single most important thing you can do to help the world is to focus on yourself. Only by focusing on yourself day after day will you be able to create an impact. And there’s a distinct and very simple reasoning behind this.
When you work on yourself you’re showing up as a “model” that helps inspire everyone around you.
In psychology, one of the most powerful ways of learning is through watching someone else do something. So when your kids, or your neighbor, or your husband, or your friends see you doing things differently they get inspired too.
Whether that’s helping shift the neighborhood by picking up garbage, inviting neighbors to pop by for a cup of tea, or offering any help you can when an emergency hits (like the recent story about a Muslim family who offered help to everyone in their neighborhood during record cold temperatures last week).
It’s not your job to change the world, or heal the world, or fix the world.
In fact, this drive is actually part of that codependent coping mechanism that I talk so much about.
Now, I do NOT mean this to say that we don’t help others, that we don’t contribute. Because nothing could be further from the truth.
What I mean is that we make the most profound difference in the world when we contribute through helping and working on ourselves first.
When we contribute our own peace, our own kindness, our own groundedness.
When we show up fully present – not spinning in anxiety, or projecting our fears or anxieties onto other people.
When we are open and authentic about who we really are we connect to people and create more lasting and deep connections.
You can influence others just through the energy you radiate. Haven’t you ever noticed that when you spend time with a naturally joyful and peaceful person that you naturally begin to feel that way as well?
Well, that’s how it works.
You change the world one person at a time. Starting with yourself (click to tweet).
When you approach everything you do with joy, gratitude, and not from shoulds, guilts, or shame you suddenly become a beacon that invites others to try doing the same.
When that moment that you share a smile with a stranger, not to “help” them, but to share your own joy – becomes a seed that plants possibility in the stranger’s heart.
That stranger may then open the door for a pregnant woman at the next spot. And she then tells a joke to a guy in line at the supermarket. Who then helps an old woman carry out her garbage at home. Who then contributes money to a charity.
Changing the world is like a stone thrown in a pond with ripples going outward. One ripple at a time. Beginning with yourself. And suddenly the entire surface is covered in ripples. The ripples of your enduring joyful presence create change that cannot and will not stop.
It’s through our every day choices that we change the world. And through removing everything that gets in the way of acting as our truest self. The you that is naturally self-trusting, joyful, happy, and peaceful (because THAT is your true nature!!).
The idea that it’s your job to “change the world” is exhausting and actually breeds helplessness and hopelessness.
It’s sort of like looking at a mountain and asking yourself “how the heck do I climb that thing? Forget this, I’m going home”.
When we look at the big problems in the world on a global scale they feel far too massive to do much of anything about.
So what happens? You get stuck with anxiety, worry, and an impending sense of doom. All coupled with a sense of “ahhh fuck. But I can’t really DO anything about any of this!!”
We go back again to the change starts with you.
Start riding your bike to work.
Stop using plastic bags, straws, and disposable containers.
Start making your own chemical-free bath and body products.
Start growing your own vegetables at home without pesticides.
Take a course on how to spot sex trafficking or domestic abuse.
Take a CPR class.
Listen to your neighbor and just hold her when she needs to cry when her dog dies.
Learn to sit with your own uncomfortable emotions and stop numbing them.
Start showing up fully and authentically and allowing people to truly connect with who you are.
I think trying to solve all the problems, or wasting energy on anxiety and worry about huge things you can’t do anything about, are why so many people do nothing at all. They figure “well, I can’t do anything about global warming. So I guess I’ll do nothing”.
But imagine what would happen if we all just made 5 or 6 small changes each year?
Our world would become a radically different place in a single generation.
But I don’t know where to start!
Start by planting seeds of joy. Finding ways to integrate more of what brings you happiness in your life. Drop out of the anxiety-provoking feeling of having to “do something” that you have no control over and let. It. go.
Ask yourself what you need. Right now. Chocolate? A hug? Sleep? Reaching out to that stranger who you see crying? Go do it. Without shame or shoulds.
Follow your intuition, your inner nudges, and do what feels right and in alignment with your own integrity and inner value system.
Anxiety. Fear. Playing Small. Stuckness.
You’re living in a prison of your own making.
It’s time to change that forever.