When I was a teenager I had a strong desire to change the world. Make a mark, have an impact. When I was 16 I joined the scouts and learned some organising skills. I discovered I could give directions to a crowd. Organise a summer camp.
I went to university, a student like any other, still wanting to do something big with my life. I chose chemistry. I would do research and make ground-breaking discoveries. Reality was sobering. I lost my motivation, and failed in my third year.
I switched to Arts, deciding it was better to do something I enjoyed rather than hang on to pie-in-the-sky ideals for my future that didn’t match with the reality of the world. My focus became understanding. The world, language, people, myself. I tried to let go of wanting the change the world, put less pressure on myself, and be satisfied with changing myself and living my life.
Because I decided to go and spend a year in India, I discovered the web. The web of people, on top of the web of information. My world expanded, fiercely. During my first year or so online, I made two ground-breaking experiences, which I realise now set the path for these last two decades of my life.
I had a little website (the ancestor of this one) on a shared hosting platform. That platform had a community support forum. I used it. I contributed. With a few other users, we actually started a user support site that had a certain degree of popularity. We were changing things for people.
Later on, I was an active member in a few forums, elsewhere online. One in particular. I remember giving the founder some feedback based on good practices I had picked up reading Practical Internet Groupware. To my amazement, he implemented the change.
I was 25. I learned that my words on a screen could have influence.
Around the same time, I had my first real work experiences. I learned that my spoken words could have influence too.
Twenty years later, it is clear that writing and speaking is my way of “changing the world”. Moving ideas around online and offline, and also, of course, transforming some of these into action. My words gave me a career in the burgeoning digital space, they built relationships, created online communities, had an impact on people’s lives.
Being an agent of change is a large part of what gives meaning to my life. I see problems. I see solutions. I try and fix things. I try and say things. I have learned that I have power, in a way. And I have done (good, I hope) things with it.
But today I am working hard at learning to function (healthily!) in an environment were my influence is limited. I am learning not only that there are things I cannot fix (that isn’t new, of course, there are plenty of things I cannot fix), but that it is OK to leave things alone even when I think I can fix or influence them. I am learning to step back, and trying to do that without disengaging. It is far from easy, as such a large part of my identity is tied to how much I can influence the world around me and how I can be of service to others.
It is a good thing to learn: my focus on others, on changing things for the community, being the one who makes things happen, is something that draws me away from focusing on myself and my needs. Something I am working on changing – but it’s not easy when the urge to rush in and do for others is so strong. So I’m taking this experience as an opportunity to learn to manage that urge, manage my energy and my priorities, and really choose what I do and do not do.
And maybe, who knows, learn a different style of influence.
Also published on Medium.