I was reading through some comments on Facebook today and came across one which really got to the point:
“What can the average person do to help?”
When it comes to making a difference, doesn’t this really sum up our own response? There are so many causes out there and many of them have teams of experts figuring out solutions — from scientists in their labs to people who are dedicating every waking moment to help fix the problem. But, what about us? I often think of the opening lines to Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook (I’m a romantic, so sue me), “I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life.” These words ring so true. So, if I’m just an average person looking to make a difference, what can I do to help? The answer, as it turns out, is so many things…
There are books and websites filled with lists of ways you can make a difference. But, when you start reading through the 500+ options, it’s really, really easy to get overwhelmed. The problem is that there are simply too many problems. And multiple solutions for each. So, where do we start? In my opinion, the key is to niche down.
Niching down is a term I hear all the time in business — some call it the most important decision you’ll make. If your goal is to help serve people, then the more specific you are about who you want to serve, the better you’ll be able to serve them. I think the same is true when it comes to volunteering. (Serving people in business is very similar to serving people as a volunteer after all.) If we try to help every cause out there, we will be spread so thin that we’ll never achieve significant impact for any of them. But, if we focus our energy on one or two, then we can actually create some change. And, in the end, that’s the goal, right? To accomplish noticeable change for a cause we believe in?
So, how does one go about niching down? First, you have to learn about the causes out there to see which ones resonate with you. Do you love animals? That narrows things down. Or maybe you’ve always enjoyed hiking and therefore helping the environment is important to you. For some people, though, finding your cause is going to be the result of something happening in your life — seeing a veteran you care about struggling to get by or someone you love being diagnosed with a disease. Perhaps you went looking to make a difference by volunteering in an area where the schools are sub-par and in desperate need of help. The point is that these preferences and experiences can lead you to your specific cause. So can a little research on Google if you’re still not sure. At the end of the day, the goal is to find a cause that brings out your empathy and engages your emotions. If you’re not feeling anything, then it’s not your cause and you’d just be going through the motions if you were to try and help it.
My personal cause is shelter pets. That’s been true for years, although it took me awhile for my love of animals to morph into wanting to help those in shelters. In fact, it wasn’t until I was out of college and on my own when I first stepped foot into a shelter and adopted a cat. And that opened my eyes to the plight of shelter cats and the fact that I could, in my own little way, help make a difference. Since then I have continued to adopt and support shelters with side projects and events, and more recently, expanded my cause to include farm animals by adopting a vegan diet. But, even now, I see other worthy causes and feel so guilty that I can’t give more of myself; can’t care for that cause, too. I’d like to help them all, but part of successfully making a difference is to start small. Focus on one thing and learn to do it well and then move on to the next thing. I don’t mean to say that you have to completely ignore all other causes — in fact later this weekend I am walking for MS with a friend. The point is more that you have to be selective as to where you put your main focus, time and efforts in order to have the biggest results.
So, as an average person looking to help, the first thing I would say is to figure out who you want to help. What’s your cause? What injustice keeps you up at night? What issue brings out your empathy? And, then, after you’ve figured that out, it’s time to research how you can help. And now that research is going to be a lot less overwhelming. So, niche down. And follow your heart to a cause you believe in. You’ll feel so good when you’re able to help make a difference and see the tangible results. I’m writing this post with a rescue kitty snoozing away on my lap, so trust me, I know this to be true.