Making a difference

Posing with my first-born boy, Jack.
Making a difference in the world: It sounds so idealistic. Optimistic. Unrealistic.

We all make a difference for someone. Something. Our families, friends, pets. Our neighbors and colleagues. Perhaps you volunteer for a cause you're passionate about. You probably recycle, making a difference for the planet. We all impact the world in our own ways. But, how do you really make a difference? How do your actions contribute to the betterment of the world?

Recently, while watching Racing Extinction, a Discovery Channel documentary, I experienced one of those life-changing epiphanies. Perhaps you've experienced something similar in your life: One of those moments when you wonder what the hell you're doing with your life. As I watched the documentary makers explore the myriad reasons why some scientists believe up to half the species that currently occupy our planet could be extinct--gone forever--in 100 years, I thought, Wow. What important work they're doing. What a spectacular way to help the planet and everything living on it. What a way to feel fulfilled. 

The next morning, I logged onto my computer to begin my work day. I work as a writer and editor in the veterinary industry. I love to write. I love animals. Seems ideal, right? Usually it feels ideal. But this particular morning, and many mornings since, I've felt as if something were missing. What am I doing to make a difference? Will any of this matter in 100 years? The ad campaign I'm writing? The magazine articles I'm editing? The newsletter I'm managing and editing? No.

I need more. I need to feel fulfilled professionally.

"Are you fulfilled in your career? If you died tomorrow, would you feel like you made the difference you wanted to make in the world?" I asked my husband during one of our 10-minute bedtime chats.

"Absolutely," he replied.

After explaining my need to make a bigger difference, he said, "You think you're destined for great things."

"No, that's not what I'm saying."

Like Forrest Gump's "mama," I believe a person makes his or her own destiny. You work hard and make particular choices to achieve your preferred outcome, or you get lucky and that outcome lands in your lap, but I don't think "destiny" is a thing.

I continued, "I'm saying I need to do something professionally that has an impact on the world. I want to write and edit, but I want to use my skills to bring about positive change in the world, not to grow someone else's bank account, or even grow my own bank account."

I want to follow in the footsteps of those Racing Extinction film makers. Jane Goodall. Ric O'Barry. Gene Baur. Tracey Stewart.

But how? Unless you're independently wealthy and can afford to finance your own pursuit of making a difference, you need a job. And, unless you're completely unattached with nothing keeping you in a particular place, that job will usually have to be located where you live. Packing up and heading to Africa to attempt to save the dwindling number of elephants or lions from poachers isn't a viable option for many of us. Buying a farm and beginning a sanctuary for animals rescued from factory farms isn't something just any animal lover can do.

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." --Anne Frank

Anne Frank was right. Once you realize your passion, you can immediately take steps toward making a difference. More than 6 years ago I decided to become a vegetarian. This year, I adopted a completely plant-based diet. I serve on the board of directors for a local nonprofit animal rescue. I am doing what I can to help animals, but I want to do more. 

I want helping animals to be my life's work, not something I do in my spare time. It's something I have to work toward, just like Tracey Stewart's mini Farm Sanctuary. It's something I'm passionate about, just like Jane Goodall's passion for understanding chimpanzees. It's something I will accomplish. Someday.   


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