In my book Making a Difference, I talk about how all of us have the potential to grow, improve our lives and impact other people. Whenever I finish speaking on the subject of making a difference, I have often been asked, “What if your job isn’t glamorous, or it isn’t something that directly impacts lives like teaching, healthcare or social work?”
A man I knew was a reasonably successful executive for a large cosmetics company. However, because sales of men’s fragrances were plummeting, his department was about to be terminated. He quickly decided to find a new job and during his pursuit commented to me, “I want my new job to make more of a difference in the world.”
Not long after, while exiting his ultra-modern office building, he was confronted by a scene he wasn’t expecting. A pedestrian had been hit by a taxi. He stood there transfixed as the emergency crews worked to get her ready for transport to the hospital. That evening, the man impulsively decided he would leave the world of cosmetics and become an ambulance driver!
He soon enrolled in a class and became an EMT. As luck would have it, his city was hiring Emergency Medical Technicians for their 9-1-1 service. The former executive started to work “on the street.” He witnessed some horrific things. He also saw that the job carried its own politics. Frankly, there were aspects of the job that were personally not very satisfying for him. He forced himself to like it.
Desire is the Great Equalizer!
The next step above being a Basic EMT was to become a full-fledged Paramedic. My acquaintance convinced himself that, once going through the year of intensive paramedic training, he would enjoy the work much more.
He was in his final months of training when he started hospital rounds. One day, he was called upon to do a rotation in pediatrics. It was a fun assignment in that he liked the children and got along with the nurses and physicians. Of all of the physicians, “Dr. R” was the very best. In fact, everyone loved the man. The doctor was short in stature, not much bigger than the young teenagers he treated. He was in his mid-50s, had a gray beard, a bushy head of hair, twinkling blue eyes and a warm smile for everyone. He had a slight accent that enhanced his compassionate and playful nature. He hugged everyone, and they hugged him back!
At the end of the day, my acquaintance asked the head nurse about Dr. R. How long has the doctor been with the department, he wanted to know? Was he in charge of pediatrics?
“Oh, Dr. R? We love him,” said the nurse. “He’s our new intern!”
“An intern?” asked my friend.
The nurse explained that Dr. R had wanted to be a doctor all of his life. He dreamed of helping others. He was an immigrant from the old Soviet Union where he had experienced terrible times. Back there he was a low-level mechanic, but he wanted more. After arriving in America, he went back to school, starting with junior college. He worked tedious jobs, studied English and fought and struggled to keep his dream alive. He was undeterred. He would not get into medical school until his late 40s. He knew he wanted to work with children. He was living a dream and every day was a wonderful blessing for him.
“He will make an excellent pediatrician,” said the nurse. “We only hope we can keep him here.”
We can, and should, always work to expand our horizons and try to make a difference in the world. We can all do great things and make a genuine contribution as long as it comes from an honest place. Regardless of our occupation, we need to say and do things that are intended to cause a positive and compassionate reaction from the people around us.
However, there is a reality we occasionally cannot avoid, and it’s this: My acquaintance finally admitted to himself that he did not like what he was doing. It wasn’t the things he experienced so much as the realization that he hastily changed for the sake of change.
We all can do something that makes a difference, but the power lies within—the heart being the source. We can give a stranger a bright smile, help a friend move into a new home or sit with a neighbor in a hospital.
The intern loved his life. While he pursued pediatrics, on the journey he sought to achieve improvement and as a result impacted a lot of people because of his heart and soul.
Eventually, my acquaintance found a new job in the food industry. He was always a “foodie,” and he likes discovering new food products. On weekends, he works as a volunteer at an animal shelter. He gets great joy in matching families with their “perfect pet.”
So maybe a different job will make your life feel less tedious and more gratifying. Perhaps it will make is easier to get up in the morning. But how much will those benefits affect the person you are on the deepest levels? When you finally discover it’s not what you do, but who you are, then you’re ready to make a difference.