Would you like to think that something you did today made the world a better place? Even though you are at home in your slippers and yoga pants, all by yourself, do you long to feel significant? Maybe it’s your whole career that you feel needs some sort of major upgrade so that you can feel you left a legacy that was worth all your years on earth.
If you do you are not alone. A survey by BetterUp in 2018 found that 9 out of 10 workers would trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for more meaning at work. And that percentage was significant – the average response amounted to 23% of lifetime earnings. That’s a lot of money and it shows how much we assume that feeling significant and valuable depends on big investments, huge achievements and ground-breaking activities.
But it doesn’t.
It depends on truly understanding the ripple effect.
The basics of the ripple effect
So often its’ explained this way: When we drop a small pebble in the middle of a lake it creates a series of movements which eventually reach right to the place where the water laps against the land. Eventually the lapping water will wear down rocks. Many small pebbles can create huge waves. You don’t, says the moral of the tale, need to do a big action (Cure cancer! Win the Nobel prize! Change the law!) A series of small actions that cause consequential ones will eventually make a big wave.
I think we all get that. Most of you reading will have remembered how you achieved your qualifications by a series of small study sessions, or how one casual word at a networking event led to a long-standing client relationship. And yet we still feel that our days are full of insignificant actions and we end them waiting for the days we will tot them all up and see the big effect.
But to think that way misses the true magic of the ripple effect.
The magic of the ripple effect
The wonder of the ripple effect is actually that we may never see the effect of the pebble but that our small action can change the world anyway.
Take my day today for example. I was feeling rather stuck and despondent this morning, unsure what my next step in my business would be. I was eating breakfast when I got a message from a photographer friend showing me a shot he’d taken from a new street art festival in Liverpool. ‘You’d love it’ he said. So I got in the car and went to see it. He was right. It perked me up no end. And whilst photographing it a guy to stopped and chatted to me. (Well, when I say chatted I mean we stood two metres apart and yelled at each other over passing traffic noise and through face masks but you know what I mean!). He said something in passing that was a totally obvious answer to my stuckness, although he had no idea what was going on in my head. I came home and got started on my work.
Has the world been changed? Not if you insist on believing that world change only happens with big ticket actions by Nobel Prize winners. But it has if you believe that every time you take an action that is a connection with someone else, a little shift happens and then another and another until the shifting is out of your sight.
The worker at Liverpool City Council who approved the funding for the street art festival had no idea she would impact my business and cause this blog to be written, but she did. Nor do I know when or how my actions will cause shifts in someone else or who that person might be. Sometimes as a coach I can see it happen right here in the session, but as an author I have to send work out into the world and trust that just as I have been influenced by reading books or listening to podcasts without even meeting the author, so someone will be influenced by mine.
Adopting the ripple effect mindset
Adopting that mindset – the one that trusts in the ripple effect and lets go of needing to see the end result – is the one thing you need do to feel that you have changed the world today. Because our feelings are caused by our thoughts. If your mindset is that unless you do something huge, something remarkable, notable, newsworthy, you are just passing your days marking time, then you will feel insignificant. If you choose to trust that everything you do has a consequential and cumulative effect even if you can’t see it, then you will feel that you really do matter.
Changing the world for good doesn’t mean you have to tilt the planet on its axis, it means connecting with others in some helpful way. It’s sending out one positive action, one uplifting conversation, one helpful article at a time, doing one favour, going one extra mile, making one generous donation and trusting the ripple effect to do its job. The only way you can’t change the world is if you choose to remain inactive.