When I was a kid, I wanted to change the world. I wanted to stand out, do something great, make a difference, leave a legacy. I wanted to be the next Jane Austen, Albert Einstein, George Washington, Corrie ten Boom. I wanted to go somewhere no one had ever been before and do something they all thought could never be done.
When I got older (and for perspective, when I say “older,” I’m seventeen now), I started to encounter what cynical adults would call “the real world.” Stress. Expectations. Responsibilities. Pressures. Anxiety. Broken relationships. Bitter people. The overwhelming magnitude of the world.
Because see, when you’re a kid, you are the center of your universe. Your sphere is confined to the few places and people you meet in your neighborhood and at school, in structured, organized environments. But as you mature, you start to realize that hey, there’s something bigger than me. The reality that there are billions of people in the world, each one as unique and faceted and complicated as you –it opens your mind to new wonders, but it can also start to wear on your dreams. Changing the world is a lot harder once the definition of “world” becomes something so overwhelming. Really, it’s not realistic to imagine that I’ll be an Elon Musk or a J.K. Rowling, not when there’s so many people who could do it so much better than me. Besides, there were other things to think about. There were things to be done and I was busy, busy, busy just trying to make it through puberty, for heavens’ sake.
But lately, I’ve been starting to think that maybe little-kid me had something right after all. Not that anyone a hundred years from now will know my name–maybe that isn’t really the goal. But maybe I can make a difference–and maybe that has less to do with the billions, and more to do with the twenty other students in my classroom right now.
Because when it comes to change–whether it’s through a powerful book or an incredible discovery or, heck, a viral video–it has nothing to do with any of those things in themselves; it’s about the effect they have on people. Real people. People with as complex and wonderful and mysterious and full a mind as you.
And maybe a better measure of success than the list of achievements on your resume or the trophies on your shelf or the number of people who know your name, is simply to focus on those right around you, and on what you can do to make their lives better, even the smallest of ways. I’m learning to love my family. My neighbors. My friends. Those are the things that really count. Maybe all it takes to change the world is just 10% more kindness. I never forgot that girl in front of me in line who paid for my coffee, even though I don’t know her name or her face.
To me, being young and twenty means you’re in the thick of things, the stresses and pressures and demands of life, but you still have the clear eyes to see what really matters. May you sow flowers wherever you step and learn to love unselfishly.