Your Mark on the World

I just started reading Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner. Perhaps you’ve read it, or others by him? He is one of my favorite authors. His prose and wisdom cuts to the bone and penetrates the heart.

This passage by the narrator in the book touched me deeply because it speaks to where I am currently living in myself:

“Though I have been busy, perhaps over busy, all my life, it seems to me now that I have accomplished little that matter, that the books have never come up to what was in my head, and that the rewards – the comfortable income, the public notices, the literary prizes, and the honorary degrees – have been tinsel, not what a grown man should be content with. Whatever happened to the passion we had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world? Our hottest arguments were always about how we could contribute.

“Whatever happened to the passion we had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world?” What a wonderful question. Mine has not died, and in fact, burns hotter today inside me than ever. But in many ways, I have kept it at bay, in a closet, hidden from people who might otherwise ridicule it. I know that others would not understand this about me because they only witness my outer deeds, but I know that I have been holding back.

This past year has been one of great inner work for me, confronting many of my ego’s ways in which I hide from expressing the fullness of who I am and what I stand for in the world. I have been confronting in myself how I play it safe so as not to seem too farfetched, too non-ordinary. But truth-be-told: ordinary sucks, and the world does not need me in that pared down version of my Self. Look where ordinary has gotten us. We are in trouble, as both a species and a planet. Our common way of thinking, behaving and acting has us killing each other and the biology that is our home at an unprecedented rate.

Isn’t it time I stand up, a bit taller, with a touch more volume and fervor in my voice, to see what my real mark of contribution might be? Isn’t it time I take a stand for real transformation of the human condition as I know it is possible? I am the only one who can answer those questions, of course. The demons such a stand triggers exist only in my mind and are my battles to fight.

How about you? How are you holding back your contribution, limiting your mark on the world? How are you conforming and not saying what needs to be said, or not doing what needs to be done?

The world does not need you in your pared down version either. One thing we don’t have in the twenty-first century is the luxury of time. We must radically transform the way things currently operate in our organizational and social systems, and in a hurry. I bet you have something special to offer that effort, and I bet, like me, you have some inner demons to release in order to make your most meaningful contributions.

So let’s release ‘em and get on with doing the good works we know we can do. A primary purpose of The Change Leader’s Network is to convene people like you and me, who want to contribute more to our organizations and the world’s transformation, and collaborate about how taking a conscious change leadership approach amplifies our contribution and impact. And a conscious approach always starts with us becoming more conscious ourselves.

So, how are you holding back? What are the beliefs, fears, and doubts in your way? What is that special mark on the world that you want to make?

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Professor, University of Michigan
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United States House of Representatives

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Marshall School of Business
University of Southern California

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Senior Scholar in Residence
MSOD Program, American University
Organizational Change Consultant