Barack Obama, Joan of Arc, Saul Alinsky. While seemingly as different as people could be from each other, each of them share specific, but often unnoticed qualities that have shaped who they are and what they’ve done. Whether you love them or hate them, you cannot deny the impact they’ve had on the world. These qualities have been a common thread in the lives of people who have changed the world, whether it be changing existing power structures in their hometown or rising the ranks to enact change on the highest level possible.
There are many qualities that aid these integral figures in their climb to the top, but these three qualities have poked their heads out time and time again. It’s time we acknowledge their existence and look to cultivate them in ourselves.
Drive takes different forms with different meaning for (third times a charm) different people. What drives you will not be the same for what drives me. However, there are some vague but common threads, and it’s in these threads that we can understand how drive is not only integral in accomplishing our goals, but is part of the foundation for everything we do. In order to get through the long work hours, the ambiguity of our progress, or to handle the possibility of failure, we must have something that drives us. Something that keeps us going.
What drive looks like depends on the person. Some call it passion; some call it “my quirky interests”. Willpower, motivation, inspiration are other names: whatever you call it, they are similar. They are things that drives you. It’s your alarm clock that gets you out of bed. It’s your reason to fight.
Cultivating it is the harder part. But it is doable. Spending time developing self-awareness is key to realizing what drives you. You need a mixture of time away from noise and work to be with yourself, digging deep into your mind to find what makes you tick, what makes you sad, what mobilizes you to act, or what you do that makes you lose track of time. On the other end, you need to be able to pay attention to yourself when you work/act to find out what makes you happy, what lights a fire in you, and what themes you’re drawn to. Once you start realizing what those are, you can go deeper: spending more time with them, finding out smaller nuances, until you have an understanding or yourself that few do. This takes time. But it’s one of the most important things you can do.
Saul Alinsky believed in the power of people when brought together. People divided will wither into apathy: people united will change the world. It’s what drove him in everything he did. And he went on to change not only communities, organizations, and people, but the world (something he continues to do through his work, long after he passed).
Drive is important, but it isn’t enough. It’s one thing to love what you do and be committed to it: it’s another to actually accomplish it. Skill is a necessary part of the triad of changing the world, as you need the tools and abilities to enact that change you seek. Simply put, you need the skills to do things, do them right, and do them better than anyone else could. Developing the right skills to utilize is integral.
As mentioned, how that will look will be different for you as compared to me. The only requirement is that you hone your skills overtime, committing to betterment not only throughout the days, but into the months and years. Cultivate the athlete mindset: always be learning, improving, and sharpening your skills and senses.
I’ve met too many people who are passed up for a job they want, only to apply again a year later and be no different than they were the year before. You must not only develop unique and important skills, but you must commit to improving on them over time. It’s the only way you’ll enter each task, role, and conflict willing and able to take it on, and do it well.
In martial arts, we’d spend hours upon hours doing the same thing over and over again: the same punch, kick, kata, throw. The reason behind it was always the same: when the time comes for you to use it, you better be ready. One punch may be all that you have. Similarly (but probably not as morbid), one opportunity may be all that crosses your path in a long stretch of time. Be ready for it when it does.
There will inevitably be obstacles that come your way. Tasks you need to take care of. Developing the necessary skills to take them on and knock them out of the park is a needed part of changing the world. You can’t change it unless you’re able to.
Strategy is the third, and most elusive quality that you need to change the world. It often takes the backburner to topics like motivation and skill, but its importance is paramount. Strategy is understanding the goals you want to achieve and the steps needed to get there. It’s staying in the game, mapping out your next steps, how each action you take (or don’t take) contributes to your journey, and what is holding you back. It’s looking at life and yourself for what it really is, not what you’d like it to be. It permeates every aspect of your life, as it defines what drives you (and how you can leverage that) and shines a light on the skills you need to achieve your goals. Strategy means taking a step back, taking a birds-eye view, and coming back enlightened and aware of what needs to be done.
While typically associated with war, strategy is an integral part of how we live our lives, yet missing from most of it. Flying by the seat of our pants can be fun (and has it’s place) but all successful people had, at some point, an idea of where they’d like to go. Winging it and planning can even exist in chaotic tranquility too, knowing the direction you’d like to go and going with the flow as you slowly move in that direction. But too many people only wing it, and don’t have any form of direction. It’s important to have even a vague idea of where you’d like to go.
Remember strategy means looking at things realistically while being optimistic (a sort of pragmatic optimism). Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to be an astronaut, but the Space program wasn’t available for Canadians when he was young. He committed to it nonetheless, fully acknowledging the unlikelihood of him ever achieving his dream of flying into outerspace. Many of his steps lead him towards that goal, and he knew if he’d never achieve if he’d end up somewhere along the way doing something he loved and would be happy with. But he committed to it. And against all odds, he flew into space, and eventually became the Commander of the International Space Station.
Those are the three most important qualities I’ve seen in the people who have gone on to make a difference in the world. No matter how small: be it in the classroom, in the community, or on the international stage, a combination of drive, skill, and strategy have been integral to the success of these seemingly few individuals. By cultivating these three skills, we can begin to step up and make a difference in this world too.
I’m sure there are more qualities, and I encourage you to share the ones you’ve noticed. But I encourage you to start here. And start small. I haven’t mapped out any exact steps because each step will be different for you and for me. But step you must.
Now go change the world.