Photo Credit: Pedro Lastra,
Photo Credit: Pedro Lastra,

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

-adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

You can’t save them all…

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to hear about the problems and troubles of our world.

Not only that, but we have our own internal problems, troubles, and stresses. And this is totally normal. You’re wired to focus on the problems that you observe so that you know what needs your attention. This is a survival mechanism that has developed humanity into what it is today.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have our basic survival needs met (e.g. food and shelter), this powerful part of the brain starts to identify other “threats” to our well being, such as: traffic, deadlines, mistakes, or crowded inboxes.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you can’t fix all the problems, stop making mistakes, or answer all the emails.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. That difference can be quite small and yet have a profound impact on someone else’s life (including yours)!

Take a small step to make a difference

Try taking one of these small steps to make a big difference in someone’s life:

  • Send a Thank You email to someone
  • Buy a coffee for the person behind you at the coffee shop
  • Spend two minutes in gratitude meditation (this can make a big difference in your life).

The impact of your gesture will have a ripple effect that spans so much farther than you could possibly imagine.

You have the ability to step into your full power and use your unique gifts to make a difference in your life and in the lives of others. Start as small as you can imagine and, if you choose, find more ways to contribute positive, kind, and loving gestures to the world.

And soak in the thought of what could change if everyone made small gestures that make a big difference.

Plus, you’ll get an added bonus with this work – you’ll start to shift and see “problems” as opportunities instead. And when you see opportunities, your actions become a catalyst for growth, abundance, and for creating a “win” for everyone involved!

Crossing T.E.A.s

So let’s see how our thoughts, emotions, and actions play out when coming from a place of being overwhelmed vs a place of opportunities:

Overwhelmed with Problems:

  • Thought: There are too many problems. I can’t fix them all. There’s nothing I can do.
  • Emotion: I feel fear, stress, or apathy
  • Action: Not much, or perhaps escapism

Opportunities to Make a Difference:

  • Thought: I have the power to make a difference, one small action at a time.
  • Emotion: I feel compassion, empathy, joy, wonder, and peace.
  • Action: I focus on a small gesture of kindness, support, or love for a single person, and curiously see what happens from there.

“The need is not really for more brains, the need is now for a gentler, a more tolerant people than those who won for us against the ice, the tiger and the bear. The hand that hefted the ax, out of some old blind allegiance to the past fondles the machine gun as lovingly. It is a habit man will have to break to survive, but the roots go very deep.”

– Loren Eiseley