Written by Aaron Rose
September 25, 2019

At a time when all we need to do is scroll through Instagram to see more news of death and destruction, it can feel overwhelming to know where we’re meant to contribute and to stay hopeful in the process. 

We can feel like there’s a million causes to participate in, all of them needing dire attention right now, and none of them fully solvable. 

The sheer volume of crisis and the swiftness with which we can see it online can send us from compassion to overwhelm in seconds. If it’s really so bad, what difference can we make? If the data already says we’re doomed, why start? And if we do start . . . where? Who are we to trust on what needs the most attention right now? 

As a young person, I used to feel completely burdened by the state of the world. My empathetic heart struggling to hold space for all who suffered, my creative mind stretching to problem-solve on so many issues. I worked as a community organizer on every possible issue, from food sovereignty to racial justice to environmental protection. 

Despite my meditation practice, I was often in a highly reactive state, bouncing around as if in a pinball machine, from one crisis to the next; and then sometimes shutting down entirely, out of exhaustion and overwhelm. 

I teetered on the edge of burnout for years, until I implemented several perspective shifts that finally gave me the ability to both change and enjoy the world at the same time. I now work as a transformational coach for public figures, as an inclusivity consultant, and conflict transformation guide. While it’s always evolving, I now feel sturdy and flexible in my work, able to care for myself, and confident I’m making the contribution I’m meant to, regardless of how many other options exist. 

Here are five perspectives to help you stay hopeful and make your unique contribution to our world: 

1. How you do the work is the work.

How you feel is how the people you’re supporting will feel. How you do the work determines the quality of the world you create. American Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin explained this idea beautifully:

“If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence. If we desire a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society.” 

We don’t serve the world by staying in a 24/7 energy of overwhelm, disempowerment, and overwork. One of the greatest contributions you can make to the world is embodying more of the emotions you hope we’ll all experience in the future, right here and right now.

This isn’t about ignoring experiences of anger or sadness, or naively believing in “good vibes only.” It’s about resisting the illusion that sacrificing humanity and integrity in the short-term is necessary for achieving our goals. It’s about not postponing rest, joy, and adventure until some imaginary social justice deadline has been met. 

2. Your platform is your present moment.

How often do we get caught up in future-tripping about the impact we’re going to create?

That art you’re going to make . . . once you can afford the super nice paint and have an apartment with floor to ceiling windows and maybe even an inspiring French lover.

The way you’re going to stand up for what’s right . . . the next time something extra discriminatory happens in front of you.

The retreat you’re going to lead . . . once you have a million followers and a famous co-host.

I’ve been there, too (of course). Projecting out incredible fantasies of my life and work, but putting material or temporal barriers on getting started right now. ⁣

Yogi Bhajan said:

“When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off.”

In this ever-advancing moment of now, the exact spot where you are is the perfect place to do whatever it is you’ve been dreaming of. And it’s exactly the place you’re called to making an impact. Your kitchen table (even if you’re moving out soon). Your 9-5 workplace (even if you’re quitting tomorrow). Your 300 followers (even if you know you’re gonna go viral any day now). ⁣

3. Your purpose is the intersection of your greatest pain and greatest joy.

Still wondering what you’re really supposed to be doing here? You can’t do it all. But you can do what you’re uniquely drawn to do, in a way only you can. While many approaches exist to uncovering the nuance of your contribution to the world, a great shortcut is to ask these two questions: What’s been the worst pain of your life? What’s something that never ceases to delight and inspire you? 

For me, the worst pain of my life has been an experience of lovelessness, feeling alone, isolated, and rejected. And I’ve always been so excited by quantum physics, metaphysics, the natural world, and the art of storytelling and teaching.

My work now combines all of these elements: I support people in coming back to love amidst escalating polarization and deep wounding, and I do it using spiritual and metaphysical tools. I also incorporate the wisdom of nature in my teachings and prioritize natural environments as my home base for my work.

Integrating the message of perspective shift, I trust that when I feel most alive–and most memy work will have the biggest impact. So, I embrace rather than minimize what makes me excited, even while the world struggles. 

4. Social change is a daily practice.

It’s easy to focus only on the master plan for achieving change, but even massive revolution is the product of many day by day, moment by moment choices.

Some of my regular practices include: adding in a loving-kindness meditation for the world to my daily meditation routine; making monthly contributions to people of color led organizations as part of ongoing reparations for slavery as a white person; and committing to never sitting on a panel that doesn’t have a diverse group of other contributors.

Rather than treating your social change role like a one-time sprint–akin to sacrificially taking a bullet for someone–how can you touch base with your vision for the world and live it a little bit more every day? 

5. The stories you tell are the stories you see.

We cannot create a better world if we’re only looking for evidence of its downfall. If you’re interested in feeling more hopeful, get curious about your stories about the world. What do you routinely say is possible? Do you joke about the apocalypse? Do you roll your eyes at “cheesy” good news like an endangered species giving birth or two enemies becoming friends? Do you feel guilty and downplay when you feel happy, because others are not?

If you’d like to experience a healed world, you must first be willing to see evidence of it right here and now.

If you’re willing, let’s implement these learnings right now. Take a moment for a deep breath, and check in with yourself. Based on what you’ve read here, what’s the next right action you can take, to show up for both yourself and the world?

Commit to that, and trust your path will continue to unfold before you.

Hear more from Aaron on his One Idea Away Podcast episode!

Photo Credit: Christopher Campbell, Unsplash.com