Few forces in the world burn brighter than a human being’s inherent hunger to contribute.
However, contrary to what Al Gore says, making your mark in the world doesn’t have to mean leaving carbon footprints.
What it does mean is getting off your ass, getting into the game and cementing your legacy.
That way, you can leave this cosmic campsite better than you found it.
To do so, consider this list of attitudes, behaviors and action items to help you make a mark that matters:
1. Smoke a peace with why you are. During a recent workshop with a group of student leaders, I was asked if I knew what I was doing when I started my business right out of college. “Hell no,” I told them, “In fact, I still don’t know what I’m doing – I just have a deeper sense of why I’m doing it.”
Lesson learned: Making your mark means not being stopped by not knowing how. Instead, commit to a consistency of why. The how will come in time. Promise. After all, that’s what people really want to know about their leaders: Not just how they are, not just who they are – but why they are.
That’s the verb that matters. That’s how you fulfill your function. That’s how you put a check mark next to your divine assignment. And if you betray the mission you were mandated to fulfill, you commit a form of spiritual suicide.
Look: I know how hard it is to surrender to something larger. You feel vulnerable, uncertain and out of control.
And while I don’t preach the predominance of any particular supernatural agency, there is always value in making peace with something that’s big enough to crush you like a walnut. It’s an essential step for building faith, instilling the proper humility and trusting your higher resources.
Plus, chicks dig it.
Remember: The best way to leave ineradicable imprints on the world is to live a life that makes an unmistakable statement about what you believe. Have you subordinated yourself to something larger than yourself?
2. Open yourself to life. Stop winking in the dark. The world is way too beautiful to waste time hiding. Or sleeping. Or watching television. Instead, stick yourself out there. Every damn day.
Now, odds are good that when you do so, there will be a growing chorus of voices trying to sway you. And your paralyzing fear of criticism might prevent you from acting decisively.
My suggestion is to stop listening and start choosing. Take you finger off your chin and press the buttons that activate the nitrous tanks. Otherwise the only mark you’ll make is the perpetual ass print on your couch.
Remember: It’s impossible to make a make your mark without taking a step. Even if it’s a step in the wrong direction, at least you’re still stepping.
Sure beats sitting on the couch all night, eating Triscuits and stalking your ex-girlfriend on Facebook. Who’s that loser she’s dating now anyway? Do you remember the last time you traveled without plans?
3. Build a physical space to explore your imagination. Time recently ran a fascinating profile on Thomas Edison’s workspace. They explored the physical components to his laboratory, from lighting to furniture to architecture to staffing policies.
According to the story, Edison’s workspace was among his greatest assets. That’s one of the reasons he was able to pound out 1,093 patents in his lifetime, many of which marked the world in ways he never could have imagined.
Lesson learned: Structureless environments paralyze. Structure allows growth. And the impact of your ideas is directly proportionate to how organized the space is that surrounds it. If you want to make your mark, begin by preserving the sanctity of your workspace.
Not an office – a workspace. Call it an office and slice your creativity in half. Call it a workspace – a factory of creativity – and you execute ideas that matter. Is your content as brilliant as the system that manages it?
4. Invite people to have bigger conversations. Spending four hours arguing which contestant on The Biggest Loser deserves to win is not going to help you make a mark that matters. If truly want to create lasting change, you have to get people talking about bigger things.
Scott Adams recently wrote about this very topic on his widely ready blog. “Arguably, the most important function of human language is to protect the smart from the strong,” says the Dilbert creator.
“Humans use words to create sentences, and sentences to create concepts, such as our notions of duty and honor. Powerful concepts control behavior. And without our language and concepts, the strong would kill the smart, and humans wouldn’t evolve to be any smarter. I think you could say that human evolution is being guided at least partly by the power of ideas.”
Lesson learned: Elevate the dialogue. Next time somebody asks you what your favorite reality show is; respectfully ask them if you can shift the conversation to a topic that counts before you club them in the head with a fire extinguisher. That way you’ll definitely make your mark. Are your conversations laboratories?
5. Shrink not from hardship. First, stop deluding yourself that you can outsmart getting hurt – you can’t. Stop believing that you can build immunity against life’s sorrows – you can’t. And stop thinking you’re superior to the wounds and upsets of life. I’ve tried all three, and none accomplished anything but exacerbating my misery.
Secondly, remember that you can breathe through most pain, decapitations notwithstanding. Oxygen is the new Tylenol, and with a healthier relationship with your breath, you will be floored at how much of the impact your lungs can displace.
Third, pain is an invitation to excel and a deliverer of wisdom. Consider making friends with it instead of trying to eradicate it. You’ll discover that pain is like that weird guy you went to college with.
You know the one: He turned out to be a really cool, interesting, fun guy – but only after you set aside your judgments and gave his voice a chance to be heard.
Finally, pain is a natural part of the human experience. It makes you feel alive. But if you’re the kind of person who lives a trouble-free life, you’re not actually living – you just exist. And it’s pretty hard to make a mark from such a dormant posture.
Ultimately, Parker Palmer said it best in A Hidden Wholeness: “Don’t become alienated from your truth. Feel it, name it – but don’t numb it. The pain will crack the closed system open and force you out from behind the wall toward healing.” Remember: Pain is part of the equation. Where have you gotten hurt this week?
REMEMBER: You’re not too boring to contribute something worthwhile.
If you truly want to make a mark in the world – you, alone, are responsible for movement.
As we wrap things up, let’s turn to Indecision, who sings in the song To Live and Die in New York City:
“To make your mark is to die face up on flaming asphalt while your corpse speaks for itself.”
Take that, Al Gore.
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
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