5 (inner) capacities for changemakers

By Emily Johnston, co-founder and co-CEO from Unity Effect.

Motivated to make a difference?

You might not think of yourself as a changemaker, but many of us are already engaged in projects and initiatives which aim to have a positive impact, or maybe we’ve thought about starting one. Changing the world doesn’t have to be as epic and overwhelming as it sounds. In fact, you have an impact on the world around you every day. Every little action, decision and conversation can have an impact that ripples out. So the question is: which kind of impact do you want to create? And how do you go about it?

Change on any level often comes with challenges because it usually means changing something in ourselves. It’s easy to get frustrated or overwhelmed by external influences like politics, law, social norms and money. But often we also face a lot of inner barriers and questions as well. Can I really do it? Can I really make a difference? Am I doing the right thing? What if I fail? What will other people think of me, of my ideas, of my project?

Here are five capacities we can grow and practice within us, which support us to create positive and meaningful change.

1. Purpose

Why am I here? This is a pretty big question that we can grapple with for all of our lives. And while the answer can continuously evolve as we do, getting clear about our purpose can really support us as changemakers. Having inner clarity about why we’re doing what we’re doing can help us navigate uncertainty, to deal with challenges and to know when to say yes, or not.

Getting clear about our purpose can really support us as changemakers.

Often when it comes to changing the world we focus on big and scary global problems and we might think of our purpose as something like ‘solving climate change’ or ‘fighting inequality’. This is pretty epic and it’s hard to know where to start.

For our purpose to really give us, well, purpose, it helps to break it down and think about which part is really unique to me, my passions and what drives me. And it doesn’t have to be all serious. In fact, we can discover the answer by asking ourselves: what really excites me? What lights me up? What do I really care about? Give it a go – you might be surprised.

2. Choosing to trust

Trust is an essential capacity in any process of change. Without it we would probably never get started and we almost certainly wouldn’t see it through. And it is a choice. Yes, it is also based on experiences throughout our lives, but in the end we have a choice about whether we trust ourselves and those around us or not. We can practice choosing to trust on small things and see what a difference it can make: the difference between fearing things won’t work out or we can’t do it, and knowing that they will and we can – even if it turns out differently to what we imagined. Trusting means letting go: of doubts, fears and expectations about how things should be.

Trusting means letting go: of doubts, fears and expectations about how things should be.
Trusting means letting go: of doubts, fears and expectations about how things should be.

Trust is also the foundation for real collaboration, creativity and innovation. We need it to share ideas, to take risks, to be vulnerable – in other words, to get to the places where the magic happens.

3. Listening

When it comes to building trust and making magic, listening might be one of the most underrated capacities out there. When we are really listened to – without the other person looking at their phone, trying to rebut our argument, or judging us – it helps us feel safe, appreciated and seen. It also helps us to get clearer about what’s going on for us.

Listening happens on different levels. It’s not just about listening to other people, but also to ourselves and to the bigger picture or situation around us. And it doesn’t just happen with our ears either. Paying attention to our mental, emotional and physical reactions and our gut feelings can give us a lot of information – about ourselves, the people around us, and the situation we’re in.

It’s not just about listening to other people, but also to ourselves and to the bigger picture.

Pay attention to yourself the next time you are listening to someone. What is going on in your head? Are you present and giving your full attention to the person, and listening beyond the words? Or are you thinking about what you will say next, drifting into another thought or judging what they are saying? Play with being fully present for them, and yourself, and see what happens.

4. Resilience

We tend to think of resilience as something that we call on in tough moments, to bounce back from challenges. Yet it is something that we can practice and strengthen all the time. Every small challenging situation that comes up in day to day life is a chance to notice how we respond and ask ourselves what is working for us and what isn’t.

We can also build our resilience through building little habits that support us and help refuel our inner reserves. It could be anything from a creative pursuit, to talking to a good friend, to yoga, or dancing, or cooking a really tasty meal – whatever helps you stay grounded and recharge your battery.

Being in the business of changing the world is a long term game, often facing uncertainty, resistance and setbacks. And when we know we can stay grounded and navigate our way through challenges, we can trust ourselves more to let go and just go for it.

5. Fun and rest

Changing the world doesn’t mean burning out. Too often among people involved in world-changing projects and initiatives, there is a tendency to put the needs of others and the project before your own. When you are working in difficult conditions with few resources, money, time or facing resistance, the risks of working crazy hours, investing a lot of emotional energy and eventually burning out become higher.

Changing the world doesn’t mean burning out.
Changing the world doesn’t mean burning out.

It can be hard to draw the line when your work is your passion. But then it is even more important to find your boundaries and take time for self-care.

Simple (but not always easy) things like sleeping enough, eating well, doing exercise and making time for friends can make all the difference to your energy and how you show up each day. It can be hard to take the time for these things when the to-do list is piling up and the problems of the world aren’t going away. But you know you can’t be your best self and do your best work when you’re exhausted and stressed. Give yourself (and the world) the gift of valuing and caring for you. And don’t forget to take time for fun, play, silliness and celebrating all of your awesome work. After all, changing the world doesn’t have to be all serious.

The good news is, these are all things we can practice and grow. We offer a 10 week personal and leadership development program called the Changemaker Journey where we do just that.

Are you curious to learn more? Check out www.changemakerjourney.org for more information and join us on a journey!