“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,
“It made a difference for that one.”
~ Loren Eiseley
I love this story. It is a simple, yet beautiful illustration of how we all have the ability to make a difference right where we are, and more importantly, it illustrates that every difference matters. We don’t have to wait until we have something big to do or until our actions will impact a lot of people. The small efforts that make a difference to one or a few, are just as important as grandiose efforts that affect larger numbers. In fact, think of all of the opportunities to make a difference that my be lost forever if we don’t take action because we are waiting until what we do will have a larger impact.
Leaders like to make big differences. We like to lead efforts that show significant, positive results and large returns on our investment. Our performance is often measured by the overall size of our efforts and the number of positive results we measure. I am not suggesting that we should limit our ambitions and set small goals or aim for smaller results; but I am suggesting that we should not let smaller opportunities to impact lives and make a positive difference pass us by while we wait for something bigger. We have opportunities to make smaller differences every day and those small differences are important.
When I am asked to speak at an event, I am always thrilled to have the potential to inspire an audience of 50, 100, or more people at once. I take those opportunities seriously and spend a great deal of time and hard work preparing my speeches and delivering the most inspirational message possible. However, I am also blessed to be a “mentor” for several aspiring leaders. I take that role just as seriously, and spend just as much time preparing to meet with my mentees as I do preparing a speech for 100 people. The opportunity to make a difference in the life of one person is just as important to me as the opportunity to make a difference in the life of many.
Consider too the ripple effect: Each person takes one small action that makes a difference to one person. That person in turn, makes a difference for someone else; and so forth and so on until all of the small actions combined have created a ripple — a large and forceful wave of action. Our individual contributions are like one drop of water in the ocean, but all of our “drops” combined together fill an ocean.
Anne Sullivan was the teacher and life-long companion of Helen Keller. Anne was able to break through the isolation caused by Helen’s deafness and blindness to help her learn to communicate. Anne’s motivation was to make a difference in Helen Keller’s life, and she did. Helen then made huge differences in the lives of countless other deaf-blind people through her work as an author and activist.
Don’t wait to make a difference . . . Remember the Starfish.
Seize every opportunity to make a positive difference by your actions or by your work, regardless of the number of people who may be impacted. The one life you positively impact in some small way, is important; and the impact that you have in that one person’s life may be the beginning of a ripple effect that changes the world.
Be Bold . . . Be Courageous . . . Leave the world a better place because YOU Made a Difference!