Last summer, I sat on an airplane with my newest Amazon purchase open on my lap: Adam Braun’s Promise of a Pencil. Braun’s story was, without a doubt, incredible. He had traveled for a semester at sea and founded the global education organization “Pencils for Promise” at the tender age of 24, eventually leaving his job at Bain and Company in an epic saga of social entrepreneurial struggle. As I finished the last page, I was propelled into a bit of an epiphany. Here I was, close to Adam’s age. I was still young, had all the resources Adam had when he started his journey, and had a similar desire to change the world. So what was stopping me? In fact, what stops most of us from changing the world at such a young age?
I thought back to early college when I was in a phase where all I wanted to do was start a business. I remember relegating all my other career options in favor of this daring and random pursuit of entrepreneurship. The more I lamented on how to achieve results, the more I realized that I was stockpiling on one toxic resource: the “excuse”. I’m not old enough. I don’t have enough time right now. This homework isn’t doing itself. I’m not qualified enough. I don’t have enough money right now. My idea isn’t new enough. Sunday football is on. I don’t know anything about technology. I don’t know nearly enough people. I’ll just work for a few years, save up money, re-evaluate life, and then become an entrepreneur. It’s too much to learn. The list went on and on.
Our mind will believe anything we tell it. Most of the time, the excuses and reasons for procrastination alone will preclude us from doing something we feel strongly about. Ignoring the problem seems to be easier than encountering the consequences or worst case scenarios. But how do we overcome these barriers we place on ourselves? How do some people make it while others don’t?
This is where I arrived after some pondering. Part of it is perspective. “Changing the world” can sound so daunting. The idea of starting a venture and putting your entire livelihood around it can sound daunting as well. We have to start with our own personal definition of “changing the world”. We don’t always need to quit our day job. People who volunteer change the world. People who put together book drives and food recovery programs change the world. People who donate money online to causes change the world. Of course, people who start multi-national non-profits change the world too. What kind of impact do we want to make in the long-run? We don’t have to make it all at once. While thinking big is encouraged, when we think too big that we ignore pragmatism and drive ourselves into an unreachable dream, that’s when most of us tend to quit.
Second, we have to find a reason to fix everything holding us back.
Money. The internet has enabled new and wild ways to fundraise. Adam Braun only started out with $25 when starting his social venture.
Too much competition. There is no unique idea, only unique execution. Find an area that drives you and work with other collaborators in that area. We spend too much time on competition and finding that “unique idea that nobody has ever thought of in the history of ever”. Changing the world doesn’t have to start with a ground-breaking idea or re-inventing the wheel. There are plenty of non-profits out there who do the same exact thing but engage in different ways.
Qualifications. The only qualification we really need is passion. It costs a lot less than a graduate degree and a thousand certifications. We have to start ignoring the guy that tells us that we need to be old and rich to be a philanthropist. If you have a passion now, don’t risk letting it rot.
Finally, we have to start connecting. Read blogs from successful young entrepreneurs. Read autobiographies from the founders of inspiring organizations we respect. Meet young people in person. Follow them on twitter. Keep learning. I follow many people my age and younger and I can always count of them for some of the most refreshing professional perspectives I get on a daily basis. It can only benefit us to use these stories as a template that age is nothing when it comes to world change.
This all puts us in a position for the hardest part: to start executing. “Zak Malamed, Student Voice Founder, once wrote, “The most disrespectful thing you can say to young people is, “you are the leaders of tomorrow.” This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where young people are stigmatized to believe that there is a minimum age for being capable of changing the world.” Let’s stop succumbing to the stigma and change the paradigm for youth and real, tangible change. We don’t have to find the next “Pencils for Promise” but just create something that’s a reflection of a real, raw dedication towards a cause. Why not us?
Kushaan is an IBM Consultant based out of Washington D.C. His interests are rooted in strategy consulting, entrepreneurship, social media, and the intersection of technology and social impact. He enjoys blogging about life, empowerment, and hacking the corporate environment. If you liked this post, follow him on twitter: @kushaanshah or look out for more Medium articles.