Why I stopped trying to change the world.

When I was five or six years old, I vowed to myself that I would change the world. I had just finished reading a book with my family that explained the political situation in North Korea. As young as I was, I knew the situation wasn’t good, and it was then and there that I knew my life’s mission: I was going to change the world. 

Fast forward to high school where I was wearing a sneaker with a high heel shoe, a jump rope as a belt and a tutu over my jeans. I looked like a complete weirdo but it was the activist in me standing against conformity and what the cool kids did. I organized social justice meet ups during school lunch hour and as soon as I had my own job, I began sponsoring a child overseas. A few years after high school I went to university and began a degree in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia. At the same time, I was working as a photographer and turned many of my school essays into photo projects that focused on everything from eating disorders, to abortion, to stolen Indigenous land. As a young, privileged, white female, I even sent myself to work in the DRC in Africa (which later I would learn is not necessarily the best solution). I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t ever stop the fight for justice and human rights consumed me.

Like any fire that isn’t properly stoked, I, too, burnt out. I was doing everything I could possibly do to change the entire world but I wasn’t seeing any immediate change. I would open up Twitter and once again, my timeline would be filled with countless more stories of pain and injustice. I’d see friends on Facebook arguing over the presidential campaign and whether or not we should have gender neutral bathrooms. It was overwhelming, exhausting, and made me feel hopeless. I became angry.

The thing is, anger can actually be a good thing because anger can motivate and inspire change. The problem with the anger I had was that I only allowed it to focus on the negativity, fear, and hopelessness I was feeling, instead of actually doing something to create change. One can be angry, but one must also live with hope. Filled with fear and hopelessness, I realized I needed to change my approach, and this is when I quit trying to change the world. 

Instead, I focused on creating change locally. By focusing on local issues, suddenly I was no longer only promoting change, but I could act on it, too. Issues that once seemed big, daunting and impossible to fix suddenly became small, relatable and achievable issues to fix. I didn’t need to argue with people on Facebook anymore, I could get a group together locally and act on the change. I didn’t have to save the entire world, something I will never be able to do, but I could create change in my neighborhood. This is where hope began to blossom. 

Hope starts small, but like anger, it spreads like wildfire. I’m reminded of all the times I’ve had a bad day, and how someone’s simple act of kindness has completely changed my day around. Now, whenever I’m out and about and feeling blue, I tell myself to change my attitude, because if I can smile and represent hope to one person, that person can smile and represent hope to another person.

Changing the world starts locally. It starts in your relationships, in your homes, in your neighborhoods, and in your cities. There are so many things you can be doing locally that, while they might seem small, will influence the rest of the world. Read the newspapers. Volunteer. Help a stranger out. Join a local community garden. Listen to people. Ask people how you can help. Join your friends at their meetups for topics surrounding LGBTQ+ issues, racial issues, religious issues or class issues. Dream big, but start small and start with something tangible, promoting change one step at a time. If we all create change locally, together we will be changing the world.