How not to change the world (in 4 easy steps)

Seems accurate. Illustration by Julia Gamolina

I have to start by saying that I feel really arrogant writing this. Who am I to talk about “changing the world”? That’s right, nobody. But I still believe this is a blog post worth writing, especially because I wish someone had told me these things when I was younger.

I’ve always had this ambition to change the world, and I think it’s something everybody wants whether they express it or not. But this idea has gone through many transformations over time. Before, I thought changing the world was this completely revolutionary thing that would be included in history books.

My plan to success was infallible:

  1. Choose a very noble domain of knowledge
  2. Learn all available content in that domain
  3. Think of something no one in humankind has ever thought before
  4. The world would NEVER BE THE SAME!

I see now how this plan was an obstacle to actually doing anything, because it put so much pressure that is was paralyzing. Today, when I say to myself that I want to change the world, I don’t see it as arrogance, I just have a new understanding of what that might look like. Its now a value that guides my life and something I take into account when choosing how to spend my time. Here’s how I think about things now:

1. Choose a very noble domain of knowledge

It is very tempting to rank domains and professions as more or less noble – and, worse, to think we can only make a difference by devoting ourselves to specific fields. For a long time I thought that the things I liked (singing, drawing, creative activities in general) were silly and superfluous, and I even stopped dedicating myself to them because of that. But somehow I would always go back to them. Today I see how foolish it was to judge my own passions, and I think the best change happens when we find what makes sense for us as individuals.

2. Learn all available content in that domain

With so much information at hand, not knowing sounds like failure: it seems like passivity. I felt like I had to know everything before I “did the good work” because I was afraid to say something and give away my ignorance. It took me a long time to accept the open ended nature of knowledge. It’s a liberating concept: if no one can know it all, there is no reason to hold back from doing for fear of not knowing. And, even better, I love thinking that through doing, I’ll always have new things to learn.

3. Think of something no one in humankind has ever thought of before

We need a lot of people trying to “change the world” because, in our human condition, we are small, mortal, and flawed. Our reach is limited in terms of time and place. It is not enough, for instance, to have someone doing amazing work today in the United States if families in other parts of the world or future generations don’t have access to that work. The painstaking labor of cultivating and scattering wisdom is something we don’t consider as revolutionary when we’re younger, but it is what keeps knowledge alive and constantly growing. I know I have a part, no matter how big or small, in advancing the greater narrative of knowledge.

4. The world would NEVER BE THE SAME!

I don’t know if I’m going to be in history books or if my 15 minutes of fame were actually my Facebook post that had 300 likes (that story is for another time). Maybe in five years, I’ll be writing another blog post about how I saw things all wrong but that is the nature of learning, growing, and staying in the present. But I think putting my best foot forward is the only way I can actually change things, no matter how big or small.

Note: this post was originally posted in the Portuguese language here.

Gabriela Talarico is passionate about creativity, self-regulation, education, and qualitative research. She joins HGSE from Brazil as a Jorge Paulo Lemann Fellow and is currently a Master’s in Education Candidate in the Human Development and Psychology Program.