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Gain Inspiration from Arc Benders Who Are Making a Difference
A little more than two years ago, I launched the Arc Benders storytelling project.
An “Arc Bender” is an everyday superhero who is working to change the community without the expectation of any reward. The term is inspired by the quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” that originated with the Rev. Theodore Parker and was later made famous by Martin Luther King Jr.
In the fall of 2017, I invested in a professional camera because it had always been a secret dream of mine to learn photography. Inspired by Humans of New York, I decided to start a storytelling project photographing and interviewing people who are working to make the world a better place. By that point, I had been working in social entrepreneurship for more than five years, and in my day-to-day work I was surrounded and inspired by Certified B Corporation and nonprofit leaders. I was excited to share the stories of optimism, hope, and passion that stemmed from the people around me.
What I wasn’t prepared for was how much this project would change my life.
Within three months I had quit my job. Soon after, I launched a crowdfunding campaign that funded a road trip to interview more Arc Benders. In 2019, I partnered with my dear friend and fellow Arc Bender Alisa Herr to create and launch the Arc Benders podcast.
The journey since has been a perfectly imperfect bumpy road that has made me a better person and changemaker.
To celebrate the last two years, I’m excited to share the top 10 pieces of advice for people who want to change the world, based on my interviews with more than 50 social impact leaders.
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1. Start where you are.
If you want to live a life with purpose, identify opportunities to make an impact where you are and don’t be afraid to start small. The most important thing is to start.
“Do it. I’ve run into a lot of people who talk about driving change. Not to say that it’s not hard, it is hard. But I think it’s harder when you talk yourself out of it. If you can start even doing something small, start doing it and start feeling it. … If I sat and planned out Helius for a year, I would have freaked out and never done it. Because it started out as a small project, it made it seem more manageable.”
— Geraud Station, founder and executive director of the Helius Foundation
“We had two restaurants and a handful of small businesses and residents all sharing this one dumpster. By Sunday, you couldn’t even get near the dumpster. There were trash bags overflowing everywhere, all on the ground. It was ridiculous. … So we started thinking about, ‘How could we do better?’ It was a big paradigm shift for everyone at the restaurant. Our first step was saying that we’re going to have four trash cans and we’re going to sort our waste. People were like ‘Oh god, I have to do this … and touch everything … and sort the paper.’ Now, no one thinks about it. It’s just how we are.”
— Seth Gross, owner of B Corps Pompieri Pizza and Bull City Burger and Brewery
2. Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out your path.
If you aren’t sure how you want to make an impact yet, that’s OK.
“First, pay attention to how you spend your happiest free time. We hear so often that we should follow our passions, and so many people ask, ‘But what if I don’t know what my passion is?’ That’s totally fine! I usually suggest that people look at what they do when there’s no directive, when they’re free to choose how they spend their time. What are you doing? What are you reading about? What makes you really, really excited?”
— Mailande Moran, writer, artist, and speaker
“Something I’ve been thinking about recently is if you want to change the world, you don’t have to know ‘how’ yet. … We put so much pressure and so much stress on figuring out where you’re ‘supposed to be’ in life. If you want to change the world, you will. Just stay the course and know that you’ll get there; you’ll figure it out.”
— Nora Livingstone, founder and CEO of B Corp Animal Experience International
3. Find a motivation bigger than yourself.
Your desire to make things better may have stemmed from an experience you’ve had. But in the end, your drive to solve a problem can’t be selfish. Rather, the ultimate goal is to help others.
“The motivation has got to be love, not ego. … If you’re in it for ego, then it’s going to limit your effectiveness. You will likely hurt yourself and others. It’s like Brene Brown’s saying: ‘You’re already enough.’ I don’t need to succeed for my life to be worth something.”
— Carter Ellis, founder of Ellis Table Co.
“Whenever a young person asks me ‘What’s your secret to success?’ I consistently say that success shouldn’t be the focus, it should be about contribution. It should be about positive impact.”
— Esther Benjamin, CEO and executive director at World Education Services
4. Believe that YOU can make the change you seek.
Once you’ve determined the problem you want to solve, commit to the belief that you are worthy of solving it. Even if you aren’t sure how, know that you can adjust the plan as you go.
“You have to believe that you are the one that can make it happen. It starts with your vision. In the beginning, you may not know exactly what that vision is, but that’s OK. It comes. Follow your heart. When that trigger comes, just continue working on that trigger. Don’t think about whether it’s easy or difficult. That’s irrelevant. Just do whatever is required to get it done. Follow that beat and then go out and act on it. Then, take another action after that … and another after that.”
— Tammy Hu, co-founder of B Corp DOMI Earth
Be sure to truly listen to the stakeholders your work will impact.
“From my experience, the most important thing you can do is listen. You need to center your work around the people that you are working with and you need to move from a model of ‘I’m here to serve you’ to ‘I’m here to uplift your voice.’ People have voice … communities know what they need. Often, we just don’t listen to them. Or we twist what folks say into something that matches what we believed to be true. It’s a circus. People know what they need, they tell other people, and still that thing doesn’t get done. My biggest advice would be to listen with humility, listen more, listen again, and then accompany those you’re working with to act.”
— Kristine Sloane, CEO at StartingBloc
6. You don’t have to do this alone.
Find “your people” and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Changing the world is a team sport.
“People have contributed where they fit. I have on my board of directors and in different volunteer circles restaurant owners, lawyers, a pro bono architect who has thrown up like 15 different plans for different spaces, and my accountant who saves my life. … It’s all those individuals that have brought specific advice that got me and A Place at the Table started.”
— Maggie Kane, founder and executive director of A Place at the Table, a pay-what-you-can cafe in Raleigh, North Carolina
7. Self-care matters.
Sometimes self-care means putting your own needs first, which can be difficult to do. However, changing the world is a marathon, not a sprint.
“I abide by the oxygen mask model on the airplane. If I don’t take care of myself first, I will have nothing left for my children, my family, my company. I won’t be able to keep doing what I do. So, you know, everything from my massages, to my mani-pedis, to my spa treatments are sacrosanct … and I see a counselor, even if I don’t feel like I need one.”
— Dr. Tiffany Jana, CEO of B Corp TMI Portfolio
“Take a break. … Humans have always had this capacity to be hugely kind and loving, and we’ve also slaughtered each other. We’ve wiped out species. Both of those things are true and always have been. And worrying about it 24/7 is not going to fix it. It’s quite liberating in a way. Those problems are still going to be there after you take a week away. … We need you at your best to do your best work.”
— Sami Grover, Brand Development Manager at B Corp The Redwoods Group
8. Don’t be afraid to fail.
Don’t let the inevitable setbacks stop you from taking risks. Learn from these experiences and keep going.
“Embrace uncertainty. This is advice we give ourselves because our first response to uncertainty is still fear and anxiety! We are continually working on our iterative mindset. It is not about coming up with a brilliant idea and then pushing through until you convince everyone it is right. It’s about having a direction and being willing to meander and follow the next lead and pivot and change your mind and make different decisions.”
— Anne Jones and Dan Gonzalez, co-founders of District C
“Failure isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. It’s a tool. What matters in failure is that it advances you toward being able to achieve the thing that you want to achieve. As long as you know the problem you’re trying to solve, then failure is simply a step along the journey to solve that problem as it tells you what didn’t work. Focus on the problem you want to solve, the impact you want to make, and start trying things. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.”
— David Billson, co-founder of B Corp rTraction
9. Leverage your unique skills.
Explore how you can use your unique talents to make things better.
“Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Sometimes I will watch someone doing something really amazing and I think ‘I wish I could be like them …’ and then I’ll feel like I’m not as good or as worthy. Have confidence in yourself and know that you’re doing amazing things in your own way.”
— Alisa Herr, founder and CEO of B Corp Unity Digital Agency
10. Be persistent.
Arguably the most important theme that came up throughout the Arc Benders project is the power of persistence.
“Everything around you will point to staying put and resisting change, so you have to pick something that you’re willing to commit to. That’s the biggest thing: the commitment to fight for the long haul.”
— Ramon Llamas, founder of Switch/Health, LLC
“Write your dreams/passions/desires down. Do it for the short-term and the long-term. Every so often check-in: How are you working toward accomplishing that dream? What dreams have you accomplished, how did you get there, who do you need to thank for helping you achieve it? For every goal you achieve, add a new one.”
— Jivika Rajani, founder of Aspir8
“What can you do today, tomorrow, and over the next five years that will lead to a major change over time? You can make a big change in aggregate by taking small steps over time that add up in a big way.”
— Richard Bobholz, senior managing attorney at Law++
The Ultimate Lesson
If the Arc Benders stories have taught me anything, it’s that if you want to make a positive impact and refuse to give up, then it’s only a matter of time.
Start where you are. Volunteer. Launch an initiative. Find the problem you are willing to stop at nothing to solve. Use your unique skill sets to solve it while enlisting the help of others to build an unstoppable team. Take care of yourself. Keep going.
B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.
The Top 10 Pieces of Advice to Help You Change the World, from 50 People Who Have was originally published in B The Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.