By Mark E. Smith
If there’s one principle I’ve learned in my 20-year career, it’s that you can have a tremendous impact on a global scale by simply serving one person at a time.
Somehow a mythology has evolved over recent centuries that in order to have a notable impact on the world, we have to do a single, epic act: invent electricity, cure a disease, write an ageless book, or any number of extraordinary acts that win a Nobel Prize.
However, that’s not, in fact, how we change the world. The fact is, if you look at the way the world’s changed over the past 100 years, it’s been by far because a single person had the vision to change lives of individuals one at a time.
We’re not a country of advanced automobiles because Henry Ford magically gave every person in America a car at once and changed the world. Rather he sought to build a car that individuals could buy, one by one, and individual lives changed, ultimately creating a cumulative effect. Fast forward toward the end of the 20th century, where personal computers fueled by Gates and Jobs, among others, and we saw the same process, where PCs were adopted by individuals one by one, where slowly the movement changed our lives. Now, in the present, look at Facebook – 1.59 billion users didn’t just pop up, but joined, one by one. Indeed, even in the most monumental success stories of world change, they’ve all started with individuals and flourished by the individuals’ lives impacted by them, one by one.
The Gates Foundation has been on a mission to change the world for millions of children in third-world countries. Over 1.5 million children die each year from diseases of which there are vaccines, but to which they don’t have access. The Gates Foundation has been eradicating this issue. How? By vaccinating one child at a time.
Now, most of us aren’t Fords or Gates. However, we possess the same ability to profoundly impact the world – by making a difference in the lives of others, one person at a time. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. All you have to do is be aware of who around you needs a touch of whatever it is you have to offer. Maybe you have a particular skill set that many can use, but not everyone can afford. Think of the difference it makes in a single life when you donate that skill to someone in need. Think about the contractor who quietly fixes up an elderly widow’s home; the college math student who tutors inner-city kids across town; the auto mechanic who fixes the single father’s truck at no charge so he can get to work and support his kids; the store clerk who asks everyone how they are because she truly cares; the pizza shop owner who makes every customer feel like family; the person who always answers the phone when a friend just needs someone to talk with. The list goes on and on, but the principle is the same: we each have the profound power to change the world one person at a time.
We can have a way of saying to ourselves, I’m nobody, with nothing to change the world. No, we’re each somebody – unique, with so much to offer, so many ways to change the world one person at a time. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or what you do – you have the ability to improve the life of another person, and that single act alone does change the world.
I recently was interviewed, and the interviewer asked me what I saw as the greatest accomplishment of my career?
“I shipped a farmer in Iowa a part for his wheelchair this morning,” I said.
She looked surprised at my seemingly simple answer considering the complexity of my career.
“Is that an unusual situation?” she asked.
“No, it happens every day,” I replied. “But, you make a difference on this planet by embracing one person at a time.”
As Mother Teresa put it, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”