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7 Painful Mistakes to Avoid When Changing the World

... and how to stay on track

Being a change-maker, whether at a global scale, within your local communities or even within your own organization can definitely bring deep purpose and meaning into your life. At the same time, it will force you to confront many of your own internal fears and prejudices that directly impact the level and depth of change in the creative areas you passionately focus on. #YourImpactJourney is #YourPersonalJourney.

"Your Impact Journey is Your Personal Journey."

By far, my belief for the modern day 21st century change leader begins with their own "crusade" to disrupt the status-quo and create their own better world. It's the modern day management of the existential crisis. When you want change, but you're stuck frantically frustrated or unmotivated to change, much of it can also be attributed to the environment around you. We do live in a society of high workforce disengagement and an economy that promotes and survives on empty pleasures. As a result, you might be feeling exhausted from spinning in circles attempting to change the status-quo that collectively defends itself better than you can inspire and make a difference.

What I've found in my own journey is that many people, including myself, have spent years figuring out a clear purpose and what impact to make, and create a wake of collateral and self-perpetuating damage along the way.

Here is what I'd like to share as the ten painful mistakes to avoid on the path of changing the world:

1. Making Social Impact is free.

While yes, the best things in life are free, such as love, joy, passion, friendship, and family... when making lasting change and impact, it takes time and requires much patience. If you're deciding to embark on a route to "rage quit" the emptiness of work that sustains your day-to-day living, before you do that, ensure you have a good financial runway. It will help to minimize the mental, emotional and physical stresses that come from the social expectations that you've currently subscribed to as you begin the process of unlearning the beliefs that will no longer support you on your new journey.

My recommendation is a good eight month buffer, and definitely ensure you spend your first month focused on getting clear about yourself. Feel free to download a free quick checklist-cheat-sheet here at:

Over the next few months, you'll be embarking on the life lessons of being resourceful in two ways: Using the power of leverage to connect with people and find a win:win:win to share resources to collaboratively make impact, and secondly begin to identify and let go many of the nice-to-have's that maintained your lifestyle in your previous work situation. My go-to things I eliminated for example were: cable TV, drinking/alcohol, fancy instaglam dining, social events not aligned to my purpose, and non-essential material needs like the latest gadgets.

Within this period, it's a good time to search and connect with an organization aligned to your purpose, values and passion or you can walk the path of entrepreneurship and develop a purposeful organization and business to provide impact to the community you can reach.

2. Social Impact is about changing people.

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." - Proverb

We've been taught that making impact is about results right? While it's logical and easy to assume that it is true, many of us may start from a place of righteousness. My way is right, and my goal is to make the things that are wrong into rights. Isn't that by definition breaking the status-quo? The non-obvious reality I learned is spending half, if not more, of time and resources focused on defending and clarifying your own system, approach, product or service, and educating people to get ready for change. The reality is: they may not want to change and continuing to actively mass-socialize it, in my opinion, is more of a personal EGO boost then being compassionate and empathetic to help those who want to change now.


To expand on the proverb, what I've learned is to focus your efforts to find those thirsty horses and lead them to the water. In other words, connect with people who share similar values, and translate their needs clearly onto the impact of the service and experience you can create. Satisfying these needs could mean solving their problems in a more meaningful (example: faster, easier, less costly, etc.) way or helping people remove the blocks preventing them from moving forward. Social Impact is about facilitating the change for a person to do it successfully themselves.


3. Your Higher Calling Supersedes Everything Else...


By far, getting to purpose and life calling is a life changer. It's the simple difference between being a zombie in life, and living out your full greatness inspiring others along the way. The conviction and burning desire is powerful.


Your higher calling is a strong life force and internal compass, and while it might be inspirational to the tribe you relate with, it is not universal to all. I learned this the hard way when starting out... equipped with a clear and burning audacious focus, not everyone felt the same. Consider your higher calling as your personal and deep "status-quo", and a flavor you add in your life and the lives around you.


As you're navigating different groups, communities, and leaders to align to your place for shared impact making, be cognizant of those that don't resonate with you. If your Ego is not in check, it's easy to fall into a savior complex or victim to unnecessary drama that drains you and those around you.

  • Practical Tip: Maintain your mental state and position from a place of empowerment: be a coach and creator, and enable and equip those around you as best you can for lasting positive change

4. Being unaware we all have unique world-views and belief systems


It's easy to forget that everyone is a unique human being. We may share similar beliefs, traditions, and norms, but ultimately how we filter information gets processed through own nervous system. We all like and dislike different things. For example, if you were to ask 10 people in a room to describe the word "peace" with 5 words, it would be statistically rare for 2 people to share the same five words. Now imagine expanding this out to nations... no wonder it's not easy to agree on something like world peace!


As a function of a change maker, we shift people's beliefs and ultimately the new behaviours and impact that we wish to experience around us. Naturally each of us will be inclined to defend our own world-views when we feel threatened. When this happens, conflict happens and is a cause for much anxiety, frustration and grief.


As a change-maker, being sensitive means to create an environment where we can enable others to adopt your world-view through their own lens. As each person figures it out themselves internally, they will create change. Lead and pace that change.

  • Practical Tip: Minimize the use of the words: "I know" or "I understand" or "I get it" as unconsciously we all know that's not possible (unless we're telepathic). Instead, try using "I acknowledge", "I appreciate" and "I respect" then follow by your point of view to gain a sense of agreement.

5. Leadership and making social impact as a lonely place


It is not out of the ordinary that as change agents, we feel alone. If everything was working for you, you wouldn't want to propose change right? Most of the time, change-agents who are looking out for the greater good have a broader vision for a better organization, community or world.


While you may have those additional insights, knowledge and information to shift your own thinking and behaviour, when you wish to achieve that for the greater whole, it requires support and a collective shift. By nature, change makers, agents and leaders require leadership to make successful change.


When a change agent makes the decision to lead by example and at times go renegade and commando for their mission, it's not unheard of to fall into burn out and depression.

I remember when I began to feel the feelings of spite, bitterness, anger, rejections and even hate... while those emotions still gave me a drive to move forward, I moved far away from being inspirational. In fact, it started to affect the way people perceived who I was and my trustworthiness as a leader. I wanted to give up on my purpose and give into a world that I didn't believe in, and that ultimately led to a momentary lapse of depression.

  • Practical tip: Find a mentor who has what you want, and has been where you are. They can give you guidance, encouragement and repeatable steps to cheer you onto success
  • Practical tip: Create or join a mastermind and round tables that have shared values. As a group, everyone can share their experiences, ups and downs and keep each other accountable for each person's success

6. Mistaking sympathy for empathy and compassion

Let's be fair, making the journey to develop your ability to deeply connect is a milestone on its own. While it may be rare for a change maker to have an apathetic attitude; "I don't care", many of us start off learning how to feel the feelings inside ourselves through sympathy.

I relate to sympathy as connecting on the feelings and beliefs around a "victim", and in the most part then subscribing to the beliefs and feelings onto yourself as your motivation to drive change. By it's very nature, you create a "right" and "wrong", hard set on rules and the project them to develop collective momentum that feeds the drama and the "fight".

As a result, it might feel like a desperate fight that signals anxiety, pain, fear, frustration, anger with hints of courage and love. It's a lifestyle that is draining, tiring and exhausting.

  • Practical Tip: Do you feel the feeling or right and wrong? Whether its at the individual level, or the collective (we're right, they are wrong) level, start by uncovering and developing your intelligence around forgiveness practices. Ashoka, a leader in the change making space, has some great free resources around their campaign for empathy that can be found here.

Change makers that progress onto empathy learn much from their similar cousin of sympathy; the ability to connect, actively listen, be present, identify and acknowledge the emotions and pain.

Where I find the natural goal and tendency for empathy is to lead, coach and enable the "victim" to break out of the drama; change their beliefs and behaviors that keep them trapped, and nurturing enough resources for people to breakthrough and sustain themselves. It's a do-with process. For the change maker, it means operating from a place of kind, sincere and warm observation and gently guiding and uplifting those asking for change.

This approach frees up much more emotional resources for the change-maker to focus on their purpose and operate from a place of love and passion. A master of empathy can truly appreciate compassion, being centered from a place of no right or wrong, a practitioner of forgiveness, and unconditionally loving to hold the mental, emotional and physical space and environment required for change.

7. Compromise

While compromise might create a short term agreement that is occasionally justified, it is a silent killer that silences the deepest needs for each party. Walking into a habit of compromise also promotes behaviors such keeping secrets, back channel maneuvering, cunning, conspiracy, embellishing needs and manipulation to minimize losses. It steers people into protecting self-interests, and is the farthest to getting to the truth, creating deep alignment and building foundation-centered changes to operate towards a new desired future.

As change agents and leaders, compromise impacts our ability to create lasting, purposeful and deep change. If it spirals out and turns into a basis of decision making, it creates a tax on your energy and increases division and separation within a system.

In my experience with change making, different communities, leaders and stakeholders all have their own agendas, and at its deepest root of it, needs that usually isn't clearly stated.

  • Practical tip: Use storytelling and sharing narratives to explore emotional drivers and help to uncover deeper intentions. Building a shared dream (i.e. a new common belief system) together becomes easier once a group identifies its shared values.

It doesn't also mean that decision making needs to be always a consensus. Operating out of shared values, purpose and trust, change leadership becomes smoother as everyone is working towards a common goal.

The key winning factor in change is trust. As a leader, if you can inspire trust and transparency and make deeper purposeful connections, an alternative to making compromises is mutually figuring out a win:win:win. It is a creative decision making process.

#KeepthePassionAlive #UnleashYourPotential

P.S. And as always, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and share your thoughts and feedback! I am always happy to meet talented people from around the world. If you find that I have overlooked an issue of importance to you, or that you want to share some of your experiences, I welcome your feedback.

P.P.S. I like the idea of sharing knowledge, therefore, please share this post with your network.

A little about me... Hi! I'm Duncan So, the Founder & Chief Catalyst of Phinklife, a Systems Change Agency, and the Head of Global Education at the Phinklife Institute for Social Impact empowering leaders for social impact.

Are you considering to heed that call to adventure and make profound and transformative impact, feel free to start here