I Want to Make a Difference, Too

How This Post Came To Be

A young man named Jesse asked to be a contributor, I read his post and I thought about it. It’s one young, newlywed blogger with cystic fibrosis talking about his life. The post he sent wasn’t the usual contributor post. It was more like a Sunday night Bloggy Question, except it wasn’t hypothetical.

We talked on the telephone about why he wrote it. Jesse said he hoped he might get feedback. He assured me that he was open to honest, even negative responses. He wants to know what people really think. I told him that he might not get any feedback at all. Jesse said he was ready for that too.

If he was brave enough to put himself forward like that, I am brave enough to support that. –Liz

I Want to Make a Difference, Too

Guest Writer: Jesse Petersen

I am at a point in my journey in life where things are finally settling down. Life is what the average American would call “good.” To me, though it is great. What is it that lead me to pen this article for this audience? It’s time to get to the meat and potatoes of my heart today:

I want to make a difference.

A major contributor to my state of mind is a general feeling of easy distraction/unhappiness. Mind you, I am a newlywed. I am VERY happy. Things have never, ever been this good. My health is increasing for the first time in my life, instead of the other way; I am secure; I have the support of my best friend when I come home every night; and things at work are going really good.

So why, the heck am I unhappy?! It is not even unhappiness. It is a distracted unfulfilled potential. I am not in the position I want because I have not jumped through the hoops yet. I don’t know, but my boss is trying to get me there.

I want to make a difference.

That sentence is a paragraph in and of itself, and deserving of a second appearance. It speaks volumes about a central yearning of the heart. Is it selfish to want to make a difference? I am not saying that I want to become rich, or famous, or busy. I am just a 28 year old guy with cystic fibrosis, a wife, a very nice apartment in a very nice development, with a wonderful family and a supportive chuch family who wants to make a difference.

Is it hopeless to think that I possess something that other people would want?

The world is full of success stories. Many of those stories belong to Liz’s readers, and I would venture a guess that quite a few people are reading this because they want to hear what successful people did to attain the status of “successful.”

What is my idea or what knowledge do I have or need to get in order to make a difference? Is there a roadmap to finding your influence, or does it smack you in the face one day? Is it just a Holy Grail, never to be found? When I find it, will it make a difference in me?

Jesse Petersen writes at Gitr’s WoW Blog

Thank you, Jesse, for saying that.
–ME “Liz” Strauss


  1. says

    Jesse, “making a difference” is a nice concept, but a little too broad, a little too vague.

    This is why you feel unsatisfied. You have to think on how/where you want to “make a difference”. In fact, you have to consider what that phrase means to you, personally. How do you define “making a difference”?

    Never mind how anyone else would define it. This is a personal choice, and you have to come up with it yourself.

    In brief, you need some focus. And yeah, that does mean some hard thinking on your part. But if you put in the effort, you’ll get results.

  2. says


    Thanks for that insight. More thinking…more distraction. I suppose I’ll be distracted until I know what “a difference” is instead of when I make a difference. Is that what you’re getting at?

    I can see how once I know what that definition is, I can take steps toward that goal in a more focused manner.

  3. says

    I highly recommend Curt Rosengren at http://curtrosengren.typepad.com/occupationaladventure. Although there’s a ton of good stuff on the blog, as a present to yourself, buy a copy of his ebook “The Occupational Adventure Guide”. His writing style is highly readable, and he has lots of stuff that will help you find the focus that Scorpia suggested you need (I agree).

    Needing to “make a difference” is part of human programming, and you find comment on it everywhere from the New Testament to Deepak Chopra to Oprah to Warren Buffet. There’s a need in all of us to, borrowing a phrase from a friend, leave our corner of the world in better shape than we found it when we arrived. ABC News is profiling their People of the Year (http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=2752663&page=1), and I like Kayla Brown’s comment that you can’t fix the world but you can fix what you can with what you have.

    You need to figure out what kinds of things you’d like to help fix. Figure out what you *can* help fix. Figure out what you have that you can use to do the fixing.

    Trawl through the Volunteer Match Web site to see what’s out there. You may find some ideas or even starting points.

    Trawl through the Squidoo community (www.squidoo.com, another Seth Godin brainchild) and see what people are doing for their causes. There’s lots of pages dedicated to non-profits, social movements, causes, health conditions, and so forth. You might find inspiration in seeing what other people are doing as part of their efforts to “make a difference”.

    Check out Motto (formerly Worthwhile magazine) at http://www.whatsyourmotto.com/. Lots of inspiring stuff in the back issues and on their blog.

    Read Liz at http://lettingmebe.blogspot.com/2006/01/genius-that-is-you.html.

    Don’t underestimate what you bring to the table. You have unique experiences that you can share with others who have CF. You likely have skills that others need to learn (such as training for people trying to escape homelessness and get back on their feet). You likely have skills you can donate to a non-profit that really needs them. You have stuff to offer — you just need to find your focus.

  4. says

    Jesse, I struggle with a bit of that myself. I usually ask the question in terms of what do I want to be when I grow up (and I’m nearly 40).

    My suggestion is to start where you are and do what you can.

    I’m reminded of the story of the grandfather walking the beach where thousands of starfish had been stranded by the tide. As he walked along he would reach down grab a starfish and toss it back into the sea.

    His grandson asked him why he bothered. With all those stranded starfish there was no way he could really make a difference.

    As he held up the next starfish the grandfather responded, “To this one starfish I can make all the difference in the world.”

  5. says

    Jessie, you are really on the right track since you have motivation and some great support and you are already working on Scorpia’s suggestion.

    How do you see that difference taking place? Visualize how it will affect others in your workplace. What is it that you really want to see happen? You already have the motivation and when you make the move to target or set precise goals, you create that vision. Part of making a difference is doing. And by developing a vision that stretches you beyond what you think you can currently accomplish, you’ll be on your way.

    I’d like to share inspiration from my own story, Jessie. I was at a standstill as far as my ability to make a difference to top level leaders in university, medical and business arenas because I lacked a higher degree. At this point, Dr. Ellen Weber, of Brain Based Business encouraged me to go back and get a PhD. My immediate reaction was that I did not have the “smarts” for that. But I was the one putting the barrier there because I had a myth in my head. And, like many others in school, I was judging myself by a very narrow definition of what it means to be intelligent. With Ellen’s encouragement and great persistence, I completed that degree by completing all coursework and requirements, a major university in the Northeast in 2004, though I had to knock down many barriers along the way.

    So, Jessie, at the same time you think of a way to make a difference, you also need to consider the barriers you will need to “bust” in order to do it.

    I suggest you next ask hard questions about how you see yourself making a difference, set a plan to get there and develop strategies to bust any barriers that might prevent it. And keep daily targets to make it a reality.

  6. says

    Hi Jesse – One of the best places to start – IMHO – is Dick Richards “Is Your Genius At Work?” His concepts and exercises to identify your unique genius sets a starting point for your roadmap. It was invaluable to me, and I regularly recommend it to clients. He blogs and has more info at ongenius.com.

  7. says


    We all struggle with this question, I think, every day of our lives.

    For me it makes sense to start from an understanding of your unique talents. It’s from that base that you will be most able to contribute to the world. To that end, I often recommend “Now discover your strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton (sometimes called the father of strengths psychology). Based on extensive research the book leads you to an understanding of 34 talents and, with the help of an online assessment, your unique combination of five core talents. I suggest reading the first three chapters, and then taking the free assessment.

    Once you know what your core talents are, then start asking your network for ideas about how you might apply those talents to help the world.

    Scorpia is right – once you have a more focused idea of how you can help, folks will be full of ideas.


  8. says

    Wow, all. That is a lot of good stuff. I will definitely check out those books and websites. I have a lot of respect for Seth Godin’s work, too. Kent, I have sat down to read that Buckingham book at Barnes and Noble several times. I think I’m on page 60. :) I have also been reading “Overachievement” by John Eliot. Any remarks on his book?

  9. says

    He is a researcher of cognitive neuroscience and a coach for real-world professionals (athletes, doctors, businesspeople, etc.) on how to get in the Zone. He reasons and has seen evidence that one performs best when something is automatic, practiced. If you are thinking about how to do something, you are not doing it as efficiently as possible.

    For example, a race car driver just led 180/200 laps, and you ask him in the winner’s circle “What was going through your mind?” The answer is usually something that is loosely translated as “Nothing.”

    If you are studying to pass the bar exam, only so much studying will help. After that, you will get caught up in minutia (sp?).

    He also spends a good amount of time dealing with the difference between “cocky” and “confident.” That is something that gets me in trouble a lot at the office. I am so overconfident of my abilities in Microsoft Office products (I’m a certified Microsoft Office Specialist Master) that I come across as better than everyone and able to walk on water.

    I have several personality traits like that, and they cause friction between other people. I left a lot of that out, which I had in a previous draft of my article. It was left out because it does not have much to do with making a difference. That would be a good article called, “I hate people.” LOL.

  10. says


    Interesting – I’ll need to get Eliot’s book. Thanks for the details.

    Sounds about right – when you are doing something that is natural and practiced for you, you will do it well. Similar to what I was writing about.

    Another interesting one I just read – one that might give you clues about how to get through your day without being cocky – is “The Owner’s Manual for Personality at Work” by Howard and Howard. It’s based on the Workplace Big-Five assessment, which is apparently grounded in about 70 years of research. I found it clarifying.


  11. says

    Jessie, about 14 years ago I was sitting at my desk in a job I hated, bored to tears and feeling like I was just wasting my time. I got to the point where I picked up a pen and a pad and started writing about what I really wanted to do in life (there weren’t any blogs then!). I wrote “I want to make a difference!”, and then described how – as a leader or manager. I ended up using that “manifesto” in many ways, both in the written and spoken words as I found a way to get out of that bad job and into a good one. Today, I am making a difference, and I know that day and that note played a large part in that. Today Jessie, you just wrote YOUR manifesto – use it as a first step, and keep at it like I did, and you will make a difference. You just took the first step – well done! All the best.

  12. says

    The others have given you some great feedback, Jesse.

    From another point of view, just by being here and being you, you make a difference. People have the impression that to make a ‘difference’, they have to do something great or unique, but that isn’t true. Look at the grandfather in Chris’ comment. He saw what needed to be done, and he did it. He didn’t have an illusion that he was changing the world, but he did know that his actions made a difference for the one starfish he was encountering at the time.

    In the same way, just by doing what you do to the best of your ability you make a difference. I have two quotes on my site that make a difference to me. The first is from Ellen Goodman.

    I have never been impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.

    The second is from Gandhi

    Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

    Life doesn’t demand that we do great things, just that we do what see as needing done as best we can. I know people with cystic fibrosis don’t tend to have long life spans, and this is may be part of what you are looking at, but it doesn’t really change things. Each of us could die the next time we try to cross the street. Right now you make a difference in the life of your wife. You make a difference in the lives of each person you work with, and each person you have a word with.

    At 28 you have built a life. The fact that you ask the question of yourself of how you can make a difference shows that you aren’t totally happy with the life you have built. As others said, you have to look inside yourself to find out what interests you. Explore. Go back to school and take classes that have nothing to do with what you do now, as long as they look interesting.

    Whatever you find, will have to be done from the context of where you are now. Start there, and whatever you do, do it the best way you know how. You will make a difference.

  13. says

    >That is something that gets me in trouble a lot at the office. I am so overconfident of my abilities in Microsoft Office products (I’m a certified Microsoft Office Specialist Master) that I come across as better than everyone and able to walk on water.

    Suggestion from someone a little younger (and who tends to be really good at fixing things): Downplay that as much as possible. No, really, you don’t have to tell people how good you are, and when you don’t, they’ll do all that work for you. “It’s nothing” is an invaluable phrase. Lots of people are smarter than all of us.

  14. says

    Rick, your comment struck a chord within me:
    At 28 you have built a life. The fact that you ask the question of yourself of how you can make a difference shows that you aren’t totally happy with the life you have built. As others said, you have to look inside yourself to find out what interests you.

    I’m not entirely sure about that comment…but it gave me pause, much in the same way my counselor gives me pause with a probing, yet seemingly benign question.

    I am very happy. I have the ability to find joy in many things. However, I am very disappointed in what I have done with my talents and gifts so far. I had a full-ride scholarship in the Honors program at USF, and I have yet to get over that. I finally got my A.A. at community college, but that failure still scars me today. Shall I start there?

  15. says

    Hi Jesse.

    I think you’ve already made a difference on this forum :-). Aside from that, if you look around, you’ll find so many things that allow you to “make a difference.” Even if you plant a sapling (believe me, not many people do it) you are giving a new plant to this world. Give your wife all the love you can. Make her life beautiful and you’ll attain your objective.

    My IP address has some issues with Akismet so I’m not sure if this comment will appear, but I want to write all the same.

  16. says

    Jesse – I would think that making a difference is forward-looking not backward looking. Learn from what you feel you could have done better – but don’t stay back there. Mistakes are the mother of learning – IMHO learning is the parent of growth and sharing what you’ve learned is the way to start making a difference! (sharing in a way that acknowledges we are all still learning as well – never lording it over someone else).

    The fact that you care is good – but contemplating and reading and reflecting are only part of the equation. I’d advise you to get out there and do what feels right. Contribute where and how you can and take it from there!

    Good luck!

  17. says

    Jesse, you make me realize we all suffer from that same thing. We won’t let ourselves be satisfied with the good we’ve already created and we keep looking for something better to create. All of us need to slow down sometimes and realize that, by being, we make a difference. Probably the most difficult thing we’ll ever have to do is appreciate ourselves for the blessed beings we are. You do make a difference, Jesse. Take a step back so you can see it.

  18. says

    The universe is a big one and there is plenty of room for each one of us. It can be intimidating, but as Scorpia says look for your focus. You might follow that focus to do a little of what Whitney suggests, finding a bit of the world to fix; or as Chris said, “start where you are and do what you can.

    Robyn’s shining proof of why we shouldn’t let our negative messages hold us back. Tony and Kent are letting you know that it’s there inside you waiting for you to tap into it. Starbucker said he just took the ball and ran with it.

    Rick reminds us all that a difference doesn’t have to be big; we can just start by doing what we do well. Candice shares the wisdom of letting folks underestimate our skills just a little bit, so they have room to work.

    Amrit says that we should remember to love the people and things around us. Ann says to keep looking forward to grow and get out there to do what feels right.

    Carolyn brings up a telling human weakness that we all forget to take value in the good we’ve already done and to know that we’ve already made a difference.

    She’s right. They’re all right.

    Look at the knowledge and wisdom that you’ve gathered together just by writing one post.

    That’s something special.

    Thank you, Jesse. You have made a difference.

  19. says

    Picking up on Carolyn’s observation in Response 21 (above) check out the Occupational Adventure blog, where Curt is posting Year in Review questions this week.

    The questions so far persuade us to:

    –list what went right
    –list what went wrong
    –list what we accomplished this year

    For anyone struggling with respecting their contributions this year, these questions might cause them to view themselves in a better light.

  20. says

    Thank you all for your wonderful contributions to my post. You gave great insights and experiences that I am certain are going to put me on a quicker path to a resolution than had I kept to myself.

    This is a terrific testament to the power of collaboration.

  21. says

    This post connects so very much to an email discussion I recently had with a friend as a result of one of my blogposts. That discussion and the emails we exchanged will probably turn into a post on my blog soon (I am still not done thinking about the topic). Too much to explain in brief, but the short version is, that this post and the discussion in the comments added to my ideas (and to the blogpost-to-be). Thank you, Jesse, for having the courage to show this side of yourself. And thank you, Liz, for deciding to put Jesse’s post up.

  22. says

    I made a difference this weekend. It was simple. It was rewarding. I made someone feel special.

    I curled my wife’s hair for her best friend’s wedding.

    Not really a guy thing, and certainly nothing I had ever done before, but it was incredible! If it wasn’t a wedding with all the oohs and ahhs for the bride and her dress, my wife was the star of the event. I did her hair, and she was drop-dead gorgeous with it pulled back in curls.

    So, to Amrit for saying:
    Give your wife all the love you can. Make her life beautiful and you’ll attain your objective.

    You were right. :)

  23. says

    LOL. My mother-in-law said that I will probably have the girls from church lining up at our door around prom time for me to do THEIR hair! Something about “untapped hidden talent.” Who knew? *grin*

  24. says

    I bet if Jesse does, he’ll let us all know. Of course what works for him will be his way. We need need to find our own. I’m still doing mine bit by bit. :)

  25. says

    Hi Jesse.

    That was a wonderful thing to do. I think you already had the idea inside you; I may be, just reminded you. And now I’m going to be jealous if pretty women are going to mob you to get their hair curled ;-).

  26. says

    I found this very interesting statement on Seth’s Blog today:

    If you are tired of hammering your head against the wall, if it feels like you never are good enough, or that you’re working way too hard, it doesn’t mean you’re a loser. It means you’ve got the wrong strategy.

    It takes real guts to abandon a strategy, especially if you’ve gotten super good at the tactics. That’s precisely the reason that switching strategies is often such a good idea.

    My counselor and I tapped on this last night as I discussed my amazing experience here and how that ties into my feelings of making a difference or being a success.

    One of the things he was interested in was why I am a jack of all trades and a master of just a couple. The best that I could figure was that I try things until I gauge whether or not I will be successful doing that thing.

    I can do all kinds of things, but finding the need is where I am “banging my head against the wall.”

    Our other topics included my ideas of money and the life that I have built, since that was also mentioned in some feedback.

    We analyzed my view of the life I have built as being this small box. It is nice, and contains everything I need, however, my idea of my abilities and my gifts has created a picture of a much more grand box made of the same stuff. I don’t want ANOTHER box, just to be all I can be.

    I have been basing my idea of success on my perception of my box. After talking for an hour, he is of the firm opinion that it is not selfishness nor greediness, but is a longing that I have to run at full-tilt and see how big of a hole I can punch in the wall of life.

    I have a longing to be great at something, and will therefore (because of my beliefs) make a difference, which may very well be measured in my mind far differently than most of the rest of the world.

    I still need to get my mind around what making a difference means to me. It looks like I am being led along by some very competant and experienced fellow humans who are all in this race with me.

    I thank you and will keep coming back for more updates, unless we end up making this a series. :) JK, Liz, you have done a lot already. /bow /applause

  27. James Bernhardt says

    I want to make a difference in others lives also. I have a well defined plan to do this also. My problem is finding someone who can help me get started.

  28. says

    Hey Liz,

    Success is coming around the corner, at least at work. My time and hard work and intentional dovotion to process improvement is finally going to show its results.

    I developed a database for the Company last March/April and it has slowly gotten bigger and more functional to the point now, where it exports into HTML and e-mails reports to PMs, etc.

    The directors, VP, President, etc. were all given a bit of a teaser about it at the monthly meeting 2 weeks ago. Tracking and deadlines have become a problem in the organization, and we have a tool in our department that can track documents for everyone from inception to delivery. Fortunately, it was my idea, my creation, and I am the administrator. Best of all, they are happy to leave it that way.

    At the end of the month, my department’s director wants me to present the database to the entire PM staff and the rest of the directors AND put me in charge of designing and maintaining our department’s SharePoint site. Fiscal year ends 2 days later. I wonder who will be fresh on their minds…

    I’m numb. Success? I’m not sure, but I sure feel like a hero today.

  29. says

    That is the best news. Put your passion to work and you will make a difference. You just proved it in spaces. Not because of what they may say or do next, but because of the feeling that led you to write that comment right above this one.

    You made a difference.

  30. Monica Cloud says

    We all make difference just by being here. Wanting to make a difference is the next step and just by wanting, we’ve already made it. But what we really want is to see a change in the world around us. Don’t give up just because you are one. One has done much/many things! It’s only those that didn’t need validation and just did what was right that really continue to make a differnce. You are loved.
    Monica Cloud

  31. April says

    Hi Jesse

    I want to thank you for your blog. I think all people get to the point where they have a yearning “NEED” to fill a void in their being. Over the last few years i hear this more and more, at church, at work – “I WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE”. I got this feeling 5 years ago, and even though i do charity runs every year, i help on the welcome team,im on the church that works (personnel & development/strategy team)and help with the youth group – i still ask myself – How can i make a difference? I posted a question recently on Facebook – How do you know when you are truly happy??? and there are lots of people out, who want to know the same question.

    I have read all the posts above and have learned a lot too – so THANK YOU SO MUCH Jesse you have made a difference to me! Have a blessed day!

  32. April says

    I just want to let you know that i have sent the link to a number of friends and one replied with the following:-

    Just read it.

    Just so that you know, you make a difference, just by being you, there is no special formula or methodology, its whats inside you, its whats in your heart, its what you do for others by just being there. Making a difference can cover everything in life or it can be just the normal every day things, you are a kind, loving and very caring person. Sit down and think of those that know you! then think about those same people if they had never met you! then you will know how you have made a difference to somone. Think of the film “its a wonderful Life” put your feet in James Stuarts shoes. You will then know what a difference you have made.


    Thank you x

  33. April says

    Thank you so much ME Strauss x

    I hope that i do and have done…. I dont think that i will ever stop trying to make a difference, and i know each little step adds to the next, but i cant help feeling that there is something more that i feel called to do – i am not quite sure what that is yet, but i am sure that it will become clear the more i pursue to challenge myself.

    I do love the job that i do as a Training Manager, as i have a true passion for people and love to give and help people, and have loads of fun too!!

    Fun and laughter is the greatest medicine that anyone could ever take.

    A friend asked me last week, what do i see myself doing in 5 years time… and for the first time in my whole career, i couldnt answer that question…??? and i think the reason is because i know there is something else pulling me but not sure what to…

    Can you shed any light on these thoughts?

  34. says

    Hi April,
    Sure I shed some light, but you can shed more. You know. You know you know . . . don’t you?

    We all know in our hearts what we’re meant to do. Sometimes we hide from ourselves.

  35. Samantha says

    I want to make a difference in the world. I don’t want people to suffer; there is no need for it. God put everything on the Earth and people were put here to take care of it. So we should all love one another and not fight. All you hear about on the news war, fighting and problems. Is that how you want to remember your time on Earth? Every human has a limited amount of time on this planet and I for one am not going to waste it by bickering and watching everything collapse. I think all the leaders of every country should come together start a clean slate and there ould be nothing but peace and love in the world. This doesn’t just have to be a fairytale – it can be a reality. I’m not a hippie, but I’m not a bitter person who wil sit back and watch the suffering. Please think about what I have said.

  36. Samantha says

    I think April has got a good idea. I undersand were she is coming from and I love her sense of justice

  37. says

    Hi Samantha!
    Every human does have only a limited time to make a difference, and we’re all here to do just that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could move others to see their purpose, but we’re only in charge of our own.

    We can make our little differences, and they’ll all add up.

  38. says

    We all play an important role in each others lives. What you say and what you do, you’ll have to live with every day. Because of this, it is important to DO the right things in life… MissionPanama.com

  39. shenhaizhilong says

    it is important to DO the right things in life,no mater what i chose i think it’s right !i like to make friends no mater who it is !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *