Creating Change By Changing Yourself


By Trevor Neilson

I have been working for about 20 years to try to make the world better in whatever way I can.

In government, in philanthropy, in business and as the executive of a non-profit I have attempted to do what I could to try to improve health, increase education, reduce conflict, protect the environment and Aeschylus said, "to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world." I have had some successes, plenty of failures, and many experiences that were a little of both.

As we begin a new year, and I take stock on where I have succeeded and where I have failed, I have arrived at a conclusion that may seem obvious but to me has been profound.

We can't change the world if we don't change ourselves.

What does this mean?

The battle for change is hard, no matter where it is fought. Most people assume it can't occur, and many others try to actively stop it.

When I worked on global immunization, countless people said it was logistically impossible to provide them to the worlds poorest children.

Ten years later, hanks to tireless work of public health workers, more than 100 million children are immunized each year saving 2.5 million lives.

When I worked on the global AIDS crisis over forty million people were infected and almost everyone assumed that drugs could not reach the poorest people in the world.

By 2010, more than six million people in developing countries were receiving antiretroviral treatment.

When I worked in education, many people assumed that the charter school movement would be a disaster. For a time I even opposed them. No we know that well run charters produce much better results for students--raising test scores andreducing dropout rates.

I have seen the same in business. Our greatest entrepreneurs are torn to pieces by the establishment--often those they threaten--when they first share their ideas for change.

Steve Jobs put it this way:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

What I have learned from these experiences, and from the words of those far wiser than me, is that the most important change one can create is in their own mind.

If we can teach our minds to be calm, to be quiet, to operate from a place of strength instead of fear, and to see risk as a part of the constant change of life we can do incredible things.

For me, the first step in this is being still, being quiet, and removing the constant bombardment of noise that our culture provides. Much of this noise says "no." By looking within we can find "yes."

It's hard. I'm still learning. But 20 years of this work has convinced be that it is the only way for us to be equipped to create lasting and continual change.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post