There Is No Try: My Mini-Revolution When I Stopped Trying to Change the World

Any post that combines a reference to Star Wars with a reference to the Beatles is probably trying too hard, which is ironic since my goal is to write about refocusing my sights more realistically. A friend shared an article on Facebook the other day about a Yale graduate who has found success on a children’s television show. I will not link the article here, because it is not particularly germane, but something that he said stuck with me. He said that he nearly declined the role because, though unemployed, as a classically trained Shakespearean actor, and a Yale graduate no less, it seemed insufficiently serious. Rightly or not, this got me to thinking about my own life, and how I am finding new opportunities for change by looking a little smaller.

As a teenager, I wanted to save the world. I remember going to Rabbi Jim Ponet, the Howard M Holtzman Jewish Chaplain at Yale, to ask about the likelihood of raising $2 million from wealthy Jewish alumni to meet my disability costs over a lifetime of public good. I was 17. Jim, God bless him, did not laugh outright, but did suggest to me that I probably needed a few more accomplishments before I could go to someone asking for that kind of investment. I went to law school, still looking for the role where I could change everything.

I got out of law school and found that there was no job where I could have the impact that I wanted and meet all of my financial needs. Nearly 10 years and one largely uneventful presidential appointment later, I found myself at another time of transition. Again, I began looking for the big job. I would be a nonprofit professional, or maybe start a disability consultancy to take advantage of my corporate expertise, and/or my policy expertise, in playing in including people with disabilities, while helping businesses to capture and corner the market. If those options did not work, then I was just going to search for private in-house roles. My focus was so big and so grandiose that it only really left room for all or nothing.

Nonprofit jobs were not really forthcoming, and neither for that matter was an in-house role. I found myself looking for freelance work, mostly to pay the bills. I found some, working with some wonderful nonprofits here in Boston. The income only meets a portion of my needs, but it is something. More importantly, in the few months that I have been freelancing, I have been able to contribute to 2 major advocacy pieces dealing with significant issues facing people with disabilities, I am taking the lead on a series of important recommendations on another policy issue, and I have been asked to begin to think about the structure for a program that could materially impact the lives of a disadvantaged population here in Boston. (Pardon the vagueness, none of these projects are actually public yet). None of them pay a fraction of what I am accustomed, or operate on the scope of my flights of fancy, but each will make a meaningful difference.

It is kind of amazing. Because I could not find the big opportunity, I am now faced with the opportunity to make more small, impactful contributions than ever before. I am still looking for in-house work because those bills need to be paid. I have started this blog because I realized that I could be incremental, rather than wait till I had a book to share with people. I have at least blocked out a concept website for my consulting practice,, and I am ready if anyone wants to refer my first client. And, right now, and potentially even were I to take an in-house role, I am doing things that can make a difference.

Once I stopped looking for the grand opportunity consistent with the grandiose image that that 17-year-old apparently never quite left behind, and started taking the opportunities in front of my face, the myriad of little opportunities presented. And, who knows, maybe they will lead to the next one, and the one after that, until, once I have truly stopped looking or trying for it, I find my Revolution.

Does this resonate? I am certain that if you are the kind of person that reads my blog, then there is something about which you are passionate. I am also certain that you have heard all of the clichés about journeys and steps. No doubt you think yourself a grounded incrementalist, even as I did. And yet, how incremental are you? I challenge you to not pass up an opportunity to make a difference because you think it beneath you or too small. Rather, take it and be amazed at the sudden opportunity to make a difference. It took financial necessity to truly teach me this lesson, but maybe you can be a little smarter than me.

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