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How to truly make an impact – life lessons from someone who fought famine on the frontlines of wars

In 2014, I found myself working for the largest humanitarian organization fighting famine in South Sudan. The civil war had broken out and millions of South Sudanese became displaced into the bush or into the United Nations Peacekeeping Missions compound. We were dropped with a helicopter in the middle of nowhere with our camping equipment […]

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In 2014, I found myself working for the largest humanitarian organization fighting famine in South Sudan. The civil war had broken out and millions of South Sudanese became displaced into the bush or into the United Nations Peacekeeping Missions compound. We were dropped with a helicopter in the middle of nowhere with our camping equipment with a bush toilet and shower built out of plastic sheets and pallets to provide food assistance. Since then, I never wanted to camp again but also, it was the most rewarding experience ever. I felt I truly made an impact in people’s lives, saving millions of South Sudan who were on the brink of starvation. These people fled their burned down villages to find themselves in the bush, living on water lilies and whatever they found to eat. Exposed to diseases, and weakened, many died along the way and never made it to a food distribution. So know you think, why is this lady talking about impact? She signed up for a job that is all about impact. You basically work for an organization that is purpose driven. Yet, in 2019 at the peak of my career I questioned if we make any impact at all, if our assistance is just a drop in the ocean against the rising poverty rates in the world. I became disillusioned and disengaged with my work. After a decade of working on the frontlines of war, which meant being far away from home and what is familiar to you, working often 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, I was exhausted and tired. I did not realize that I wasn’t going after my purpose to make an impact. This is something I want to impress on you: if you are after making an impact and to live a purposeful, fulfilling life, the key is not to work for someone or something that makes an impact, because this is where I got it all wrong even though working in the humanitarian sector cannot get more purposeful. Here is the lesson and pathway that I found, which brings me back to Ghandi and Mandela. You have to become what you desire. On that February day in 1990, when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, his answer was love rather than resentment: No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or religion. They must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love for love comes more naturally to the human heart than the opposite. In “Mandela The Authorized Biography” by Anthony Sampson, he writes of Mandela’s advice, “at least, if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you.

Your focus needs to be inward, on yourself. If you want to bring peace, you have to be peace. If you want to lead others, you have to lead your own life first. Sounds unconventional but think about. How can you ask your colleagues to collaborate more if you don’t embody this trait? It doesn’t work. If you want to live healthy and you make someone else responsible for cooking you healthy food, it will only get you so far. Going after job titles, positions or organisations you dream about working for doesn’t create real impact. Impact means changing people’s lives through love, compassion, and tolerance. Are you ready to create impact? Did you work on yourself to remove your inner resistance and barriers to become the tolerant, compassionate and loving self that you are? This is when you can truly make an impact – be that in my own work in the humanitarian sector or when you chose to work for Google.

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