In this episode, we’re talking about impact.

Do you feel like nothing you’re doing matters? What if it doesn’t?

Without power, nothing you do matters.

Episode Transcript:

And welcome back to our ongoing leadership series. I’m your host, Illana Burk. I’m really delighted that you’re here with me today. And in continuing our conversation about power from the past two episodes, today, we’re talking about impact.

When you’re trying to make a positive impact, it can be very frustrating to feel like nothing you’re doing matters. It’s the thing that generally stops people from doing impact-driven, social justice type work, because it feels like a drop in the ocean. And you know what, here’s the really uncomfortable truth. It probably is.

Now we all like a cheerleader. But today, I’m not a cheerleader. Today, we’re talking hard, uncomfortable truths.

Without power, nothing you do matters. Your name on a petition, doesn’t matter. Your Facebook post, about how bad you think everything is, doesn’t matter. Your participation in a group discussion doesn’t matter. Your lawn sign doesn’t matter. Whatever you’re trying to sell, doesn’t matter. Now do you hate me? Because you don’t have any power. Unless you do, in which case, stop listening. You probably not here if you have a bunch of power already.

So we’re going to assume that most of the people listening, are not, The most powerful people in this world, right? We are those who are the scrappy folks kind of hanging out, frankly, in the middle to the bottom. We want to make a difference, we want to see the world be a better place. We sit and lament about how hard everything is and how much things suck, and why do people have to suck so much?

Right. But here’s, here’s the thing you guys like. Everybody on every side of our incredibly divided country right now, everybody is seeking the same thing, and that is the power to have the world that they want to have. Unfortunately, obviously we can’t all agree on what that is. So at the end of the day, he who has the most power wins. I’m hoping it’s a she, but let’s be honest, her track record isn’t great.

That’s why nothing you do matters, when nothing you do matters. That’s what I mean by that title. Being part of a cacophony of sound, of noise, of course it has its place. But does it really matter, long-term does it have the impact that you want? Is it actually going to move the needle or it’s just part of the puppy pile of a cultural moment?

Do you know the difference?

When a social justice moment or a cause du jour is dominating the people you respect and the voices of those around you, who do have maybe a bit more power than you do. When you join in on those conversations, do you feel like what you’re doing is actually going to make a difference? Or do you know what the rest of us probably know, but we don’t want to admit, that we just don’t want to be seen as being outside of the conversation when we agree. Of course I I’m fully in support of, let’s not burn through the, the globe, right? , let’s not burn down the planet we live on. Yeah, we all agree that that’s probably a good idea to not burn that down.

And then we wander off and we experiment with crypto. Because we are like, there’s another bandwagon I should probably pay attention to, I don’t want to be left behind. I can totally disregard the fact that crypto is a nightmare for the environment. Right.

This is a common thing, you guys, that like nobody’s watching, so I can do this over here and that over there. And that’s frankly, what the people in power count on. We’re too busy chasing our tails and running in circles and not really paying attention or aligning our ideals with our actions on a regular basis.

It’s why cause du jours are that very thing. It’s why they have a moment. Because it makes us feel better about our lack of power for a little while. Shouting at the wind makes us feel like we have some ability to affect change, when we really don’t. That’s the uncomfortable truth of it. We really don’t have enough power to affect change, unless we can all make decisions collectively to move in one direction or another, which is basically impossible this day and age.

Add in the anonymity and indignation of the masses on the internet, and it gets real hard to actually do anything. Now, I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know. I’m just saying the thing out loud that most people just don’t say. Because we all want to be part of a cause. We all want to believe that this is the moment when the tide shifts.

The unfortunate part is it’s not a tide shift. It doesn’t just, no big things change overnight. Not racial justice, not access to equitable income, not minimum wage, not socio economic change. Not… None of it changes overnight. Unfortunately.

And more often than not those of us who have very little power are trying to slam on the brakes on an aircraft carrier of culture and say, let’s turn on a dime. But it doesn’t work like that. It just doesn’t. Which means that feeling that none of it matters, it’s fucking true. I’m really sorry to break it to you, but it’s true.

We don’t have enough power to make the change we want to see in the world. It doesn’t mean to stop trying. Now, before you think I’m all nihilistic here, it means that you got to get better at acquiring power. We all do. This is not a like; “well, shit, none of it matters, let’s just fold up shop.” It’s that we have to understand the game we’re fucking playing and we have to start playing it.

We have to pay attention to how one acquires power in this world, and we have to be willing to take bigger risks in order to get it. Otherwise enough with the fucking yard signs and hashtags. It hasn’t done anything except create some noise and something for the people with power to make fun of.

It doesn’t do anything.

We are adding to their power, not our own, when we are just adding noise to a cacophony of those who are disenfranchised.

So, yes. Lend your voice, but do it meaningfully. Do it in a way when it’s inconvenient for you. Do it when it stops being popular.

Think about the last five years. How many causes around the disenfranchised or social justice or environment or corruption or whatever, I mean down to mask wearing these days. How many things have there been to just give us something to bang our, what’s that phrase, “rattle your sabers.” There you go. Then we just get to get super angry and shout at the wind and yell and get real mad.

Did any of that matter? Did any of it make anything better? Did anything make meaningful change on either side? Did the people who stormed the Capitol make meaningful change for their cause? Or were they just a bunch of powerless people making a mess, a really big, stupid mess that we can all yell about for years to come.

Protest is not the same thing as it used to be. Rebellion is not the same thing as it used to be. And the collective voice of the masses is no longer a collective voice of the masses. Righteousness isn’t enough anymore. You have to understand power. You got to figure out, like, if I’m trying to accomplish this, who has the power and how can I get it? And once I’m there with it, how do I take responsibility for it?

Responsibility is a really tough one. You have to have incredible levels of credibility to maintain power in this day and age. If you’re climbing up from the bottom. Otherwise stop helping. If you can’t maintain that level of risk and credibility, then get out of the way for the people that can. And for those that have the little bits of power in this world and are puppy piling onto every cause and using it as a marketing tactic, god dammit. Could you just fucking stop for a minute?

Could you just stop, if you’re not going to actually do something real. Take your money and put it where your fucking mouth is, and get out of the way. We are so tired of rich people not doing anything meaningful with their funds. It’s so stupid, it’s just, it’s passe. It’s ridiculous. It’s like. The disparity between those who have power and money, and those who do not, is so vast, that most of us can’t hope to compete, we can’t hope to acquire enough power to make change. But we can make decisions that climb up from the bottom. And I promise you though, those decisions do not come from yard signs. They do not come from blog posts. They do not come from podcast episodes, much as I would like them to.

They come from sustained action based on your values, bit by bit by bit. Persuasive, sustained action about one or two things that you really care about. that really matter to you, that you can really focus on. And you got to know what change looks like, so that you can point towards it.

And that’s the kicker. You have to know what you want. Please don’t be occupy wall street. Okay.

Snapping your fingers in the streets. Wow, that really got us somewhere. There was some real power and equity there for a minute, but nobody knew what the fuck they were doing. Nobody actually had a goal in mind when they set up their tent. They just want to be part of something yell at the mean white guys up in the tall towers. Well, they laughed, those mean white guys laughed and made more money.

So before you start shouting at the wind, before you plant your yard sign, before you yell at people on Facebook, know what you are trying to accomplish and be able to diligently say that you are part of a solution on an ongoing and perpetual basis.

People ask me why I don’t lend my voice to things. Why I don’t speak up for things a lot when they’re happening. I did not say a lot about racial justice, for example, over the summer. This is why. Not because I don’t think it’s important. But because I know for sure, it’s a moment in time that I cannot sustain a level of commitment to, because I have my own stuff. I have my own things and my own eye on the ball. And I only have so much capacity and effort and yes, I’m very well aware that that comes from my privilege.

And I feel bad about the fact that other people do not have that luxury. I cannot, however, affect change meaningfully from my vantage point, about that topic. I can, however, affect change meaningfully by doing this. So I stay in my lane because I am working on a longer game. I am not interested in virtue signaling or trend grabbing or grabbing onto a moment because it matters.

Something always matters. I’m trying really hard to hold on to the tiny bit of power that I have acquired, that I understand, that I am aware of. And I’m trying to do the best possible things that I can with it, and that means I can’t spread it too thin, I can’t spend that equity on every single thing that I want. I only have so much in the bank and I can’t run on a deficit.

That’s burnout.

So, here’s me saying, I give you my permission to recognize that your voice might not matter on every single thing.

Find the thing where it can, and hold on for dear life, and make whatever difference you can. My cause is making business better because it is my whole hearted belief, that if we solve the problem of unethical commerce, everybody wins just a little bit more. That’s where I choose to gather and spend my little bit of power in this world.

Where does yours come from and how do you choose to spend it?

Alright, everybody. See you soon. Bye.



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