Having an Impact: What it Means & How We Achieve It

Influence. Inspire. Impact.

A combination of three words, especially aliterated, is one of many tools to achieve exactly what those three words mean, ironically. Impact is a broad term – one that can be applied to countless scenarios and situations. I’ve had an impact on you since you started reading this article. We’re only a few sentences in and, whether positive, negative or neutral, I’ve impacted you in some way.

This small scale impact represents one side of a huge spectrum. Representing the other side… Elon Musks work on getting us to Mars, Bill Gates’ work on technological advancement or Mary Richards giving women globally a fantastic role model for freedom. Between my article writing and Elon’s projects, there’s quite an obvious difference.

There’s a story about impact. A kid that had a huge impact on a vast number of people, very quickly. A teenager, bored at home, with an iPhone and an internet acces, started making short, silly videos and posting them online. Within a few months, this kid had amassed large city population type numbers of fans. This is a real, global impact. One that was created from the comfort of a teenager’s home in front of a smartphone camera. The point here is, you don’t have to be Bill Gates levels of influence to have an impact.

Building blocks falling in a line with man's hand stopping them

Everyone Wants to Have an Impact

Who doesn’t? In fact, when asked what your biggest goal in life is, you’d probably respond within this context.

‘I’m not entirely sure, but I want to have an impact.’

‘I want to leave my mark.’

‘I want to be remembered.’

These are all very common responses and it makes sense, hell, I’d probably respond in a similar vain.

The absurd irony here is that this answer, or this mindset rather, is precisely the reason you will not have an impact. The goal to have an impact is just that – a goal. Goals that are not specific are not achievable. If you’re not aspiring to anything that’s tangible, you’ll never know if you’ve reached the goal or not. A vague aspiration is plainly pointless. So, tip 1 is to make your goals more specific.

Let’s change ‘I want to have an impact.’ to ‘I want to change this… to be this…’. A more specific goal that is recognisably achieved. This will steer you in a direction that moves to take necessary steps. To do this you must first do this, then that etc. Just wanting to ‘have an impact’ breeds zero steps to take, which equals no goal achieved, no impact had.

The Types

We must recognise the types we can have and then we must prioritise them. Rather, re-prioritise them because the default persepective doesn’t make quite as much sense as one may have come to believe. More on that later.

1. Global 

Relatively self-explanatory, of course. Ultimately, a global impact changes something that effects a vast range of people worldwide. As aforementioned, we’re looking at your Elon Musks, your Barack Obama’s or your Margaret Thatchers. It’s interesting, however, that it’s those types of people we think of when we hear Global Impact.

Whilst it’s not wrong at all to think this way, there is a more modern thought process here. Ditching the thought of how Obama changed the world, just for a second, we find our Charli D’Amelio’s. Our Addison Rae’s or our Noah Beck’s. Who are these people? Maybe you know, maybe not. For those that don’t – these under 25-year-olds collectively have 244 Million followers.

That’s almost twice the population of Mexico. Let that sink in for a second.

These young people, along with many others, have had significant global impact. Believe it or not, it’s all from these short internet videos, too.

Barack Obama had a global impact by changing the way we see politics, and thus the communities within the world around us. An astounding shift in perspective for millions of people – for the better. These internet stars, however, have reached a respectably large audience as well, all without changing our perspective on anything. They’re entertaining the youth of today. I say youth, and it is, for the most part. I still catch 30 or 40 year olds lost in these entertainment platforms sat in Starbucks.

The moral of this, is that global impact can come from a wide variety of places and take on oddly unexpected forms.

A small globe on the table with businessman in background
Global business and communications

2. Personal 

Personal impact… a truly beautiful thing. The beauty of this level lies in its simplicity. The ease of a compliment can have personal impact on someone. Tell your husband he looks great, it will impact his entire day – positively. The misconception with ‘having an impact’ is that its a rare occurence. It’s absolutely not! You have personal impact on people everyday, as do they on you.

The power we have as part of communities, and society overall, is far greater than is often believed. You can influence people heavily with ease. You can change the course of someones entire week through a single, off-the-cuff sentence. This is the power we hold and it must be recognised.

Personal impact isn’t often something we aspire to. We don’t associate this level of influence with the big dreams we see in global impact. There is a connection, however. It equals local impact. Local impact equals global impact. It is possible to stop at each of these levels and progress no further, a little like your local computer repairman. However, it is not possible to skip levels. The global can only be made through personal and local first.

3. Local 

This is a weird one that can really only be described by example. When NWA were performing local shows and becoming known as artists in their city – they’d made a local impact. Of course, they went on to become global stars, but had they stopped at ‘ghetto stardom’, a local impact they would have made. Think of local impact as something of community influence.

Often, local impact happens through schools, churches and local organisations. The thing is, you can have local impact through personal impact. Influencing or changing the situation of one person, may permeate throughout a community and thus become local impact. This kind of influence marks the sweet spot. The spot between simple change and a lifetime’s work. Having an impact locally almost gives the best of both worlds.

Someone who aspires to have local impact may have dreams of running the best chicken shop in town, or serve the best coffee, or become the cities most renowned computer repairman. These are the sorts of scenarios that are inbetween inciting global change, and simply effecting your immediate surroundings.

What Does This All Mean?

It’s all well and good knowing these things, and what they mean, but how do we prioritise them? Do we need to prioritise them? Yes.

As previously mentioned, global impact is made only by impacting on both personal and local levels first… and consistently at that. Ray Kroc started as a local milkshake salesman. Now he’s responsible for the full expansion of the most popular fast-food restaraunt world-wide. Personal impact – Making money selling milkshakes. Local impact – selling milkshakes as part of the community. Global impact – global expansion of an incredibly popular restaraunt chain.

The point here is,  there’s often so much focus on the global impact that you want to make that the personal and local impact that must precede it is neglected. There’s a certain irony in that, of course.

As much as this all makes sense so far, this is not the whole story.

The Rise of Social Media

Of course it’s social media’s fault. It always is these days.

As usual, there’s two sides to this concept. The change that social media has made in terms of your ability to have an impact is that it’s now much, much easier to begin. Rewind the clock thirty years and let’s follow the ‘proper’ process I’ve outlined: make a personal impact, make a local impact, make a global impact. One leads to the next. Your personal impact in those days would have had to be physical interaction. Conversations, networking (that ever ambiguous phrase) the like. This would naturally breed into local impact, and so on.

Fast forward to present day, no conversations need to be had. As long as you have a device and an internet connection, you can begin making your global impact in a much more fluid way. Here, the step by step process is less step by step.

It’s more of a natural, gradual process. Making your first step to local impact is as simple as uploading your sense of humour in video format online. There’s enough people on these platforms that you’ll find someone who shares your taste in comedy. Rising this to a local impact level can be the work of a few months, if that.

Birdseye view of 4 people on their laptops on social media

The Misconception

The misconception is that this newfound ease of making an impact permeates throughout the process, until global impact. This is not the case. Global impact is just as hard to achieve as its always been, it’s just the ease of personal and local impact that has changed and put dollar signs in a lot of eyes. Dollar signs that are ill informed and probably shouldn’t be there.

The reason it’s still just as difficult to create global impact is saturation. Whilst these new promotional platforms have given us the opportunity to get started and even make a low level impact quickly, that also naturally creates incredibly high saturation. This is exactly the reason it’s still so difficult to make any sizeable impact.

So, How Should You Have an Impact?

There is still a ‘right’, or better, way of going about this. Landing somewhere in the middle of attempting to become an ‘influencer’, and not using social media at all.

Social media must be used in current times. Must. There is simply no getting away from it. However, it should be used as the tool that it is. Social media can be, and is, a fantastic marketing, advertising and promotional tool that can skyrocket your plans to have an impact. As we now know, you must first understand the specific impact you want to have. Then, utilising social media, get it out there.

At the same time, however, the old fashioned way is still as useful as it was – just not as essential. Networking should be tackled from both sides. Popular platforms that you already know about are the easiest way to network these days, but showing some love to the phsycial, conversational side of things makes networking more personal – less machine. This is a great way to expand your chances of having an impact, some online – tick. Some in person – tick.

You’ll struggle to work your way to large scale impact entirely on your own – that’s the bottom line.

Its About Who You Are

Businessman pointing at camera to signal you

At the end of the day,

When all said and done,

Ultimately,

You. You are what makes the impact. There’s a popular saying in the film industry: ‘story is king’. This refers to the fact that there’s an awful lot going on in making a film. Actors, crew, logistics. It’s easy to lose site of what’s important, so we say; ‘story is king’. Everything is there to serve the story. Yes, the camera was a hundred grand to hire, but it’s still nothing without the story to stick in front of it. The same applies with making your impact. Network well, use platforms properly, build impact step by step, it’s all well and good. None of this matters, however, without the story – you are the story.

A key tip: Recognise when you’ve made an impact. Compliment someone and watch their reaction. How their shoulders pick up and they begin to walk with more confidence. You’ve just made an impact on someone. Attend a gathering and tell a funny story, watch as people laugh. Watch how it makes them happier. You’ve impacted a number of people.

The truth is – you are the impact you make. It can be global, yes. Elon. Bill. Mary. It can also be very personal.

It Happens Every Day

I met a good friend of mine through a college course we both took. He gradually introduced me to photography, bought a camera and showed me how he used it. Two months later, I bought one too. For almost three years photography has changed my life. It’s a sincere passion of mine now, and all because this kid bought a camera and I watched as he produced these incredible images. He made an impact on me that I’d never been subject to before and we didn’t even know it.

Go forth. Have an impact. Do it right.

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