If you’re worried about picking just one way to make a difference or you’re not sure how to find the right cause to support, you are not alone. I struggled with this big time and it wasn’t until I got a chance to fulfill a longtime dream of going to Africa that I finally figured out a way to get past that roadblock.
When I stepped off the plane in Zambia, I couldn’t have imagined that I was about to meet Angela Malik who would ultimately become one of my real-life heart-work role models. Angela is a beautiful Zambian woman who has spearheaded incredible give-back programs in and around her community, including building schools and creating a food program to provide meals for orphaned children living on the streets.
Over tea one evening at Angela’s home, I shared with her a few of my ideas for contributing and told her about my inner struggle to pick just one cause. Before the trip, I had been torn between the Humane Society and helping foster children. Now, after my time in Africa, working to help provide access to clean water was added to my list.
I asked her, “How do I choose just one? And what if I choose wrong?” I felt like if I picked one cause to support, then somehow, I was leaving the others behind.
I’ll never forget what she said as she spoke in her calm yet straightforward way, like a wise elder who got to the point quickly: “Gia, you can’t choose wrong.”
I so needed to hear that. (And maybe you do, too.)Maybe you’re not sure where to start, what to do, or who to help. If only you had some ideas, a mini-plan, and a few action steps to get going. Well my friend, you’re in luck…
Quick steps to help you pinpoint one cause to support.
STEP 01. GET CLEAR
Here are some questions to get the wheels spinnin’ and the juices flowing. As the ideas come to you, make a list and jot them down.
- Which organizations or causes do you feel most drawn to?
- If you have friends or people you admire who do give-back work, what do they do?
- What give-back opportunities are available in your community? Are there any you could spearhead yourself, such as building a free little library?
When you read something in the news about an important issue or cause in the world, which ones grab your attention the most?
STEP 02. START RESEARCHING
Now look back over your list. Which ones stand out? Jot down the issues that excite you the most and dive deeper into each one.
For example, before I could decide whether or not to commit to choosing clean water as my cause, I wanted to see which organizations were helping to create access. That’s when I discovered Scott Harrison who had just founded Charity: Water, and I saw that they had some big plans and serious dedication behind their organization.
All I could think was, “Thank you Scott and crew!” I felt so relieved (and grateful) to find someone making a difference in this way. I could support them and their mission and cross it off my personal top priority list.
There’s a difference between wanting to help and knowing you need to be a part of the solution, and research is one of the quickest ways to get clear on where you stand. Which ideas are still relevant after your research? Cross out any that no longer feel like must-dos.
STEP 03. PICK ONE
Take a look at your list. What’s left? And which one are you most passionate about? If you’re still not sure, that’s A-OK.
Just choose one to start with. Be open to the windy path approach—you never know where it’s going to lead or who you might meet along the way.
Ask yourself: What leads my heart?
If you want to do meaningful work in the world that you also love, you have to follow your heart. This is what I call “finding your heart work.” Start there.
A friendly reminder: If you or a loved one has battled a disease or experienced something traumatic, that doesn’t mean you’re dishonoring yourself or them if you don’t choose that cause. Just because you understand what someone might be going through does not mean that you need to be involved — especially if it’s still fresh. It’s much more important that you feel excited and inspired to do the work.
Above all, know that you can change your mind.
Now that you’ve pinpointed your cause, you can decide what small, next step to take to get started. You can dream big but start small.
But remember — if you want your heart work to be sustainable, you have to do this for you. So, if you realize you’ve put yourself in a corner or edited your ideas based on fear, doubt, or a sense of obligation, it’s okay to switch directions or get rid of ‘em.
Change is always an option. Until then, go out and do your heart work. We’re rooting for you.
Gia Duke is the author of Get Your Heart On: The How-To Guide for People Who Want to Make a Difference. A passionate humanitarian, Gia founded the nonprofit Re:mix for foster youth, has done aid work in Africa, and has worked directly with animal rescue organizations. Through her work as a speaker, facilitator, and coach, she is on a mission to brighten the world through creating more love, compassion, and understanding.