The secret to having an awe-inspiring impact on the world

“I know that I’m here to have an impact.”

“What do you mean? Impact how?”

“I will share an inspiring message to billions of people. On a scale bigger than even Joe Rogan.”

A friend said this to me while we were sitting in a car, in a jacuzzi, and at dinner. It’s happened many times. 

It seems to be a characteristic of the millennial generation. Having a job is not enough. It has to have a grand impact. But in the same breath, they don’t want to pay for their education and demand more vacation time. Could those be conflicting goals?

When we think about having an impact, we think about a cultural revolution or ending climate change, or inspiring millions. But do you know what Tony Robbins needs to change the lives he changes? 

An accountant. 

A guy or girl that has the kind of boring office job we’ve all come to despise. I’m no different. The idea of going to work to sit in a cubicle where nothing exciting happens, on someone else’s schedule, working on someone else’s balance sheet makes my skin tingle just enough that I’d probably start doing drugs to cope with the boredom.

Yet Tony Robins could not do his work without it. Those lives would cease to change. Shallow Hal wouldn’t be watchable. His impact would cease to exist if he could not find a willing accountant to do the work. 

Why then, do we continue to think that the impact Tony has is more important than the impact an accountant has? 

Why when we say we want to have an impact, do we actually mean that we want to be the opposite of an accountant?

It’s a failure on our part. 

The reality is when we say “I want to have an impact,” that doesn’t actually mean anything. By saying that, all you are actually saying is that you would like a job. The prerequisite for a job existing in the first place is having an impact.


Playing with the scales of impact

What happens when you save a life? 

Let’s use an example. Let’s say you’re walking up to a crosswalk next to a 40-year-old man. You see a shipping truck rushing by so you stop at the edge of the sidewalk. 

But the man next to you is looking at his phone and steps into the street. The massive Amazon shipping truck nails him. He flies 100 feet through the air and skids across the asphalt. You rush over, call an ambulance, take your jacket off to use it to apply pressure to his open wounds and stop him from bleeding out before the ambulance gets there. It worked. Life saved. 

Plot twist! He’s actually an Amazon executive! And the truck driver, his wife, hit him because she was rushing to meet the extreme delivery speed goals that he set last week. 

Lol. The specifics don’t matter. Somehow, someway, you literally save a life. The direct results of your actions gave someone another few decades of his only opportunity to exist in this world. 

Arguably the biggest impact you can have on a single person. Let’s say he lives another 40 years. 21,024,000 more minutes of life. That’s a lot of impact. He can use that life to mentor people in their careers, continue to be a loving partner to his wife, and be a proper role model to his kids who will continue the family legacy of “impact.” 

The ripple effect of giving someone time is endless. And time is no different from life. What’s the difference between killing someone a year before they would otherwise die, and requiring 525,600 minutes of their time over a few decades of life?

Are having life, and having time not the same thing?

So as opposed to saving one man’s 21,024,000 minutes, is that any different from saving 21,024,000 people 1 minute of time? Is the impact not the same?

You can give a man 21,024,000 minutes and we call it saving a life. But every person who orders a product on Amazon saves the 20-30 minutes it would have taken them to go to the store and get that thing. Why then do we not say that Amazon is in the business of saving life?

With some simple math, we can estimate how much time (life) each amazon employee saves each year.

The time estimates of how much time people save ordering on amazon instead of going to a physical store range from 20 hours a year to 75 hours a year. Let’s use 20 to be conservative. 

There are 129 Million Amazon Prime subscriptions in the United States.  

So 129 million people save 20 hours a year using Amazon. Totaling 2,580,000,000 hours saved by Amazon each year. 

When we divide that by Amazon’s 950,000 employees in the US we find the average Amazon employee saves people 2,716 hours of time each year. Or 113 full days. 

If they work full time, they only had to work 2,087 hours that year to save others 2,716. 

So when you say, “I want to have an impact.” Why don’t you mean, “I want to work at an Amazon warehouse”?

Impact Revisited

Why is it that we don’t actually mean we want to have an impact when we say those words? It’s not as if we do the careful measuring of where to put our time and effort to have maximum impact. 

There is, however, someone who has done this work, Bjorn Lomborg. An economist who employed multiple teams of economists to determine where in the world to put our dollars so it has the largest positive benefit to everyone. 

Where do you think has the highest return?

Reducing our carbon footprint?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Nope. Those were not even close. 

The place with the highest return is child nutrition in the poorest countries of Africa, South America, and Asia. 

Yet. When we say we want to have an impact, we don’t mean selling pesticides to farmers in those regions. We might prefer organic foods in Southern California, but a bug infestation on the farm of a poor village is life or death.

No. When we say we want to make an impact. It’s a polite way of saying we want to be idolized. “I want to make an impact” is our ego leading us to believe that some work is more important than others. And the work that’s in front of me is on the bottom of that totem pole.

I’m too special to be doing this.

Are you? Can you not have an impact with the work you have? As we went over earlier, the impact of the average Amazon worker is massive. And time saved is only one dimension of the impact that Amazon worker has. He is also taking part in a huge decentralization of the economy. Participating in giving small businesses (50% of Amazon sales are products from small businesses) a platform to find new customers and easily get their products to customers in need around the world. 

“I want to make an impact” is a cop-out. The words say that it’s about helping other people. But that’s not what it means when you say it. What you mean is something more like “I find the work available to me degrading, and I believe I deserve a position in life that people praise me for having.”

So what do you do if you actually, humbly, want to have an impact?

Impact of One

Where can you put your time so that it has the biggest impact? Sure, there is this tiny lingering chance that in your lifetime you can have the kind of impact Gandhi had. But the odds are slim. 

But there is another way to approach impact. And we only need to look as far as the sales pitch for every multi-level marketing company. Multi-level marketing companies, sometimes called network marketing, recruit their customers as salespeople and give them commissions for recruiting more customers (salespeople) as well as commissions for the salespeople recruited by the people they directly recruited. 

In practice, it can be a little shady, because it is common for them to sell this vision of the massive amount of passive income you will get from the salespeople you recruit to earn you money on your behalf. 

The pitch goes like this. 

All you have to do is recruit 3 people. Then you help those 3 people recruit 3 people each. Then you train your 3 recruits how to help their 3 recruits recruit 3 people each. Then the cycle continues endlessly and you become rich.

The problem with that sales model is at the 21st level of 3 people recruiting 3 people you’ll have recruited over 10 billion people.

Not necessarily bad for network marketers. For them, it means they don’t need 21 levels of depth to make a lot of money. 

The number 3 in those terms is deceptively small. 

You probably interact with way more than 3 people on a regular basis, no? You probably have a few family members, at least a small friend group, and maybe 10 or so coworkers. 

Should we just throw out 15 people you interact with regularly as a number to start with? Does the work you do not also have an impact on many more people than that? 

Why not start there for your impact? 7 levels of that and you’ve impacted half the world’s population. 

But how do you impact 15 people? It’s not an easy thing to do. People have a lot of resistance to other people coming in and trying to improve their lives. 

There is someone whose life you can impact with the least resistance. Well, maybe not the least resistance. But the work you do to change the life of this one person will definitely have the largest impact. 

And that person is you.