Are We Learning How to Create a Better World too Soon?

Last week I volunteered at DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) with DC Net Impact. DCCK is a social enterprise that prepares food for homeless shelters, transitional homes and nonprofits throughout DC at no charge. Every day volunteers work with full-time staff to prepare about 5,000 meals. On the night we volunteered, we made fried chicken (a completely new experience for me, being vegan!) under the supervision of the Director of Kitchen Operations, Rudy.

As we fried away, Rudy explained the huge need that DCCK meets in the community. By working with DCCK, homeless shelters and nonprofits are able to spend more resources on what they’re best at instead of on food. I definitely felt part of something important and I left radiating with a sense of purpose to make DC a better place for everyone to live.

This tremendous feeling reminded me of a question I’ve pondered at work and on this blog over the last couple months. Why don’t we give ourselves more opportunities to discover why we want to create a better world?

I work with a lot of students who are inspired to create a better world. They spend much of their college careers gaining the skills and experiences they need to do so in their careers. I’m inspired everyday by their energy and enthusiasm. But when I ask them what they’re passionate about, I usually get something like this. Most of them have no idea.

It strikes me as odd to be so motivated to do something and have such a hard time deciding what to do. And honestly, I often find myself in the same place.

As mission driven millennials, we want to have a big positive impact on the world. We learn about a lot of different causes and engage at a surface level, but honestly, I think many of us are afraid to take it any further. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve spent way more time worrying about what my calling is then actually pursuing something. It feels silly and shallow writing this out, but I’m afraid of picking the wrong one.

Like many of the students I work with, I didn’t know what I was passionate about in college so I committed myself to learning how to create a better world and waited for my calling to surface. By the end of college, I had the skills and knowledge I needed, but I still hadn’t found my calling.

What I realize now is that I wasn’t giving myself the time and space to become passionate about something. As I’ve quoted before “passion is the result of action, not the cause of it.” (I’m getting a lot of mileage out of that one. Thanks, Mark Manson!)

Maybe we’re learning how to create a better world too soon. Maybe we need to focus on discovering why we should create a better world. And I don’t mean reading more Huff Post Impact. I mean getting humble and getting involved.

Confession: I sometimes look down on volunteering as an unsustainable and shallow attempt at impacting a cause. After all, I promote sustainable and scalable market-based solutions to social change. Why would I waste my time throwing star fish in the ocean?

Clearly, I’ve completely missed an important part of volunteering. It’s not about solving the problem, it’s about being immersed in it. It’s about witnessing what is actually happening and meeting people actually affected by it. It’s about marinating in the magnitude of the problem and woeful inadequacy of our current efforts.

Doubt takes a back seat when our desire to do the right thing becomes overwhelmed by our desire to do something. That’s when we should ask ourselves what we can do to better address a problem. Cue social entrepreneurship, nonprofit innovation, corporate responsibility and business model innovation.

I think social impact education, and really our lives as mission driven millennial in general, could benefit from more direct involvement. What do you think?