Characteristics of a change maker

I’ve been going through a bit of a slump with my journey to get to zero waste. I haven’t gone backwards, I just haven’t gone forwards much since I recently concentrated on swapping to a zero waste lunch at work. Reflecting on that, and other transformation work I’ve done professionally, has made me think about what it takes to be a change maker. My zero waste journey is about changing my own habits but the same characteristics apply to any change. Other bigger changes in personal life, transforming a team or a whole societal movement, need many more people to be motivated to change, which can be a long, hard road with many (most?) aspects of it out of your direct control. So what does it take to be the catalyst for that, for persuading yourself or others to change in small or big ways?

You need to love the thing you’re doing and be super motivated about what you’re trying to achieve. There’s going to be some tough times and you need that connection with your goal to keep you going 

Those tough times mean you need to be resilient. To be able to keep going despite the set backs and the disappointments. To bounce back and remain as motivated as you were to start with, if not more. That means being positive and engaging with people in a positive way too. It’s a lot harder to get people to connect with you if you’re miserable and ground-down by all the set-backs!

Whatever the change, to truly embed it is likely to take a long time so you need to be persistent. Both through the tough times and the good ones, past the first successes until the change you want has become the new status quo. Keeping going for the long-haul to change the world for the better, whatever that is.

To be curious, to learn from others, change your thoughts and ideas all in service of meeting your goal. Thinking you know everything at the outset is unlikely to work. Your goal can be fixed (although that might change too) but how to get there will change as you learn, meet new people, find out what works and what doesn’t. 

Finally, you need to be able to connect with others. Change rarely comes about through one person and needs others to come with you. Even my zero waste journey, which largely requires me changing my habits, does also need acceptance from the rest of the household and is a lot easier if they change their habits too. But it’s not just about connecting with others to influence them, it’s also about connecting with others to give you support. Finding other like minded people who are trying to do similar things, who can share their learnings, ideas and be a rock when you’re going through one of the tough times.

I realised that it’s similar to what Angela Duckworth has found about what makes people successful in every field she’s looked in. You need ‘grit’

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals

Angela Duckworth

She also talks about a growth mindset helping to build grit, because once you appreciate that the brain keeps learning and isn’t static, that helps with perseverance in the face of failure.

Do I have grit?! I do when I pick the right things! My mum instilled in me the benefit of persevering with what I’m doing, committing to it and not giving up and I have carried that with me over the years (sometimes too much and it’s taken me way too long to give up things, which I didn’t enjoy but that’s another story). And I’m definitely passionate about zero waste. I hate throwing things away, I hate the impact on nature and once I started looking at the waste I create, I couldn’t un-see it. I do think these things have helped me keep going on the journey, it feels inconceivable to stop, although I go through some slumps like I am now.

It some ways it seems remarkably simple – work hard, for a long time at something you’re passionate about and you’ll make change happen.

Photos by Ronan Furuta and Ian Schneider on Unsplash

  1. I think you’ve made outstanding efforts to tackle your personal waste from a broad spectrum of angles and try different things to see what works for you. Adaptability is key – like for example you adapting to your local refill store closing right at the start of your personal challenge, by reviewing what else you can do in the home and out at work. I think our learnings are really similar! It’s having that “bouncebackability” when things don’t go to plan, perhaps lowering your expectations, finding news approaches and celebrating the small wins. My main lesson was patience (whereas yours is resilience, but I think they’re one of the same!) We can only plant seeds, time is needed to help them germinate. I’ve enjoyed reading your journey – keep the faith!

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  2. Thank you for sharing your journey to zero waste. I think that you have achieved a lot already and I agree with you about the values that are helping to reach these goals. However, being on a similar journey, I discovered that in certain domains like hygiene products it is not that simple to get to zero waste as my pampered mind is overruling my values by projections of discomfort… Maybe I just need more time to become friends with some of these ideas. On the other hand my Iife got much more down to earth as unpacked organic food and natural products are healthier and more effective. In terms of leading the change I think that consistency is of importance, too, for sending unmistakeable signals to our families, peers and friends. Moreover, it is a common vision of this different world and the love for our planet that will certainly help to achieve change.

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  3. I believe there is another reason to persevere when you are becoming an example of the change we need in our society. Mainly, you cannot imagine or know how or when you will profoundly affect somebody else. For example a couple of years ago my work paid for a number of staff to get executive coaching. This was great and very helpful but the most impactful moment came when she recommended a book to me about meditation she was reading. Trusting her I got the book and that started a whole other journey. Fortunately, I have been able to share this with her but I think of all the other times a small thing someone said or did opened my mind to something new. I know a zero waste lifestyle has opportunity to introduce so many ideas to others, if you knew it is happening or not.

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  4. excellent i love reading your articles keep me motivated when i divert. i also hate throwing things away and want adapt my life zero waste but its a gr8 challenge which can be achieved.

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  5. I totally agree with Steff and Marc and I think you have done well in your personal challenge. I think this is true on two levels:
    1. On a personal level – adapting to your local refill store closing for example.
    2. To show others what can be achieved with thought, care and perseverance.
    I also think that it is interesting that you have found the path of success in your personal challenge not always straightforward and certainly not easy. To succeed as you rightly discuss one needs resilience, perseverance, new ways and methods to succeed and finally as Steff wrote the need to have ‘bouncebackability’!! Well done!!!!

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  6. Meryl, I really like Angela Duckworth’s Ted Talk on grit. Mere passion is never enough – you need to have the right amount of persistence too to carry forward in life no matter what. I think we really need to focus more on positive psychology in our studies/lives:):) And of course, this long-term focus is so critical in this world which suffers from pathological short-termism and the magic of instant gratification…How then to remain committed for the long haul and not be swept away in this madness of achieving everything here and now…..

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your blogs – from this effort to be sustainable for your office lunches to sustainability books and back to school journey. Good luck for your future and hope you continue to inspire and guide others – as you carry forward this sustainability journey….Best wishes. Shobha


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