even one person, then it is time not wasted.
In truth, we may never learn what we're doing is helpful to others. When I was undergoing the training to become a volunteer court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for abused and neglected kids, the program coordinators noted this often. They told us we were entering a dysfunctional system where we might feel as if we were on our own, and we may never understand the impact of the work we were doing on the lives of the kids for whom we advocated.
At the time, those warnings felt unduly dire. After a few months in the trenches, however, I began to realize their truth. As a CASA, my job was to make recommendations to the court in the best interest of the children for whom I was advocating. It sounds like a simple mission, but in my two earliest cases I quickly realized how hard I'd have to fight against a difficult system. In making recommendations that were critically important to the health, well-being, and safety of the children for whom I was advocating, I came up against their parents, attorneys, and even the state/CPS.
It felt like I was on my own when I had to go into a courtroom and make those recommendations before a judge. It was a volatile situation. When the judge agreed with my recommendations, it so infuriated a dangerous person that security had to escort me out of the courtroom through the judge's chambers and out a back door to a waiting car, which then drove me via an evasive route back to my car, where I drove (with my attorney following me to ensure nobody else did) another evasive route home. For months, I watched behind me when I left the house to ensure I didn't bring the dangers associated with the work home to my family. It was a frightening and stressful period. As an added bonus, as part of my job as a CASA I had to continue to monitor and interact with the parents because I was still their children's advocate.
While I believe those recommendations were the best thing for the children involved, I never saw the impact they made. It was, I believe, because the impact was in the things that didn't happen to the children as a result of those recommendations, and it's difficult to quantify a negative. Given the opportunity to do it again, however, I would have made the same recommendations. I can only pray the children in that case wind up in a better place - but I will never really know if they did or not.
While that's an extreme case of not being able to see the (hopefully) positive effects of my work, I experience it on a less dramatic scale elsewhere, as well. I think we all do. While I sit and pound away at a keyboard, it is my hope my words will find the one person who needs to hear them and positively affect another's life. When I occasionally receive confirmation this is so, it makes me realize sharing so much of myself in writing has some value other than to just please my own passion for the written word. It means the world to me to know somewhere someone gets something out of what I write.
Then there are the times my ego gets the better of me. In those times, I find myself wondering if it's all worth it. After all, I've had to eschew what society suggests embodies success (wealth and fame) in pursuit of this passion of mine. I'm neither wealthy nor famous (I have 14 Twitter followers, so there's that). Rather, I eke out a living with my writing, and my audience is miniscule. While writing makes me happy, I sometimes wonder if it is a vanity project and if my time might not be better served if I pursued something that would render me more traditionally successful (i.e. earn me a real paycheck.)
In those times, I appeal to the universe, asking for some simple sign this is what I am meant to do. When my ego gets involved, you see, my joy of writing and the happiness I feel just being who I am don't seem to be a great measure of the value of what I do.
The universe is good at humoring my ego, however. When I ask, I receive a sign that shows me I reached the one person who needed to hear what I have to say. That person saying, "You know what? This helped!" reminds me of why -- beyond my own creative fulfillment -- I insist on being a writer.
It's also why I try to acknowledge other people when they do something that makes a difference to me. I think we all need to hear what we do doesn't go unnoticed. I believe everyone wants to know that somehow they make a difference.
Everyone has the capacity to reach that single person whose life will be better for what they are offering. Perhaps its a smile to a stranger you pass in the grocery store. Maybe it's steering a customer to a perfect product to solve a problem. Maybe it's raising beautiful and productive children. Maybe it's making your home a warm and loving place for your family and friends. The value in what you do professionally and in your personal life is in infusing it with yourself, your inspiration, your own value system, and a genuine desire to help. When you do this, you may never know the impact you have on another. However, if your interactions in this world leave even one person better off for having met you, then your time here isn't wasted.
Keep following your passions. Keep being who you are. There is great value in that, regardless of whether it brings you fame or wealth. You may never realize the impact you have on another.