Too many students approach their academic and extracurricular commitments like a checklist. Take this course, complete community service, take a leadership position—check, check, check. But the most successful applicants don’t just enroll and participate—they make things better as a result of their involvement. The classroom discussion is better with them in the room. The team is better with them on it. The club is better with them in it. The group is more focused, the customers are happier, the orchestra is more enjoyable. There’s a noticeable difference when they’re involved, a clear before-and-after effect. They make an impact, they leave a legacy, and they’re missed when they move on.
But I’ve realized over the last ten years that what these impactful students do is create change. And that’s the lesson that anyone can apply to their work, their project, and their life.
Lesson #24 of my final 31 posts: Greatness lies in meaningful change made.
If you want to make your time, project, or other commitment more impactful, start by asking, “What change am I trying to make?”
The most impactful leaders don’t just chair meetings. They envision a better future and then rally people towards it. They paint a contrast of where the group is today and where they could be tomorrow. The process of getting there is the change a leader strives to create.
The most impactful teachers create change in their students. You understand algebra, or look forward to their class, or find a new academic interest because of them. That’s the change they make.
A great participant in a meeting doesn’t just share their opinion. They ask the hard questions. They seek the thoughts of those who aren’t speaking. They focus the group, elevate the agenda, and move others to take some action. The meeting is better with them in it because of the change they make.
A great speech doesn’t just share information. It changes the audience. They leave the talk knowing, feeling, or thinking something that wasn’t there before they arrived. A great speech changes people.
A great addition to a team can lead the team in scoring. But they can also be the most effective passer. Or they can lead from the bench, bringing enough enthusiasm and commitment that the team changes for the better with them on it even if the game never sees them in it.
My mother taught high school English for 30 years. And she often wrote letters of recommendation for kids who didn’t break the curve in her class, but who found a way to create change anyway. One C student captivated the class during his project. He created a skit in which he and a friend reenacted the sword fight between Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Macduff. That one day, that student made the class better. He changed things, and that change showed colleges a glimpse of his potential.
Our counselors at Collegewise focus every day on creating change. We want to send that family away from our meeting feeling better than they did when they arrived. We want the audience at the school that invited us to speak to feel more optimistic about their college process than before we arrived. We want our Common App guide to make a student’s application a lot less common. And everyone at Collegewise tries to leave work a little better than they found it each day.
Change makers don’t have to be the smartest, the fastest, or the best at what they do. They seek the right opportunities, they bring their best selves to them, and they look for opportunities to make their impact. When they apply to college, they communicate how they made things better as a result of their involvement. Big or small, over time or today, for one person or a group or an entire community, meaningful change is at the heart of all of it.
Showing up is just the start. Participating is doing what you’re asked to do once you’re there. But if you want to bring your best self to what you’re doing, if you want to be valued and appreciated, if you want to earn a reputation as someone who’s always a positive addition to a meaningful group, cause, or project, your opportunity for greatness lies in the meaningful change you make.