To change the world

President John F. Kennedy once said, “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.”

When I first heard that quote, I thought, “Wow, that’s a high bar to set.” People who change the world are people like Winston Churchill, or Nelson Mandela, or Mahatma Gandhi. Not me.

The thing is, “changing the world” doesn’t have to mean changing it in some big, profound way. Sometimes it just means, “changing the world immediately around you.”

Here’s what I mean:

I have a friend. Let’s call him “Murat.” Murat is almost the head of a big department at a big company here in Istanbul. I’m sure you’ve heard of the company. Anyway, Murat has been working in his profession for 20 years, and he’s been working at this particular company for more than 10 of those years. He knows his subject better than just about anyone else, and he knows this particular company better than most of the other people who work there.

If anyone is qualified to be the head of the department, it would be Murat. And yet, he got passed over for promotion, not once, but twice. His new boss is younger than him. Less experienced than him. What does she have that he doesn’t?

She knows how to present to the Board.

You see, this isn’t just any department at the company. It’s a high-profile department. It’s a department the Board depends on to keep things on track when they’re not around. The Board wants to know someone with experience is leading that department, but experience alone is not enough. It’s just the basic price of admission. The Board doesn’t meet every day, and when they do meet, they want to hear from someone who knows how to communicate clearly and confidently.

And so they promoted someone, but it wasn’t Murat.

What would Murat’s life look like if he had gotten that job? For one, he’d be making a lot more money. He wouldn’t be reporting to a boss with half his experience. A driver would show up at his door each morning to take him to work, and he could sit in the back seat reading a newspaper instead of fighting the traffic.

Murat would know that his career was still going strong, and that 5 years from now, he would be even better able to provide for his family than he can now. He would wake up in the mornings more intellectually excited by the challenges of the day before him. He wouldn’t have that nagging feeling that maybe there’s more to life, that maybe his talents are being wasted.

He would be a happier man, and because he would be a happier man, his relationship with his wife would be happier, too. His children would be happier, because Murat would be happier around them. And the positive effects would ripple out from there.

The company might even be better off, because key decisions would be made by Murat, not someone 10 years his junior, not by someone with half of his experience.

“Changing the world” doesn’t have to mean changing the world on a grand scale, like Winston Churchill, or Nelson Mandela, or Mahatma Gandhi. “Changing the world” can just as well mean changing the world immediately around you. That’s how John F. Kennedy’s quote applies to the rest of us.

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