When we talk about 'making a difference', one of two things happens:

1. Pangs of guilt for not doing enough for charity


2. Smug disdain for such a well-worn weasel word over-used by spin doctors.

Personally, if I read one more job ad that encourages you to join the firm and 'make a difference' I think my eyes might roll so far back in my head that they pop my tongue out and cause me to barf up a lung.

What does 'making a difference' or being of service mean to you? Have you got images of soup kitchen line-ups and refugee camps? Or is it something your company has posted on its 'vision/mission' statement? If it's not extreme selflessness a la Mother Theresa, it's a pathetic cliche.

Everyone wants to live a life of significance and meaning. But we get caught up in the mis-guided notion that this only means going out on the front lines and doing the work in the trenches: feeding starving refugees, giving blankets to the homeless, and patching up shell-shocked civilian casualties in third world hot spots.

Let's be clear - I'm not saying charity interventions are not important. I support the Red Cross and other charities in their humanitarian work. This kind of work is important because it alleviates suffering and offers some immediate relief. It does not, however, solve the systemic problem.

Some charity work is like giving morphine for a deep cut to the leg - it blocks the pain for awhile, but if you don't address the blood leaking out, the person is going to die anyway. Pain relief helps - it doesn't fix the problem.

When I thought about my own contribution to the planet, I drew a picture of my concerns, starting in the right hand corner (see image below): a child who lacked books, education, opportunities. Why is he stuck there? his parents were poor, uneducated, miserable. Why were his parents like this? They came from a small community that fell apart because of urbanisation and globalisation of food supply that led to the closure of several local farms, and then other town businesses. They learned their beliefs about money and independence from others who had a very limited view of the world.

How I choose to make a difference is illustrated in red: the work I do with Inner Compass is about educating teachers, business owners and other business leaders about new empowering beliefs and frameworks that lead to positive beliefs about their life, their abilities and possibilities. This acts in ripple effect to influence the teachers in these communities and thus down to the student who, though poor, can imagine a different reality and have the courage to act on it.

My work with the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation is about developing post-conventional leaders who can act across industries, sectors, and organisation to address global challenges like climate change, food security, urbanisation, and so on - issues that affect the communities, jobs and businesses surrounding the little boy.

I also give money to the Smith Family - it helps to educate one child in the Australian community.

I choose not to volunteer to with the Smith family. Why not? Because I act from my strengths and passion: I share ideas, concepts, and strategies that make a proven impact in how people manage their lives and businesses. I write, I educate, I speak, I inspire, and I influence. That's what I'm good at, and that's what I love.

What does this mean for you? Let's say you work at a gym and you are wondering, 'how am I making a difference?', here is what I suggest you do: look at the positive impact you are making with your interactions - a warm greeting brightens someone's day, a compliment boosts self-esteem, encouragement firms someone's commitment to health. You have a ripple effect.

No matter where you make a positive intervention - whether you do it at the pointy end by volunteering - or you do it by making international policy - make sure you do it with the whole of your being! Be passionate about the energy you give to the world, love the moments you spend with a client answering their concerns, or with a staff member who is struggling with their work performance, or even cuddling a pet.

It's not what you do, but how you do it - it ALL has an impact because it is all connected. We are all connected.

So please - let go of your white collar guilt of feeling like you are 'not doing enough' and get on with unleashing your love and passion in the world - wherever you choose to contribute - it's all good, and it all matters.

With love and appreciation.

Author's Bio: 

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Author Zoe Routh works with women in business to enhance their personal effectiveness and leadership capacity for global effect. For free tips on how to become a more effective leader that will save you time, money, energy, and stress, go to http://www.innercompass.com.au