An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”
“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”
“You cannot possibly make a difference…” Have you ever felt that way before? I know I have. I have always had such high hopes for my life. I have dreams of changing the world and being remembered. I confess that one of my biggest fears in life is dying and not being remembered for anything worthwhile, save but by a few. I wanted to be read about in textbooks. To do something that would inspire people. Something that one day, people would tell my story and change their world. I dream big. I dream to make a difference.
I have a hard time accepting that I may never do these things. I may never do anything worthy of historical significance. I may not be remembered for much. I may be soon forgotten. It’s a struggle. I start out with big dreams and goals. I wanted to write a blog that touched thousands of lives, with lively discussions and people saying “Wow, you have GOT to read this!” and sharing it with others. I’m lucky if I get twenty views a day. I wanted to write awesome books. I can barely get a blog entry out sometimes. I wanted to be a motivational speaker and get to travel around to conferences and such and just encourage. I want so badly to DO. And yet, sometimes, I think, I focus too much on the DO, and not nearly enough on the DONE.
We all have those moments. We had a big plan. We put our everything into it. Finally the time comes. We’re all excited for it! And then…it’s here. And it’s nothing like our imaginations thought it would be. Not as many people participated as we thought. We tripped all over ourselves. We didn’t say all we wanted. It’s so easy, especially in our world today, to feel like a failure. And in our world today, if you’re really unfortunate, that failure ends up on youtube.
It can be so easy to look at the small things and think we failed. But there is a lesson that I am learning, the beauty in the ashes, that is making all the difference in the world. What I see, in the small picture, as a failure, in the larger picture might be anything but. When our plans don’t go like we thought, the fact remains that they still went. Which means someone saw. And while it might not seem like it to us, it might have made all the difference in the world to that one person. Then they will carry it to another person. And so on. We may never see the fruits of what we started, but we may never see the end of the ripples, either.
I may never change the world in the ways I dream. But the thing is, those dreams were mine. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re God’s. The way I change the world might have nothing to do with me any longer. But it lives on through the lives I’ve touched. And because I made a difference in their lives, they will make differences in others’ lives, who will make differences in others’, and, before long, my influence on just one person, through countless different channels, may just one day change the world. So while the means weren’t the way I’d planned, the end result will be better than I ever could have imagined.
It only takes one. One person at one time, and the whole world is changed. You never know when that one time will be. It might just be when you feel you’ve had your biggest failure. So be encouraged, take heart, and keep on going, even when it feels like it’s all falling apart. You may not make a difference en masse, but even if it’s just one, it’s all the difference in the world. And you can inspire a generation just by inspiring one. And the world will change.
The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves, saying,
“It made a difference for that one.”
The old man looked at the young woman inquisitively and thought about what she had done. Inspired, he joined her in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.