Let Your Weakness Become Your Superpower
Regardless of How Small You May Feel, You Can Make a Difference Solving the World's Biggest Problems
Every changemaker I know faces a tension between their ambition to solve a big problem and their own human limitations.
Part of what has made Greta Thunberg so impactful is the juxtaposition of a teenager on the autism spectrum squaring off against the climate crisis and the entrenched billionaire interests and global leaders failing to do enough about it. She is small. Powerless. The problem is enormous. The people behind it have all the power.
If you care enough about something that matters, you likely face and feel small and perhaps impotent at times. Greta must have, too.
Picture her as a 15-year-old who hates to speak up, deciding that she’d refuse to go to school for the month leading up to Sweden’s general election in 2018.
As much as I’ve tried to get her on my show, it hasn’t happened yet. I hope to fix that one day. So, I write as a second-hand admirer rather than a first-hand reporter.
While I cannot imagine that Greta anticipated all she achieved when she decided to strike leading up to the general election, attention was the point. Surely, her goal was to make the climate crisis part of the discussion at the highest levels of her national government.
She continued her strike after the election one day per week—Friday. She gained a global following that became Fridays for the Future. That, in turn, led to an invitation to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019.
Here’s the thing. It is that power imbalance that gave her power. Her message echoed down school hallways bursting onto a global platform and multiple Nobel Prize nominations. No living human has better embodied the idea of speaking truth to power.
Greta didn’t see the dramatic power imbalance between herself and national leaders as a reason not to act. She saw it as an opportunity. She saw how the media would relish and magnify her story.
So, you are fighting to solve a problem, raise money, garner attention and also feel inadequate at times. Maybe all the time.
Join the crowd. You only feel that problem-solving is easy if you choose easy problems.
The work seems infinite if you are working to solve intractable, complex problems like the climate crisis, social justice, poverty or global health challenges.
Fighting polio is a favorite example. The parallel to the climate is remarkable. Rotary International picked up the challenge to eradicate polio in the mid-1980s, hoping to complete the task for its 100th anniversary in 2005. Now, 17 years following that target, the work continues.
The effort has reduced the number of wild polio cases from about 350,000 in the mid-1980s to a few dozen in 2021. The consensus among polio fighters is not only that we can eradicate it but must do so, making eradication a top global health priority.
Once eradicated, this plague will never again paralyze a child. Once eradicated, we won’t have to spend a single dollar to immunize children against it, treat a child with it, or rehabilitate a survivor. The human and financial dividends will be huge.
Measuring completion is easy. If there are no more cases, we’re finished.
The climate crisis is similar. The effort to address it has been building for decades. The Paris accord defines success as avoiding more than a 1.5-degree increase in global average temperatures and reducing carbon in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels. As with polio, we can do it, and we’ll know when we’ve done it.
The big problem you hope to solve may be similarly daunting and measurable. Success can be clearly defined and extremely difficult to achieve.
Your apparent weakness may be your strength. Greta once called her autism a superpower. Her vulnerability in the face of overwhelming odds became her strength.
While many criticize her, including some other climate activists, for her relentless negativity, I am a big fan. I’m far more optimistic than she, but my optimism is partly inspired by her brand of activism. Her voice advocating for rapid, radical action and doomsaying inaction is needed. If you like breathing clean air, be grateful for Greta.
More importantly, allow Greta’s success and progress to inspire you to continue your work. Whatever problem you hope to solve can be. Alone, you are no match for it, but we can solve virtually any problem together.