Transform Your Passion Into Action: Lessons From Career Aid Workers

10/23/2016 09:23 pm ET Updated Oct 24, 2017

Co-authored by Courtney White Procel, Licensed Clinical Social Worker with domestic and international humanitarian experience

When was the last time you felt inspired to take action to create a positive change, or to help someone in need? How often do these thoughts cross your mind but you are stopped short because you become overwhelmed by the complexity of social issues? Do you ever feel paralyzed by the inundation of negative news?

Cory Booker, the New Jersey Senator, is a man who is becoming well known for taking action.
He has said, "In life, it is never the big battle, the big moment, the big speech, the big election. That does not change things. What changes things is every day, getting up and rendering small acts of service and love beyond that what's expected of you or required of you."

For the two of us, the path to action was through humanitarian aid work. Mascha and her family came to the US as political refugees, and she grew up intimately aware of what it was like to be displaced. She was drawn to fighting malnutrition in displaced populations in Africa and has worked in some of the least developed countries in the world, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Gabon, Chad and in the conflict affected areas of South Sudan.

Courtney came from a rural town of 5,000 people in Pennsylvania. Her curious nature led her to study Social Work. In the process of learning about the widespread injustices that exist around the world, she was inspired to be of service. She has spent her career working with the homeless on Skid Row in Los Angeles, with veterans, and in various humanitarian projects around the globe in South Africa, Cambodia and Uzbekistan.

What we have both come to realize during our work, however, is that you don't have to dedicate your entire career to doing good to make a tremendous impact. We also know that anyone can become a part of this global shift to positive impact that we believe is underway. Martin Luther King Jr said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

The truth is, heroes already exist in every single one of us. It can be a simple or a profound act. You can dedicate your career to it but, if you are open, you can jump into action and change someone's life in five minutes.

Look at the Swedish bikers that were riding past the scene of a rape on the Stanford campus in 2015. Not only did they stop. They got off of their bikes, halted the incident, and held down the perpetrator until police arrived.

Some 45 years before those bikers became one rape victim's hero (and an incredible example for the whole world), another famous incident at Stanford (the Stanford Prison Experiment) took place. Philip Zimbardo showed us the dark side of how humans will treat each other and went on to become one of the most famous psychologists of our time. Zimbardo came to believe so strongly in the need to give humans an opportunity to develop pro social behavior that he has now dedicated the remainder of his career to it. His organization, the Heroic Imagination Project, teaches people of all ages that each of us have the capacity to be an everyday hero.

It is in the leap from awareness to action that the hero inside of us is born. So how do we do this when we are faced every day with what seems like an insurmountable amount of problems in our world?

In Mascha's recent TEDx talk, she outlined the three key elements of making an impact.

Believe: First, you need to believe that you have the ability to impact your world. Every single one of us has an idea worth sharing. All of us can contribute.

Passion: Once you have the knowledge and belief in your potential, you must find your passion. Where do you see a need for change? What specific things must be addressed in our country, or around the world?

Action: Take action. Join forces with like minded people to catalyze your impact. Find a group in your community working on the cause, get involved with a religious group, or do a search for an organization with expertise in your passion.

What is YOUR call to action?
For us, it has been a lifelong and professional journey to help those most underserved. What we know is that you can travel to help those in need of basic life saving services in South Sudan or you can drive 20 minutes into the heart of Skid Row in Los Angeles. There are a million ways to make an impact. In fact, there are 1.5 million NGOs in the US alone specializing in an endless amount of interventions.

Seeking ideas? Just look at the statistics about Gender Violence in the US. The young woman raped on the Stanford Campus last year represents the 25% of girls that will be raped in their lifetime here in the US. Organizations like It's On Us are bringing awareness and change.
Or how about the upcoming elections - can we remain silent as a presidential candidate calls women pigs and dogs, calls for a ban to Muslims, and offends families of brave soldiers? Are you involved in the campaign?

Find your current calling and take that leap to action. Let's be a country of positive impact.