09/17/2013 10:17 am ET Updated Nov 13, 2013

How-To Work Your Social Change Ass Off

Social change requires tenacity, strength of commitment and old-fashioned hard work. Bluntly, you may not be tough enough.

If social and economic justice is your chosen career path, you can't avoid hard work. Social change work demands rigor: rigorous thinking to start and rigorous execution to finish. If you're not up to the task, get the hell out of the way.

Martin Luther King, Jr. - a hard worker himself - remarked, "Ultimately, you have to take a stand with your life."
  • When you vote, you take a stand.
  • When you speak up in a conversation with friends, you take a stand.
  • When you choose to work hard for something you believe in, you are taking a stand. Working hard is an act of conscience.

Living a life that matters is a process of sequential, incremental, step-by-step engagement. Change doesn't materialize out of thin air one day, miraculously moved by a brilliant insight, a penetrating analysis or compelling speech.

Minds are changed slowly. Small actions beget larger actions. Effective change agents break lofty goals into bite-sized tasks - each one of which requires practice, diligence and determination to master.

It can be frustrating. Developing mailing lists, studying spread sheets, learning how to run meetings, asking for money, persuading people to participate, overcoming seemingly endless skepticism, making cold calls and 1000 other boring, thankless jobs. The unifying theme: hard work.

Working hard at social change is the toughest standard you will ever experience. Only you - and no one else - knows if you are giving your social enterprise your very best. Only your inner voice - and no one else's - can fully evaluate your performance. If you're any good at all, you'll never be entirely satisfied.

Hard work reveals you. It's your character in action. As Bill Shore, CEO of Share Our Strength, writes, "...the countless small decisions and choices you make each day add up to a larger judgment about your life's meaning."

Hard work defines you. It's your social justice brand. Listen to social activist Saul Garlick, Founder/CEO of ThinkImpact, "It's not going to be money that solves your problems. It's not going to be self-pity. It's going to be keeping your head down...working damn hard."