The late, great Pete Seeger is beloved for many of his folksong lyrics, but the words that sing truest to my own heart are ones he uttered in 1955 while testifying before the United States House Un-American Activities Committee.
While grilling about alleged communist loyalties, one committee member asked Seeger why he was not taking strides to contribute to the institutions of the nation.
Seeger’s response was simply this: “I feel that my whole life is a contribution.”
As humans, we are driven to make our personal unique contribution in the world, and we can get really hung up on accomplishing something grand in this short lifetime we’ve been given. We seek out fame, notoriety, publishing deals, hits on our websites—all token evidence that we are somehow making a difference in the world.
We get caught up in comparison games, placing our achievements up against those of our family, friends and public figures. In today’s world, we often are comparing our messy lives with the perfectly curated screen lives that we encounter on the myriad social media platforms we use. Doing so is like comparing the unedited footage of a film to the highlights reel of another. We can easily feel small and insufficient when we do this.
We read articles about the devastation of the planet, religious extremism, climate change, hate crimes and impending oil crises, and it feels like we need to do more. We celebrate our successes one day, only to wake up the next morning confronted with loud inner voices telling us we haven’t yet done enough.
Even Pete Seeger, who made such a conscious effort to make each day of his life a contribution to the causes he felt passionate about, with a huge discography to boot, felt he didn’t do enough. A friend of a friend who was present with him at his deathbed reported that even in his last breaths, he was questioning if he had done enough.
You may always question if you’ve done enough. Don’t let that be a barrier to making your contribution.
If we commit each moment of our lives to being a contribution of some sort—to whatever cause it is that stirs us up and gets our passions flowing—and live in alignment with whatever that may be, we begin to melt away the need for grand accomplishments and notoriety. It becomes all about the contribution itself, not others’ reactions to it.
When we eliminate the ego’s desire for recognition of our contribution, and just contribute, whether our contribution is noticed or not, our life is in alignment. You become a living activist, whether or not you embrace that title for yourself.
When we truly live our lives as our personal contributions to the changes we wish to see manifest in the world, we must be honest with ourselves. We must clean up our behind-the-scenes thoughts and actions and come into full alignment with our desired outcome. This might mean, for example, if you feel very passionately about organic farming, you don’t give in when a desire arises to eat fresh strawberries in the middle of winter. If you’re advocating a vegan lifestyle, you might need to look beyond your plate and trade in your wallet and shoes for non-leather alternatives.
Whatever it is, living your contribution fully takes dedication and discipline.
It also requires a good deal of compassion—especially self-compassion. There will be times when we slip on our path, when we don’t contribute as fully as we might desire. Treat yourself gently and kindly, and remember that every moment to come is a fresh opportunity for a new or different action or choice. We are not bound to our past. Each moment is not only an opportunity to make a statement but also a chance for personal evolution.
Perhaps this is the year you begin focusing on your contributions, rather than your resolutions or intentions.
Too often, our resolutions are self-serving in nature. At the end of your life, do you want people to remember you as someone who lost 10 pounds or overcame their reliance on the snooze button, or do you want to be remembered for the cause you stood for each and every day? This isn’t to say that bettering ourselves doesn’t bolster our capacity to make better contributions, but when we focus on our contribution first, we are automatically thinking of something beyond ourselves that we wish to put forward into the world.
Whether seen or unseen, we spread the seeds we wish to sprout. Perhaps some will blossom and others won’t. This doesn’t stop the farmer from sowing his field each year, and it shouldn’t stop you from taking the actions you know to be right.
Maybe you will touch many people with your contribution, or possibly only one or a select few will be affected deeply. Maybe you will be your only witness. Big ripples can occur when a boulder is dropped in water, but also when many pebbles are dropped over time.
Try not to measure your contribution by the responses of others. Just keep acting.
When the question arises, “Is this enough?” answer with a yes. Even if you can think of 10,000 reasons why the answer is no, cultivate the faith that the answer is always yes. One day you’ll find you no longer have to convince yourself of this.
Your life is your contribution.
You don’t have to carve out time for that thing you really feel passionate about. You don’t need to write letters to elected officials, or call your local representatives. They say money talks, but compared to action, it’s a faint whisper. Every moment is a moment to act. The time to act is now.
Don’t wait until tomorrow. Don’t wait until you’ve found the right job or the right partner or even the right words to express what it is you want to contribute. Just contribute.
Let each moment be a contribution.
Author: Meredith Klein
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: James Douglas/Unsplash