A Better Change Maker

What do change-makers do?

We sit with the world, see it as it is, and imagine it differently.

We imagine it better.

More just and livable.

More democratic, humane, and beautiful.

We imagine projects that blue the skies, ventures that wildflower the landscapes, and start-ups that cleanse the oceans of plastics. We imagine enterprises that expand access to education, technology and markets. We imagine campaigns that unleash human potential, movements that ease suffering and experiences that deepen dignity.

And, then, we get to work.

We write down our vision, map out our theory of change and set our objectives.

We enumerate the skills and things we’re gonna need to create the change we want to see – website design, social media architecture, impact assessment framework, project management tools and many other things.

We survey what we have.

Normally, we don’t have everything we need.

No matter.

We begin anyways.

We bootstrap. We DIY. We utilize free services, piggyback on pre-existing infrastructure, and look for workarounds. We invest in learning new skills. And, of course, there will be things we need that we cannot do. Should not do. So, we harness our networks, persuade others to join us, and build a team to amplify our agency.

Together, we strategize, pitch our vision, raise funds, mobilize resources and execute.

And, when we assess our impact, more than likely, we’ll come up short.

We’ll make mistakes.

We may even fail.

And, when we do, it’ll hurt.

No matter.

We’ll learn. Iterate. Get better. Repeat.

This is the roar of our work.

This is hustle.

However, there is another aspect of our work that is often overlooked, often the most important, and often the most magnifying; namely, building deep, authentic relationships with our team and the communities with which we work.

And, how do we do that?

We ask questions of one another, listen to each other, and learn about and from one another.

It sounds simple.

It isn’t.


Well, we could talk about all of the human designed divides that separate us from one another – like race, sex, religion, language, culture, nationality, politics and more. We could also mention the constellation of unearned privileges and unwanted oppressions that go unacknowledged among us. Both are valid reasons. However, ultimately, here’s the thing that keeps us from meeting each other:

Our primal disinclination to saying “I do not know.”

Take a moment.

Try to say it.

It’s not easy.


Maybe its the insecure little kid inside of us who always wants to be right.

Who knows.

All I know is that it is important to say. Because, when we say it, we tell others that we are ready to learn. And, that is where solidarity begins.

So, how do we get to “I do not know”?

We humble ourselves.

And, how do we do that?

We can “apprentice with” the problem we want to solve by studying the interlocking system of rules, regulations, and cultural constraints in which it exists. We can study its history. And, we can investigate its political-economic context by asking: How will solving the problem disrupt current power dynamics? Who wins? Who loses? Essentially, we can choose to learn how much we do not know about the problem we want to solve.

We can also spend more time staring up at the night sky asking big questions of the universe like:

  • Why am I here?
  • Why is there good and bad?
  • What’s next after I end?

We can surrender to its complexity.

Infinite interconnectivity.

Its vastness.

Our smallness.

Its timelessness.

Our fleeting impermanence.

When we manage to accomplish this kind of work, we exist in the overlap between AGENCYand SOLIDARITY.

It is a place of “confident-humility”.

Here, our relationships are positioned side-by-side.

Not top down.

Here, we do things with each other.

Not for each other.

But, alas, it is hard to stay here.

AGENCY and SOLIDARITY are elusive.

We never have a permanent grip on either of them.

Sometimes we let others take them away from us.

But, let’s be honest.

Mostly, we just give them away.

Our fears erode our confidence. Our self-doubt dissipates our voice. And, some days our insecurities are so sharp that we don’t want to know what we do not know.  We want to generalize, categorize, and put people in their “proper” place.  We want to infuse those around us with simple narratives and retreat into a I know, I’m right, me first, I want, gimme-mine, take-take-take, self-centered world of isolation.

We have to earn AGENCY and SOLIDARITY anew.

Each and every day.

All day.

Until the end of the day.

And, how do we do that?

We go off to a sacred space of solitude, sit in silence, and assess our lifestyle by:

  • Critically reflecting upon the human constructs we have internalized.
  • Measuring the depth of our submersion into the dominant consumerist culture.
  • Questioning our past and reconsidering our upbringing.

And, since we humans are largely at the mercy of what we do not know about ourselves, we go into the deepest, darkest, dampest wilderness of our souls to sit with our demons and ask them “Where does it hurt?”

Yet, this unwinding of our humanity is too big of a job to be done in solitude. We need others. So, we seek out others, gather in circles together, and do it together for each other through dialogue.

We share our hopes. We share our fears. We expose our weaknesses. And, as you can imagine, this takes a lot of trust. But, within this vivacious circle of humanity lies an immense possibility. Namely, that if we remain present for each other and give of ourselves to each other, we may get to know ourselves better, get closer to the “why” of our existence and maybe help each other in the same way.

Together, we can remind each other that the world as we know it – inside and outside of ourselves – is not fixed. It is malleable. And, we are agents of change.

This – all of it – is what change-makers do.

This is the work.

It is not easy.

Most of it is unglamorous.

And, all of it is necessary.

Making change is a roll-up-your-sleeves-lunch-pail-labor-of-love that gives us calluses.

They grow layer by layer each and every day. They harden. They hurt. But, they are a testament to our patience, persistence and commitment to the work.

It is at the intersection of AGENCY, SOLIDARITY and CALLUSES that a better change-maker exists. It is where IMAGINE exists.

By Shawn Humphrey (founder, La Ceiba)

My Notes…

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