Permission to Change the World: A Big Brothers Story

Grant and Joaquin Big Brothers

Being healthy is easy, earning money is easy, even changing the world is easy. There is plenty of research that shows that all it takes to be healthy is to eat a whole foods plant based diet and do a little exercise. All it takes to earn money is to identify a way you can contribute to a business and then monetize that contribution. Changing the world is as simple as making the decision to let your actions be an example for others to follow.

So why do so few people choose to be healthy, earn the money they want, or change the world? I believe that the answer is that they never start. Changing a diet seems hard and uncomfortable, making more money seems out of our control, and changing the world is only for superheroes. These are the stories that we tell ourselves and they eventually become truths in our lives. We get so used to these patterns and stories that we don’t even take the time to notice how simple it would be to write new ones.

The question then becomes how can we wake ourselves up to these truths and start living the life that we want to live. The most powerful tool for this that I have experienced in my life is to witness other people, preferably peers or people close to me, demonstrate the types of behaviors that I want to incorporate. For some reason hearing a doctor say you should eat fruits and veggies does not carry the same weight as seeing a friend choose a salad at happy hour or state that they are not drinking alcohol anymore because they want to be healthier. Having a boss say “if you do XYZ by the end of the quarter you might be in line for a promotion” does not make me question my work ethic as much as seeing a peer working on a special side project without being asked. For some reason being told these things by doctors and bosses falls flat but when I notice the behavior in my peers I immediately begin thinking to myself “Dang I should be doing that too!” This peer motivation is exactly how I was eventually inspired to change the world.

I am going to leave names out because I have honestly never told this person, let’s call him Mark, that he inspired me to change the world. Although I am sure he would love to know he caused this reaction in me, I am not so sure he would love the reason why. I have always had a lot of self-confidence, especially back at the start of my sales career. I am very competitive and I took a lot of pride in looking around the room and thinking that I was doing better or at least as good as everyone in it. That was exactly the case I found myself in when I was sitting on Mark’s couch with a few of our peers after work one day.

The company we worked for was a high-pressure door to door sales company and Mark and I were on the same team. We had just spent the day at a team event so we all decided to go back to Mark’s and hang out for a bit. Mark did pretty well at work but nothing special and he seemed like an okay guy but definitely not a saint.  All in all Mark was just another average dude from the office. (This particular month I had sold a lot of widgets so I viewed myself as somewhat superior).

As we sat there drinking beers, talking about girls, and grilling burgers we discussed our weekend plans. I told Mark that I had tickets to a concert on Friday and said that he should come. That is when he said something that opened my eyes and sent me on a path that would eventually change my life. At the time it seemed so casual, I don’t even think he put his beer down or looked over at me from the grill as he replied “Oh man that would be cool but I can’t. I told my little bro I would take him to a ball game”. I have a pretty bad memory so the implication of that short sentence did not immediately strike me. I clarified, “I didn’t know you had a little brother” to which he replied “no man Big Brothers Big Sisters, he is 10 and loves baseball”. Embarrassed I did not keep the conversation going, I don’t think I even asked any follow up questions but later that night as I lay in bed I could not sleep. I kept thinking about that conversation over and over again until I finally concluded, “If freaking Mark could be a mentor I definitely can!”

The next day I did a little research on Big Brothers and Big Sisters (BBBS). It turns out there is a HUGE need for more mentors. There is a wait list that goes on for months and some kids do not even end up getting matched. At that point I was in the process of planning a move to California so I could not immediately sign up to be a Big (there is a 1 year commitment) but I made a promise to myself that I would when I got to California.

Joaquin flying a plane

I am not going to say that I have dramatically changed my life to be a better person. I still judge myself and others (although I try a lot harder not to) and I am still mostly the same person I was before the move, but volunteering with Big Brothers has definitely opened my eyes to how much potential we all have. I absolutely love hanging out with my Little, sharing my experiences and learning from his. I love watching him push himself to grow and I love to challenge his ideas. Working with BBBS has not only impacted my life and the life of my Little but it has also opened my eyes to the fact that all it takes to do great work is to get out and do great work. At the end of the day the people we admire are still just regular people, they just make decisions in a different way.

I love telling my BBS story and seeing the reactions on people’s faces when they find out I am a mentor. I can almost hear them thinking “Wow if he can do it I DEFINITELY can!” and that is my point. Don’t think that being healthy requires you to change your entire life, just start with your next meal and see how it goes. Don’t think that earning more money means you have to sacrifice yourself on the corporate alter, just pick something you are passionate about and work on it as hard as you can. And definitely do not think you need a cape or super powers to change the world, just start living your life as an example that gives other people permission to do the same.

Get involved with programs like Big Brothers even if you don’t think you are the ideal person to be a mentor. Help your neighbor with a project even if you are not an expert in the field. Go out of your way for others even if you are not perfect all of the time. If you cannot commit to a year with Big Brothers try donating a few bucks or even better post the link to Big Brothers on your social media pages. You have more influence than you think and although your friends and peers probably know you are not perfect, if they see you saying “I am good enough to volunteer or stand up for something special” you are giving them the permission to do the same.

We are all just people, even the ones that change the world.


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