A DIY Future: How to Discover Options and Effect Change
How bad do things have to get before you try to change them?
Why it matters: Many people get stuck in a state of not-doing. They're content to complain about society's grand problems over coffee or cigars. And sure, talking about the future of society is useful. Sharing the message, showing people the vision, figuring out what the goal is and what changes need to be made to get there—I'm not discounting the importance of all that. I'm just saying—that can't be all you do. That's not where the buck stops. Unless you stop talking and start doing, nothing is going to change.
Here's an example. I attended a local political event last year. The keynote speaker, an author, said approximately nothing. Lots of pointing out where the problems are (cue clapping), lots of saying we won't stand for that (clap clap clap), very few actionable suggestions for how to fight back or make changes. The audience loved it. Lots of clapping, no action, no specific call to action.
Effecting change means taking action. It means you've decided not to sit in the backseat. You're not the audience anymore. You're on stage. You're driving.
You've read this far—which means you want to know how to make change happen. You want to drive.
Dig in: Why is change hard?
One problem is that many people assume that the world ought to be a certain way—they expect justice, or fairness, or equality, or any number of other laudable virtues—and they expect the world to align with their expectations. But the world doesn't care about your expectations! The truth is, things are what they are. And when you realize that, you realize it's up to you to change things. Nothing's magically going to be fixed on its own.
A related problem is that many people don't realize they can make changes. People's autonomy slips away; they don't realize they can take responsibility.
When my husband Randy was little, his mom put him in public school, because that's what you did. She said it felt wrong. She was supposed to be close to her kids, right? She got a job in the school cafeteria. That was a little better, but still not quite right. It wasn't until Randy was in high school that his mom discovered homeschooling was an option.
Sometimes change is hard because we don't know that a system can be changed. We have a sense of unease, of wrongness about a situation. But we're stuck. We don't know what the other options are—or that other options even exist! We don't realize—or perhaps don't want to realize—that, with enough tenacity and elbow grease, we can create our own, new options. We don't realize that we don't need permission to change.
If you don't feel like you're in control, you won't act
One reason many people don't realize they have choices is that mainstream society—conventional schooling in particular—zaps autonomy. (Read more about building autonomy and how schooling kills motivation.) When you lack autonomy, you feel controlled or compelled. You become passive. You don't take responsibility, because it feels like someone else is in control. You feel you need permission before acting. You've been trained to wait, to complain but comply, not to disrupt the system.
Think of the characters in so many movies and shows crying dramatically, "I had no choice!"
The bottom line: When you realize that you have choices, you take the first step toward changing an undesirable situation. Even when the current system, whatever it is, seems like it's made of stone, you can be a chisel. You can change the system. You have options.
How do you realize that you have choices?
One step is to build autonomy. Another is to build self-discipline, which you will need to put in the time and effort to make changes happen.
Look outside the system. Take a meta-systems view: all systems were built up at some point, and all of them can be changed or dismantled. New systems can be built up, with time, energy, and effort. Learn about meta-rationality.
Learn brainstorming and ideation techniques, and build creativity to help you think outside the system. Read widely and seek out new ideas, especially from cultures or mindsets different from your own (or at least different from the mainstream). One of the easiest ways to discover other options is to see other people choosing differently.
A DIY future
How bad do things have to get before you decide to change them? At what point do you say, yes, I will do this myself?
It's easier to hope that someone else will step up. Someone else will attend the city council meetings, run for the board seat, start the needed local initiative. Someone else will do the often boring busywork of actually making changes happen, while you continue discussing the problems over coffee or cigars.
It can be hard to build up the inertia to choose a different option. It's harder to choose to do something other than what you've been doing - whether that's building your business or your personal empire, establishing your big house on ten acres, working on your podcast or blog.
Here's an example of how easy it is to get stuck. Some people have the goal of doing good. They want to change things for the better, and that takes money. They get trapped in a money-building cycle. They make money, so they can donate to charities, start nonprofits, and generally use the money for good. But they don't feel like they have enough money to make a difference, so they have to make more. And over time, they lose sight of why they thought they needed the money in the first place. As Jacob Imam and Marc Barnes like to ask on their Good Money podcast, what is the money a placeholder for?
You need to realize—to remember—that other options are available.
The action to take today
Pick an issue that matters to you. What have you done to further the cause? What's your ratio of talk to action?
How can you make the cause visible? How can you show people what other options—the options they aren't seeing—are available? How can you live as the example? Be the change you want to see, and all that.