Don’t Stop Until You Weep

By Lori Sparger

Be the change you want to see in the world.

There it is, so simple, a formula for making a difference in the world. To quote a great American brand, “Just do it”.

There’s a lot of truth to that statement, and a lot of naïvete.

In an age ensorcelled with all that is new, shiny, groundbreaking, and forward-thinking, it’s easy to forget that innovation isn’t limited to only the tangible. Some of the most needed and complicated innovations relate to the ways in which our longstanding institutions operate.

Having built my career in the world of higher education, I have a deep appreciation for the traditions and strengths of colleges and universities. There’s a reason people come from around the world to study in the U.S. But failing to evolve has put those very institutions under an uncomfortable public microscope in recent years, and my corner of that world, the liberal arts, has been subject to the most probing scrutiny of all.

Not a month goes by without a politician, pundit, or publication calling into question our very existence. The study of philosophy, the arts, my degree in English, all come under fire. They are frivolous. There are no jobs. It’s welders vs. philosophers in a presidential debate courtesy of Marco Rubio. It’s patently false, but we hear it again and again.

Fast Company cited a recent PayScale survey in which hiring managers bemoaned the lack of critical thinking, problem solving, and writing proficiency among new college graduates. Those skills are the cornerstone of a liberal arts education. And yet the narrative is that there aren’t jobs if you pursue a course of study that develops those skills.

So why the disconnect? Because change hurts.

Leading innovation in an industry built on, and sustained by, its traditions is no easy task. Simply putting the shiny and new atop deeply entrenched systems isn’t innovation. It’s a band-aid. People who love the liberal arts feel threatened. They circle the wagons to protect the disciplines they love, to save them from a world that doesn’t understand. But the effort to defend has exactly the opposite effect. Circling the wagons, being isolated from the world outside the academy, and choosing not to evolve and engage weakens us.

But change hurts.

It’s not enough to be the change you want in the world. That’s too isolated. It’s singular. It doesn’t pull anyone else along for the ride.

If you are innovating, working hard to move an established organization in a new direction and making change, then be prepared. When you care deeply about the change you’re making, that it’s right and that you get it right, it’s stressful. Reaching toward your goals will mean moving away from the status quo and taking your employees from what’s established and safe to something new and untried. The impact on the people around you will be significant.

If it doesn’t tear at your heart, if it doesn’t hurt, if you don’t sometimes pause to question what you’re doing and if it truly is the right thing, then you may not be pushing enough to create transformative change. If you care enough to rebuild it, at some point you’ll be forced to break apart something you love. And it will be painful.

Let your call to action be this: Be the change that makes you weep in the world.

Having the courage to innovate doesn’t mean you won’t cry. It means after you cry, you won’t stop.

Originally posted on the Bulldog Drummond Blog.

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