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It Made a Difference to THAT One!

2014-11-18 Posted By Jenna

I heard this story while I was doing my Social Work degree, and I think I’ll remember it until I take my last breath (like the words to the Big Bang Theory intro):

“Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

What does this have to do with anything?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a large part of my life trying to fit the mold of success in the eyes of society. I’ve gone as far as not telling my parents when things were getting worse medically, just so I could get through exams without needing accommodations (that time in particular almost led to blood poisoning). I went into a severe depression when I had just ONE semester left of my degree to graduate (in the four-year time span that they talk about in movies) when my health took a turn for the worse and I had to postpone. And I felt pretty down in elementary school when the teacher would return our tests and assignments in the order of how well we did - best to worst - and I was always last (I missed a LOT of school to be in the hospital back then).

When I looked back at these failed attempts to align myself with society’s idea of success, I didn’t really feel like I had the potential to amount to anybody great in this world or that I could make a meaningful difference. And then I realized that that was the problem! All I can do is MY best (don’t mind the corniness because I think I’m onto something here). This doesn’t mean copping out or not trying my hardest because I can’t always follow convention!

It means embracing the fact that we are all unique, and that there is more than one way to make a meaningful difference in this world. And not only that, every difference we make (big or small) does have an impact. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

We ALL have strengths and weaknesses, no matter our circumstances.

It has the makings of a tragedy when you’re working your hardest with what you have and what you know to try and make a difference in the world, and someone comes along to tell you it’s “not good enough,” or you’re not doing it the “right way.” This can stop you in your tracks and change the direction of your life. It takes courage, strength and tolerance to realize that everyone is entitled to their own opinion (even if it rocks your very identity). But that doesn’t mean you have to take it lying down.

In a situation like this you can respond in a couple of ways including (but not limited to), trying to start a dialogue with that person. A dialogue in this type of situation may end in you changing the other person’s perspective of who you are and what you can do, and/or he or she showing you where they’re coming from. And yet, this is real life so there may also be the possibility that you just have to realize that some people are ignorant. Some people don’t want to change their mind about the way they see the world around them. That’s their choice, and you can’t do anything about it, if they don’t want to do anything about it. You just have to carry on, continuing to believe in yourself and what you can contribute. Easier said than done? You caught me! I will admit that some times I have to fake it until I make it, I am my own worse critic, after all.

The bottom line is: you can make a difference! The only time you should ever be comparing yourself to others is when you see them doing something you never thought of that you CAN do to keep you on the path to your personal best.

Questions? Comments? Send me your thoughts at

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“Overcome the notion that we must be regular... it robs you of the chance to be EXTRAORDINARY ”
Uta Hagen
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