Always Begin in the Room You Are In
“Where does change begin? It begins in this room. Why?
Because this is the room you are in.”
– Peter Block
If we really want to step up and make a difference in our company and in the world we need to understand that the best place to begin stepping up is wherever you are right now. Stepping up begins when we open our eyes and see that wherever we are, whatever moment we are in, and whatever situation we find ourselves in, stepping up is available to us right there.
Remember the simple definition of stepping up I shared in the preface: “Seeing a need and deciding you are the right person to do something about it”? A corollary of this is that we must act with whatever gifts and skills we have. As Arthur Ashe, the late tennis great, once said, “To achieve greatness start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.”
Rahul Singh is a paramedic and makes his living that way. He also happens to have been named by Time magazine in 2010 as one of the world’s one hundred most influential people. His story and how he became named by Time illustrate the important principle of stepping up right where you are with the skills that you have.
Rahul grew up in Montreal and Toronto, trained as a paramedic, and was working in emergency medicine. When his marriage ended in the mid-1990s, he decided to travel and wound up in southeast Nepal. While working and training at a teaching hospital, he got deployed to an area where a series of horrific mudslides had occurred.
“When I got there, it was great to be able to see the impact of your work so directly,” he told me. “Every day we were getting clean water to people who had none, literally saving people’s lives every day. We were doing really good work, and then suddenly the word came down that the agency had run out of money and they pulled the plug.”
Upset about the shutdown, Rahul hiked and took a bus back to Kathmandu to find the head of the agency. The director was staying at a five-star hotel and offered to take Rahul out for a fancy steak dinner. Halfway through the meal Rahul said he felt an incredible anger well up in him: “I could hardly keep my meal down. It was such a contrast, people were living in such poverty, we were bringing clean water to people who had none, and here he was living it up. I let him have it, told him what I thought. Guess what? No surprise, he fired me!”
Rahul went back to Canada. Soon after his return, his best friend, David Gibson, died from complications of a liver transplant. Gibson had just married the year before and had fought like hell to stay alive. He was only in his early thirties. David’s death was a deep, personal blow to Rahul, but it also became a catalyst.
“When I went to his funeral, I saw how many lives he had touched in his short life and I thought, ‘Look what he did while he was here.’ Then I thought, ‘He’s so young, and I’m not far behind, so now is the time to live.’ That’s when I put two and two together,” Rahul said. He realized he could combine his experiences in Nepal and his training as a paramedic and make them the basis for a foundation in David’s name “to meet the need for emergency medicine in the developing world.”