Your Choices Will Change the World


Beginning this month in North America and many other places around the world, students will be finishing their education and moving on. High school, secondary school, college, university, grad school — whatever form it takes, this is a time of transition for many.

So much lies ahead! So many possibilities! And sometimes, so much uncertainty.

My sister is one of this year’s graduates. Congratulations, Mary! You lasted much longer in high school than I did, but you still managed to escape early. Well done.

And congratulations to everyone else out there getting ready to say farewell to a familiar classroom and enter an unfamiliar world.

Graduates hear enough unsolicited advice from people who think they know better. Much of it is banal (“it’s OK to make mistakes” — but oh, not those mistakes) and overly cautious (“take risks” — but make sure you have health insurance and a Roth IRA before you do).

Mine is pretty basic: everyone else is counting on you. We need you. I can’t wait to see how your choices will change the world.

All of us make mistakes, sometimes big ones, so you might as well make your mistakes count for something good.

Sometimes the risky choice is doing the things the way they’ve always been done. Maybe even “most of the time.”


Are you transitioning to something during this season? My congratulations and best wishes for the future. The next step is always more important than the last one.

Do you know a graduate? Tell them you are proud. And then allow them the space to solve the problems that you and I haven’t been able to.

For everyone — how will your choices change the world today?


Image by Amanda & the great Kind Over Matter

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  • Tory says:

    Heartfelt encouragement makes such an impact. Thanks, Chris! Consistent and compassionate piece. Am forwarding this to many who are in large, nerve-wracking and exhilarating transitions.

  • Young Mogul says:

    My choices will change the world because I will instill in my future children unbreakable self esteem and an extreme sense of self. I will teach them to be independent thinkers who will go out and make a difference in the world through their contributions and through their individuality.

    Basically, I will raise them the way I could only wish I was raised—with the self-esteem and self-worth to be distinctly themselves and not be afraid to go against the grain and question everything.

    Also, I plan to kick up a little more dust in my own life.

  • Monica says:

    I’m one of those graduates. 3 weeks and 6 days until graduation…(2 weeks of class, 1 week of finals, 1 week of relaxation).

    I’m hoping that I will be able to change the world by working hard, and one day, when I have kids – I’ll teach them to work as hard as I did.

  • Joel D Canfield says:

    I used to be content to have my change efforts be like the fabled flap of a butterfly’s wings.

    Of late I’ve been aware of my growing need to change the world in a slightly grander manner. ‘Grand’ sure is a lotta work.

    With 6 kids out of school, and one who won’t graduate HS for 11 years, I’m hoping they were all aimed right before they left the bow. Maybe they’ll change the world, too. I hope it’s their goal, but at that age, it wasn’t mine yet, either.

  • randall says:

    Yesterday I taught my third-grade music teacher to play guitar again. She quit when one of her fingers stopped cooperating, I use a method that enables people to play despite extreme handicaps.

    Today I connected two influential people who are doing good work in international distance learning and alternative education.

    Tomorrow I’m speaking to a group of high schoolers about risk and possibility.

    The stuff I get paid for feels meaningful, but this stuff feels even better.

    Oh, and this week I’m spending lots of quality time with young children. Which feels even better than all that stuff.

  • Danijel Šivinjski says:

    Hello there! Is this my first comment over here? Whatever, I’m reading every post you publish.

    So, I’m also one of this year’s graduates in high school and I’m thinking about my future so much these days. And blogging about it.

    I’m in the middle of something big, I feel.

    Good luck to your sister!

  • Devin says:

    Hi Chris,

    Actually, I finished grad school in December. The transition has been an interesting and hopeful process. While it was extremely trying at times to go back to school mid-life, I know that my choice encouraged several friends to do the same in their own mid-life and change their worlds and maybe encouraged my ten-year-old not to wait as long as I did. But if she does wait, she will know that it can be done.

  • linda esposito says:

    How will my choices change the world today?

    Hmmm…considering I work with a lot of at-risk youth in inner-city Los Angeles, I am going to have 18 extra doses of compassion, creativity, and patience as I prepare for my pre-teen Social Skills groups (Yay for Mondays!).

    Being able to spend 50 minutes per week with an adult who in many ways, is the antithesis of their parent(s)/guardian, is a big responsibility as well as a privilege.

    Profound changes sometimes come in small packages (I almost wrote “packs” as they are not unlike a bunch of wolves, at times!!).

    Thanks for recognizing education today Chris.

  • Alex Kwa?nicka says:

    Hi guys….Choices, choices, choices…Do you sometimes feel like I do, like a child in the mist among all the choices? Uncertainity sometimes stops me from making any decision at all, which is the worst choice. As we know, made decision is always better than not made one. Choice is better than lack of choice…

    I’m 20 years old and like most of my peers, I “should” be at some kind of higher education institution for ex. university. But I chose not to. So far I’m not doing very well trying to be financially independent and I would really love to be in Africa right now. But will get there and sure you will know 🙂

    I have loads of life-goals but feel kinda lonely, as most of people around know the one and only way to achieve them without even ever dreaming of them. I’m not giving up though.

    Following your post and wishing you all the best Chris, and all of you guys, who are AWESOME :)))))

  • Susan says:

    If I knew a graduate, I would tell them that college and higher education is a wonderful, solid choice… when there’s a plan and reason behind it and when it’s the right choice for them. Not their parents or friends or teachers, but that graduate.

    My parents were proud I went to college, and I wanted to please them and go the traditional route. In hindsight, I would have probably thrived at a smaller, hands-on, short-term technical school for video editing (my career for 10 years before becoming a writer and Multimedia Director).

    But I couldn’t see past “what I should do” or afraid of letting my parents down, afraid of graduating at 20 instead of 23 -25 like my friends, afraid of feeling ‘left out’ when my brothers had degrees. In hindsight, I would have traveled more and started a mobile business to take with me.

    I wish I had someone back then to tell me there’s not just 1 or 2 ‘smart’ choices, but only 1. What’s best for me.

  • Anshul Gupta says:

    Yeah…how true it is…

    Every one of us can change the world. Our choices do not only impact our lives but also the lives of society we live in, of people we interact with…

    thanks Chris you for such inspirational words…

  • Melissa Dinwiddie says:

    I loved college, which I did slightly unconventionally (year off after high school; sophomore year at a dance/performing arts conservatory in NYC; offbeat, broad liberal arts “field major”). But that was over 20 (!) years ago. Now I feel like I’m graduating again, forging a brand new life path with deeper levels of unconventionality and going for what I really want as a person and an artist.

    Yes, my choices will change the world. Every unconventional thing I’ve ever done has been the right choice, though not always easy at the time. Thanks for the continual reminders to stick with what my heart and gut tell me is right.

  • Mars Dorian says:

    Yeah, sometimes it’s better to not give advice at ALL.

    I know a couple of youngens who are about to finish college, and they scared as heck.

    I call them up and encourage them to go freelance, but angst is capturing every inch of their soul. Lots like I have lots of work to do, lol.

  • Damien Franco says:

    I love your advice.

    Sometimes it’s not easy to remember that every choice, and action, that we make, even in our daily lives, has the potential to change the world.

    It’d be easy to sit on the stands and enjoy the show, but I’m not that kind of character.

    Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!

  • Melanie says:

    Thanks for posting this Chris! I am going back to school for a Master’s in one month! I am so scared and nervous. but know that my choice will open up other doors for me. And of course, I have had a multitude of unsolicited advice, comments “what about the money? your bf? your job?” as if all of those things define me. I have to try hard to convince even myself it will all work out. But why not try and see what is on the other side? I am making a concerted effort to block out anyone else’s opinions, because that is just what they are, opinions. I need to do what is best for my life, at this time, just as everyone else does. That in and of itself, will lead to great things (I hope!). Thanks for giving a dose of inspiration because I have a “case of the Monday’s”!

  • akira says:

    Thanks for this. One of the most sensitive, sensible advice for graduates (and everyone in “transition”) I’d heard yet! Cheers and I’ll be pondering this (and more of your questions)…

  • Christian H Nesheim says:

    Chris. You have been and continue to be a tremendous inspiration to me. Before I found AONC I felt alone. You have no idea how much your thoughts resonated with mine, and I had no idea there would be a whole community of remarkable people who felt the same way.

    I’m taking a year off college before my senior year, my last chance, to take on the world. I’m going to do a tour of Asia, first stop Shanghai for the expo. I’m bringing a backpack and my laptop, that’s it. And like DeCaprio says in The Beach, “as for travelling alone, if that’s the way it has to be, then that’s the way it is”.

    I want to use this year to learn how to blog, and I started one last month. I’ll spend time while travelling really trying to develop it into a great, useful product. You, Leo Babauta and Steve Pavlina have helped me realize that my five-year goal should be to become location independent, and that with persistence, guts and a little smarts, that’s feasible.

    I’m really excited and a little scared

  • Meg says:

    This isn’t the year for me, but next May I’ll be graduating college and my younger brother will be out of high school, I’m excited for him. 🙂 (And hoping I can get him to stay with me for a somewhat extended period of time, I think he’d enjoy it and I sure would!) As for myself, college was what filled my time… I’ll be glad when the degree is paid off and I can put it all behind me and work on what I truly love.

    Today, I’m continuing to be myself — that’s about all I can do for the world, I think. 😛

  • Darin says:

    My hope for them as they come out of mostly institutional bastions of conformity is to learn really quickly how to be individual in this rat race world where everything is done a certain way because, “that’s just what you do”.

    Step out of the box…and realize the excitement and limitless possibilities of the “unsafe” routes that abound.

  • Andi says:

    This is so beautiful!!! My baby bro is graduating. I will make sure to send this to him. 🙂

  • ami | 40daystochange says:

    What a great wake-up call, not just for graduates but for all of us. I feel like I’ve been slipping into auto-pilot, and your post made me realize I need to wake-up and purposefully design and live my life. Thanks for this.

  • Darrell says:

    I am graduating in four days. Ready to rock-n-roll.

  • Gloria Oviedo says:

    Wow! what a great blog!
    My brother sent me this, we are from Mexico, I’m 18 years old and I am finishing high school in 2 weeks 😀 … I’m so happy and looking forward to it, I apply for some schoolarships at different universities and I’m still waiting for the answer, I hope for the best, thanks for these really cool words and I hope to make a change on the world we live in (or at least mine)

  • ravi says:

    Are CEO’s born or made? or even any other occupational title bestowed upon an individual, is he or she born or made (education??)? Is it the school which makes pupils or is the pupil who adds credibility to the reputation of any school? Comparing cost of education those days and benefits derived out of that investment back then to present day cost of securing a College Degree, does cost escalation has any direct correlation to benefits derived today? However, Is Bachelor’s Degree considered semi-educated and perhaps a Master’s/DBA is considered educated these days?

    I only have questions, working on finding answers. Can anyone shed some light? BTW, I am pursuing DBA 🙂

  • Anya Bananya says:

    By choosing to live in my truth and release melodrama and confining ideas about the universe, i will create room for others to live in their truth and not the stories that we have been told about who we are and why we are here. My choices make me a living example of a compassionate future.

  • John Sherry says:

    I feel our biggest choice is whether we want to contribute to a better world for as many as possible or only ourselves. The last 15 years have been about more and more people trying to get more and more and it hasn’t worked and the bubble burst. Now we are back to considering choices that are beneficial for the greater community. Hopefully we’ve not harmed the young and showed them that ‘go-get-what-you-want-regardless’ is the right thing to do rather than ‘go-give-what-you-are’ which makes for a better world.

  • Theresa Bradley-Banta says:

    By encouraging collaboration and innovative thinking.

    Innovation is not limited to new trends, new inventions and the next new gimmick…. it’s about looking at things as they are and seeing them as they might be with a nudge here and a twist there. It is really about creating new worlds out of the one in front of your eyes.

    And my favorite quote this year? Seems apropos…

    “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”
    Albert Einstein

  • Phil - Less Ordinary Living says:

    Chris – I echo your sentiments. Congratulations, welcome to the world and do what inspires you. Humanity and this planet need you more than ever, so make it count.

  • Jean says:

    “Your choices will change the world” is a powerful statement to make to graduates. The choices we make every day as consumers will make or break the planet. Just one aspect of that is our food choices. Food is such a significant part of everyone’s budget that the choices we make in the marketplace can make a real difference. Saying “No” to pesticides, chemical additives, preservatives, food coloring, irradiation and genetically engineered foods puts our consumer power to work for a better world as well as better health for ourselves and our families.

  • Mike Ziarko musing says:

    Well said Chris. I’ve been hearing unsolicited advice for as long as I can remember. Its part of the reason why I stayed in the corporate world for so long. I just didn’t have it in me to do anything different, because I was told that that was the life to live. Looking back, you can help but see yourself and think how naive you were. I guess that’s the part of growing as an individual. Live, and learn.

  • Alex Cican says:

    Weird Chris, I’m graduating from university soon (next month) as well!
    Thanks for your words!
    I’m actually considering of approaching life in a similar way as you (traveling whilst freelancing) but I don’t know if I’ll make it!
    I also read Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, truly inspiring but still, I have yet to gather up the courage!
    Waiting for your Unconventional Guide, please make it a good one!


  • Andrea says:

    I’m not a recent grad, but I hope to change the world by consuming less and conserving more, and more importantly, by teaching my kids to do the same. Little by little, I’m hoping that this kind of mentality & lifestyle will go viral.

    So congrats, grads! And remember, the Earth is your future…treat it well!

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