Making A Difference... One Starfish At A Time

Do you dream of making a difference with your life? Most people do, at some point or another (graduations are a very popular time for thinking about “doing something” with your life).

Sometimes we think that “making a difference” has to be some really big thing… and that one little action can’t possibly make a difference to the overwhelming problems of today, such as hunger, poverty, or racism.

Think about the Starfish story:

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach with thousands of starfish. There is also an old man, who is walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean. The young man says to the old man: why are you doing this? You can’t possibly save all of the starfish. What you’re doing doesn’t make a difference at all! The old man simply replied, as he threw another starfish back into the sea: “It made a difference to that one.”

My story of “making a difference” began when I saw a newspaper article about Girls on the Run – a positive youth development program for girls in grades 3-8, that teaches life skills and self-empowerment in the context of training for a 5K race. I was intrigued by the description of the program as something more than “just another sports opportunity,” and I decided to sign up to be a coach, even though I was barely a runner (I figured I’d get by on my 10 years of experience coaching high school tennis plus being a Brownie leader) J

I was matched with another woman to coach with (fortunately, she had a lot of running experience!) and we were asked to start the program at the elementary level in our local school district.  Now, two years later, we’re just finishing our 4th season of coaching, and over 75 girls have gone through the program, learning topics such as healthy habits, self-esteem, meditation, changing negative self-talk to positive self-talk, and coping strategies for dealing with gossip and bullying, as well as challenging themselves physically to complete a 5K event. The program in our school district has even expanded from the elementary level to the middle school level!

Of course, making a difference goes both ways. One of the girls inspired me to do more than I ever thought I could… she was running in a 10K race on Thanksgiving Day, and she encouraged me to sign up and run with her. We ran side-by-side for the race and completed it together. She made a difference in MY life and helped me see beyond my self-imposed limitations.

When we make a difference to one person, no matter how small it may seem at first, the impact can be felt far and wide, like ripples of a stone thrown in the water.

- Ann Pillman