Monthly Archives: September 2011

When it Comes to Social Impact, Who Does it Better?

When assessing one’s capacity for social impact, visibility and fame are often cited as key drivers for success and ability to enact change.  But when trying to identify the big fish living in the pond of the rich and famous, does a certain type of fame serve as an advantage?

Athletes and actors (and those who dare attempt to straddle the line) come from very different worlds and their success is built upon vastly different experiences.  These experiences can have interesting effects on individuals’ perception of social impact, their awareness of various global social issues and their understanding of their ability to affect change in a meaningful way.

Some would argue that, when it comes to an overall awareness of issues and ways to make an impact, non-athletes have the upper hand.  For example, actors who travel and play various roles avail themselves to a deeper understanding of global issues, even if only in the name of ‘getting into character.’  Undoubtedly through his process of identifying with protagonist’s profile in Hotel Rwanda, Don Cheadle made a unique connection with the social context surrounding the genocide happening in that country; he has since been extremely active in the fight against genocide in Darfur, co-authoring a book and urging our nation to take action against the atrocities taking place throughout Sudan.

Few athletes have proven to be as well versed in social issues occurring at home or abroad.  Arguably this stems from the tunnel vision that is required of athletes from a very young age; the same pressure that pushes them to be at the top of their game at all times in order to be successful may also be the blinder that prevents them from understanding and interacting with the larger world around them.  This lack of connectedness to people and ongoing social issues can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to give back, particularly if it keeps them from knowing what the issues are that need to be addressed.

But a person’s occupation will not (or at least, should not) place an upper bound on potential to do good.  Personal investment, regardless of vocation, is what will drive commitment and a lasting impact related to any given social cause.  Anyone, professional athlete, actor or otherwise, has the ability to create their own positive impact; personal investment is what will make the difference and define the level of “success” one can have in this arena.

So whether you’re an athlete, actor, or an aspiring-something else, here’s one thing to remember: authenticity brings commitment; commitment yields longevity; and hopefully the time you invest will spark the change you wanted to make when you started out in the first place. 🙂