You Can’t Do Everything, but You Can Make a Difference

Focus on what you can do.

by Colter Reed
You don't have to do everything. Just do something.
by Colter Reed
You don't have to do everything. Just do something.

On October 16, 2019, Riley Nelson was five minutes late showing up for work. As a result, his UTA light rail train, running through Salt Lake City, Utah, was five minutes late.

At 6:50 am, at the edge of what the train’s head lamp could reveal in the dim pre-dawn light, Nelson saw a car stopped on the tracks ahead. It was three-quarters of a mile away.

Travelling at 80 mph, it takes over a mile for the train to stop.

Nelson hit the emergency brake and prayed for the best. Maybe, just maybe, the train would stop short.

It didn’t, but it slowed the train enough that Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Ruben Correa, who had just arrived on the scene, was able to pull the unconsicous driver from the car and get clear seconds before the train collided with the vehicle. The train was damaged and the car was totaled, but the driver, the trooper, the engineer, and all passengers on the train walked away unharmed.

Was it perfect? No. The car and train were damaged. But the situation could have turned out much worse than it did.

There is an old Italian proverb, Il meglio è l’inimico del bene. “The best is the enemy of the good.” Why are they at odds? Shouldn’t best be a better form of good?

It should, but we develop an all-or-nothing mentality if we aren’t careful. We seek perfection but we see only flaws. This is especially pronounced if we’ve learned to let the fear of failure hold us back. “If I can’t do it correctly, I shouldn’t do it at all.” Sound familiar?

If we aren’t careful, this attitude can insinuate itself into every element of our lives.

I might not be able to finish, so I shouldn’t start.

I might fail, so I shouldn’t try.

I can’t do everything I want, so I’m not going to do everything I can.

You know what? I hope you can’t do everything you want to do. If you can, you’re not dreaming big enough.

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?
—Robert Browning

We can’t do everything we want. It may feel like we can’t do anything we want. But we can do enough to make a difference.

You can’t finish every task you want to finish today, but you can make measurable progress towards meaningful life change.

You can’t help every person in need, but you can lighten someone’s burden.

You can’t read every book, but you can enrich your mind with the best ideas, inspiration, and entertainment out there.

You can’t offset all the pain, sorrow, and suffering in the world, but you can smile and be cheerful with those you meet.

Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do. Then do it.

Then do it again.

You’ll move the needle. It won’t happen overnight. Overnight success only happens after years of hard work and dedication.

Nelson didn’t set out to save a life. He was just going about his day. When the moment came, he didn’t hesitate. He acted. It wasn’t everything he wanted to do, but it was enough. He made a difference.

Moments like that happen to us everyday. The difference is, it usually takes us years to realize it. Only when we look back and reflect on the path our life has taken do we start to see where our moments were. Moments where we chose to act. Moments where we chose to complain. All of those moments add up. They’ve led us to where we are today.

Today is a moment. Seize it. Do something to make tomorrow better than today. Someday, you’ll be glad you did.

Question: How will you make a difference today? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.