I've always wanted to change the world. That doesn't make me particularly special. A lot of us want to change the world, to break the paradigm, to make a real difference. But how? And when?
After several exciting years in Washington, DC, I developed a strong sense that I wanted to do something more—something bigger than myself. It's that desire that sent my wife Chrissy and me to Uganda, Africa for six months with Samaritan's Purse in 2013. That experience forever changed me and my perspective on life.
We settled back home in North Carolina—Chrissy pursuing a PhD in global health, me beginning a new job. But I still didn't know what I wanted to do when I grow up. I felt like the Uganda experience would lead to something more and harbored a nagging sense that I should be making a bigger impact but for the time being, I would settle into a normal job and wait to discover my path.
There was one thing born of my Africa experience that remained present. It was a new passion for bridging divides through conversation, a burning desire to see us listen to each other, especially to those with whom we disagree—to better communicate, respect, and understand across division. This simple idea first articulated on an overnight bus ride from Uganda to Kenya then shared with millions of newspaper readers across America had become a nonprofit—Listen First Project. I was proud of LFP, and I invested what little time I could to its growth over four years.
Still, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I grow up.
Then things started moving fast. Over the first half of this year, I developed rich relationships with many visionary leaders across the country engaged on similar missions, and I started business school on the weekends. I'd always wanted to go to business school and knew it would be a great experience. However, I could never have imagined that not only would I meet the most diversely talented and inspirational group of people of my life but that all 45 of them would join my leadership team to elevate Listen First Project to new heights. The distance between what I was doing in my normal job and what I could be doing with Listen First grew greater and greater.
I just needed the courage to step out of the boat. Then tragedy struck Charlottesville, Virginia. The hot rhetoric that inspired the founding of Listen First Project in 2013 had escalated to mob violence, marches to murder. It looked like our country was falling apart.
Listen First Project could no longer occupy only the margins of my life. The need and opportunity were too great. So I dedicated myself full-time to the Listen First mission.
Over the time I had considered taking that risk, someone insisted that I read Make Your Bed by Admiral William McRaven who himself changed the world by overseeing the killing of Osama bin Laden and commanding all U.S. Special Operations forces. Several of Admiral McRaven's lessons for changing the world jumped off the pages and into my personal decision.
It takes a team of good people to get you to your destination in life. You cannot paddle the boat alone.
The obstacle course is going to beat you every time unless you start taking some risks.
Those who live in fear of failure or hardship will never achieve their potential. Without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life.
With courage, nothing and nobody can stand in your way. Without it, others will define your path forward. With it, you can accomplish any goal.
You must rise above your fears, your doubts, and your fatigue. No matter how dark it gets, you must complete the mission.
The power of one person to unite a group, the power of one person to inspire those around him, to give them hope. Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. With hope you can inspire nations to greatness. Sometimes all it takes is one person to make a difference.
I finally know what I want to do when I grow up: I want to change the world. I guess deep down I knew that all along. But now, thanks to the confluence of experience, relationship, and opportunity, I have a much better sense of what that looks like.
Our mission is to encourage conversation towards increased respect and understanding. We inspire hope for a brighter future and individual behavior change one Listen First Pledge and conversation at a time.
Listen First has the power to restore relationships, build bridges and mend the frayed fabric of society. I absolutely believe it can change the world. And I’m not the only one. A longtime supporter recently posted this deeply humbling sentiment: "Often we hear that 'one person can change the world' but dismiss it as a utopian idea. Pearce is doing just that." I'm not worthy of such kind words, but maybe one day I will be, and you will be too. Together, we can change the world.
Pearce Godwin, Founder & CEO of Listen First Project