We don’t need to make a difference today. It’s easy to see the problems in the world, and then to see a workable solution and feel like any actions other than effecting that solution must be a waste of time — worse than a waste of time, as a matter of fact. Generally, though, this is a bad instinct.
Instead, we should rush to change ourselves.
We can always make the world better through small actions, and those are worth pursuing. But when we have a vision that involves us trying to change the way the economy works, or the educational system, or the government, or a religion, or a language, or a society, to make them better or more just, then rushing in too quickly is not good for the world or for ourselves.
We need to focus on self-improvement and learning, first. And we need to be ready for it to take several years longer than we think it ought to take.
Invest time in learning. Feel the freedom to spend years in this stage. Learn about philosophy and economics and political theory and poetry and history and the relevant science. We’ll never feel like we know quite as much as we’d like to, but we can definitely get much closer to knowing the bare minimum. Even that, however, can’t be achieved without great effort, and more specifically, without a consistent and relentless studiousness.
So few people have done this sort of work. It’s easy for us to think we know more than we do, if the people who surround us all know even less than we ourselves do. But that is a false confidence, and it leads to ruin.
Invest time in becoming more virtuous, becoming as virtuous as it is humanly possible to be. It’s hard to do.
Early on I wasn’t sure how I should measure my progress in virtue, but from a vantage point of being further along I see that it is quite easy to get an initial sense. Just look back over the past day, or week, or month. How have you spent your downtime? How have you treated the people you have trouble getting along with? What have you been thinking about? How are those vices coming along? Are you the person you want to be?
Don’t fall into vice in a moment of great stress and temptation and so risk undoing a lifetime’s work, and discrediting others who work for the same goals. If we don’t work on virtue now, before we think we need it, then we never will.
Being already virtuous will be an important part of being an effective and charismatic agent of change when the time for action does arrive.