What if you can’t change the world?

“All you can do is what you can do”-   Kathy Tsapos Parmele, MD

Do you ever feel that you’re a cog in a wheel that just keeps turning and that if you break you’ll be readily replaced? Do you feel that “the system” is driven by forces out of your reach and you’re too small to make a difference? Do you ever find yourself wishing that you had more power, more influence to affect change? Do you ever hope that you could magically get the ability to singlehandedly make a difference? Unfortunately radioactive spiders don’t go around biting people all the time, so superhero magic is usually out of the question.

What do you do if you feel overwhelmed in a situation that is truly out of your control? “All you can do is what you can do,” I tell my nurses when faced with a packed ER. “All you can do is what you can do,” I tell my children when they stress about high school. And “All you can do is what you can do” is what I tell myself when I feel the depths of burnout in myself and my colleagues.

You have to start somewhere. You may not be able to change the world, but you may be able to help one person, even if that person is you. Therefore I ask myself, “What CAN I do?” I can take care of my own health. I can inspire my family. I can take excellent care of my patients and give them the time and attention that they deserve. And I can share my story and the stories of others through this website. This is what I can do. I can also have the self-compassion to know that I can’t do it all. I have limits. But doing what I can do is doing enough.

My good friend Barbara Kondilis shares her story about her struggles during Greece’s economic meltdown in “Riding the Crisis.” She shares how she manages to cope in a situation that feels overwhelming and beyond her control. All she can do is what she can do, and she chooses to do it.

Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Even Mother Teresa felt that she alone couldn’t change the world, but she did what she could do. And it was enough.

Can you?


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