For teens looking to make a difference in the world, Laurie Ann Thompson's Be a Changemaker is an invaluable resource—not just for creating an action plan, but also for mustering up the confidence to take a risk and start something new. "You have the power—now more than ever—to be the change that you seek," Thompson writes.
It's no surprise that Thompson spent her teenage years in search of her own way to make a difference in the world.
Most people who know me now would be surprised to learn that I was a painfully shy child. My parents would often tell me after a dinner out that I could have any treat I wanted, as long as I ordered it myself. I would skip dessert every time, because that was far easier than talking to the server, even when I’d known that server for years.
Because I was so shy, it will probably surprise most who knew me then that I was also an unbearably earnest child. It wasn’t something I ever talked about with anyone, even my closest friends. I longed to discover my purpose in life. I yearned to make a difference, to leave the world a better place than I had found it. Every night, year after year, I would offer up a silent prayer asking for my special talent to be revealed and that I be shown how to use it to do good in the world.
Looking back on it now, I realize how naïve I was. What made me think that special talents just drop into our laps? And why would anyone need one to make the world a better place? What was really holding me back was fear and a lack of confidence. What I couldn’t see then was how many gifts and privileges I already had or how much time I was wasting by not putting them to use doing the good that I could right then and there.
Many years later, as an adult with children of my own, I started writing Be a Changemaker for the adolescent I was then: someone who desperately wants to do something that matters but either doesn’t believe they can or doesn’t know where to start. At that point, I still hadn’t discovered my purpose in life and didn’t feel I had any special abilities, but I’d collected some interesting life experiences. I had grown up in a family of small business owners and entrepreneurs, I had worked at some of the biggest technology companies in the world, and I had co-founded a technology startup with my husband. I’d also volunteered for a number of nonprofit organizations in various capacities over the years. None of those roles had ever felt world-changing to me, but maybe my collective experiences could at least help someone else go out and do their good in the world. I had always enjoyed writing and been told I was pretty good at it, so putting it all into a book seemed like a natural thing to do.
In some ways, it was. I knew my audience, and I already had some knowledge of most of the content. I soon learned, however, that there is a lot more to it than that! I didn’t know anything about the publishing industry, I hadn’t read many books for young adults, and I had never written anything close to book length. I had a lot of work to do.
I went to writing conferences and took classes. I wrote. I got feedback on my work. I revised. I repeated the cycle over and over. In the end, it took me almost 10 years to go from idea to finished manuscript, but I did it. And a funny thing happened along the way . . . I found my purpose. I let it take me down many paths I had never dreamed I’d follow. I allowed myself to make mistakes and be vulnerable, expanding my comfort zone step by uncomfortable step and growing my confidence. I painstakingly nurtured a skill into what some have called a talent.
And maybe, just maybe, I have done my own good in the world.
Laurie Ann Thompson comes from a family of entrepreneurs and small business owners. She has worked at IBM, Intel and Microsoft, and she co-founded a successful internet startup. In addition, she has led a regional nonprofit professional organization and volunteered with Ashoka’s Youth Venture, which supports teens with big ideas. This is her first book. She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. Visit her at LaurieThompson.com.