10 Steps to Becoming a Change-Making Animal

Each academic year I have to integrate a new cohort of students into my La Ceiba class. Yet, it is more than a class. It is more than a student-run microfinance institution with over 50 clients in Honduras. We are a tribe.

We are fiercely committed to our ethos, each other and our clients. We are a language. We are a walk. We are a way. We are a rite of passage, an act of transformation, a process of conversion. We gladly welcome anyone to try us on for size. However, we also know that we are not for everyone.

We take a number of steps to transmit our culture to the newest cohort. This year we enumerated a list of promises that we ask each new member of the tribe to uphold. Here they are:

1. I will always say WE.


2. I will take the wheel.

No one is going to tell you what to do, when to do it or how to do it. There is no road-map. There is no text-book. There is no teaching assistant. This class is barely being taught. Make your own way.

3. I will bring on my wrecking ball.

Challenge the work of those who have come before you. Take on the status quo. Always ask “Why?” You know you want to knock down the Lego tower. Do it. We thrive on the creative destruction of each new cohort of students.

4. I will not wait for a hall pass.

Do not ask for permission. Take action. Take a risk. Go make a mistake. You are going to anyway. When you do, hold yourself accountable. Then go fix it. Forgiveness is forthcoming for those who take the initative.

5. I will get on my red, white and blue motorcycle leathers.

A chasm separates you in your comfort zone from where we need you to be. Get on your motorcycle and make the jump! Your life depends on it. We are waiting for you to join us.

6. I will politely tell Barbie and Ken to *%#@ off!

Perfect does not do. Perfect does not work. Perfect does not get its soft manicured hands dirty. You are here to produce. You are not here to win a beauty contest. Misshapen. Uneven. Imperfect. It does not matter. You will get in your big, brown, boxy truck and deliver.

7. I will trust Obi-wan and let go.

When it comes time to deliver, you will disengage external feedback systems, take a deep breath, and pull the trigger. It always comes together. There is no other ending. We are your Han, R2 and Wedge.

8. I will take it on the chin.

We work in a harsh and unforgiving environment. It’s called reality. Your carefully crafted classroom projects will not survive first contact unscathed. There will be setbacks. Do not look around for someone or something else blame. Get up. Brush yourself off. And, iterate your way to a solution.

9. I will remain monogamous.

This is not a project that you turn in, get a grade, and then go on break.  We are not flirting. This is no quickie. We are in it for the long-term. Get ready to commit.

10. I will talk back to teacher.

Dr. H is not an expert. Be stingy with your head nods of approval. Dr. H is not in charge. Challenge his authority. Question his decisions. Voice an alternative direction.

You will bite off more than you can chew. Just don’t stop chewing. You will run into obstacles. They are actually opportunities. You will bump up against constraints. They are fonts of creativity. You are not in control. Our clients are. They are the experts. They will hold you accountable. They will grade your performance.  So, always show up. Put in the hours. Hustle when no one is looking. Invest that extra bit of wisdom, thought, and love to make things happen. Set your personal performance bar higher.

And, we know we said 10 but let us add one final promise.

11. I will hug.

All the best families do.

These 11 Promises are really 11 Steps towards becoming a change-making animal. They are relevant for you and me. It does not matter whether you are looking to change something about yourself or the world around you. These 11 Steps can lead to a life worth living.


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Thanks. – shawn