Doing what you can, with what you have, where you are

Doing what you can, with what you have, where you are
posted 06 April 2021 in category COVID-19 Co-design Integration Reflections

Claire Kennedy, PPL Co-Founder and Managing Partner


Last month, PPL sponsored the New Local conference Stronger Things (we may have mentioned it!). As part of the packs that have been sent to delegates, we decided to include a ‘postcard to my future self’, and we had to choose a quote for the card.

The quote we chose was one I love:

‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are’ Theodore Roosevelt.

I am an over-thinker by nature so, despite loving the quote, I spent time worried that those receiving the postcards would find it unambitious, and might see in it limitations, rather than what I think it expresses, which is one of the most radical statements of changemaking possible.

My solution to the discomfort was this blog – breaking the constraints of the postcard to take a bit of time to focus on why it is so radical, and to encourage those who receive the cards to take a couple of minutes to think about how to respond, in the true spirit of Community Power.

The reason I love the quote so much is that I think it expresses something profound about what makes change happen and what can prevent it from happening, despite the best intentions and ambitions.

The reality is that it’s only when you take the risk of trying to make real, practical change happen, that you start to realise how hard it is to actually change things – to ‘do something’.

Many brilliant people are perfectionists, with great ideas they can’t bear to action; many other brilliant people are realists, who focus on getting on with the here and now, but struggle to believe in a vision.

The coming together of these two groups of brilliant people is all too often that nothing changes – the inability to realise the whole vision becomes a disincentive to action. We spend time trying to analyse and redefine the problem before us, instead of acknowledging that ‘we are where we are’ – there won’t be a ‘better time’ or ‘better people’ than those we have right now.

What can help these different kinds of brilliant people work together and start to make change is the recognition and acceptance that ‘now’ is always the best possible time to start, and that there will never be a ‘better time’ or ‘better people’ than those we have exactly where we are.

Understanding this empowers the rest of us with the, possibly unenviable but critically important, task of taking the brilliant dreams and situating them in the gritty reality of the ‘now’ - looking at what would be ‘good enough’; what would be better than what we have; what takes us closer to where we are trying to get to; and then simply the ‘getting on and doing it’ as far as we can.

This leg work may be less glamorous and exciting than big ideas and beautiful perfectionism, but it is the only thing that ever can change the world.

At Stronger Things, over 1,000 people came together to think differently about what they could DO to change the world. Lots of people talked throughout the week about the challenge of working out how they could take the agenda forward when they went back into the real world. In response, and on our postcard, all we wanted to say is:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Whatever that is, it is more than nothing. Simply doing something, anything, to make things better is not only the most radical and effective way to make change happen. As our runner-up quote for the postcard from Margaret Mead might have put it: ‘it’s the only thing that ever has’.