In a blog I posted a few months back, I announced my intentions to focus some of my efforts on the problem of food waste – all that perfectly good, nutritious food that ends up being tossed in the garbage while millions of families in this country don’t have enough to eat. To this end, we managed to put an incredible team together to look at possible ways to intercept this unused food and put it on the tables of the “food security challenged” (as the U.S. Department of Agriculture describes them) instead of in the dumpster. Unfortunately, my conclusion after seven months of work on this initiative is that it might take a bit longer than I anticipated to commercialize, so I am going to have to set this dream aside for now in order to devote my attention to more immediate concerns in which I’m currently involved.
The purpose of this blog, however, is to explain why deferring a project in this manner isn’t necessarily negative nor a failure – something I believe every person who is a game changer, entrepreneur, or disruptor of the status quo should take into account. The food waste team, for example, has done an incredible job of opening many eyes to the problem — in other words, they’ve planted seeds that are sure to blossom in the future and that, most likely, someone else will harvest. The unfortunate part is that the individuals involved will not get to enjoy the success that their early work on this important issue will probably help to bring about. But then, they are typical of society’s unsung heroes — the early contributors who have so often laid the groundwork for whatever genuine progress has been made in solving some of our thorniest dilemmas In fact, when it comes to achieving major reforms or making earth-shaking discoveries, there are many such unsung heroes to whom we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for tackling the ‘initial initiatives’ that most commercial enterprises simply don’t care to bother addressing until there’s already a foundation in place for them to build on.
To illustrate my point, when I originally told the members of this team that we should hang it up, that there was little we could accomplish to turn our ideas and insights into a practical solution, they said no, that they would be pressing ahead. But such dedication to a cause beyond the point where it provides one with any direct benefit is a trait that most unsung heroes share – a willingness to work behind the scenes, rather than taking the stage, to do research, formulate plans, and instigate innovations that others all too often will be given all the credit, glory and accolades for bringing to fruition (as has happened with many of our most life-changing inventions).
So here’s to all of you uncelebrated, unsung heroes out there – those of you who, upon seeing someone else getting the recognition awards and speaking engagements for the things you’ve helped develop, have said to yourselves, “Well maybe that period of my life was worth it after all. ” You have the satisfaction of knowing who you are, and that your contribution to the success of a concept or a cause has helped in some way to make the world a more civilized and livable place – whether or not your role is ever recognized. And you also know that the experience you gained will serve you well in whatever new endeavor you may choose to embark on – and perhaps even give you a better shot at achieving the recognition you truly deserve.