3 Lessons from Mary Oliver for the Change-Makers of Tomorrow


Mary Oliver is a poet and national luminary whose work continues to inspire the generation of today. Here we revisit her writing, after her recent passing, and take a moment to consider what we can learn from this extraordinary person – whose message is timeless.

With the current state of the environment and our society, many of us are worried about the future that is to come and what we are leaving as a legacy to our children. The temperature of our planet is rising faster than ever before. Sexism, racism, xenophobia and mental illness are ever-prevalent. 10% of the world’s population still live on less than $1.90 a day and the richest 1% own half of the world’s wealth. Circumstances like these make us question whether there is any hope for our civilisation.

No matter how dark our times may seem, Oliver’s poetry sparks a newfound faith in humanity as we know it. Hers is a voice of aspiration and confidence in the power of good…


  • Change yourself to change the world


“ But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do –

determined to save

the only life you could save.


In this extract from her poem “The Journey”, Oliver encourages us to be critical and reflective about ourselves. This will allow us to be the change-makers our world needs. She wants us to be daring and take risks, but most importantly to be deeply committed to striving towards creating the best version of ‘self’. We must know our journey before we can make it.


  • Let your work speak for itself


One can understand why even some of the most sincere advocates and change-makers of today could succumb to ego. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allow humanitarians and activists to share their good deeds with a wider audience – they have the world at their fingertips. Oliver never engaged deeply in this activity. She rarely gave interviews, with no intentions of self-promotion whatsoever. Her humility reminds us that if we want to do good, we must not be distracted by likes, followers or comments we receive on social media. If we truly want to make a difference, our work should speak for itself.


  • Stay connected to the natural world


“ But listen now to what happened

to the actual trees;

toward the end of that summer they

pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.

It was the wrong season, yes,

but they couldn’t stop. They

looked like telephone poles and didn’t

care. And after the leaves came

blossoms. For some things

there are no wrong seasons.

Which is what I dream of for me.


Oliver reminds us that if we stay close to nature we can also stay close to hope. If, every day, we pause to appreciate the surroundings that were given to us, we can realise gratitude. We can also comprehend that in our lives there is never a bad season. Every moment has a purpose and place – which I believe is a comfort to all of us.



[Mary Oliver]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/books/


Neate, R. (2017, November 14). Richest 1% own half the world’s wealth, study

    finds. Retrieved January 22, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/


Wright, A. (2019, January 22). Three Lessons Change Agents Can Learn From Mary

    Oliver’s Life And Poetry. Retrieved January 22, 2019, from