The NY Times article, Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? really resonated with me. Reading this story gave me great hope that I may in fact be doing it right after all.
I see a lot of resemblance between his story and my own sense of abundance and joy in giving. It is heartening to hear in this and the Harvard Business Review article that some in the corporate world are considering the benefits of shared value.
Coming from an arts and non-profit background, I am steeped in the culture of helping, sharing, and creating shared value. I probably have a disproportionate number of givers in my life for much the same reason as I have more left-handed and queer friends and colleagues. We are drawn to the collaborative arts, to acts of service, and to each other. It takes a certain kind of person to be happily underpaid to do work that creates shared social value. It’s encouraging to wonder whether this might not always be and either/or choice. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by people who know that what we do matters so much more than what we are paid. But it isn’t really luck. I choose my life and these people because I feel happy here.
As you may recall from last week, my corporate-lawyer-cousin (who, lest we fall into stereotypical assumptions, is also a fantastic giver) said to me, “What’s’a matter, don’t you like money?” While it is true that I do resemble that remark, what really matters is that so much else matters more to me than money. When I pay attention to those other things, money-thinking falls through the cracks like the gold dust through the floorboards in a gold rush saloon. (Yeah, that’s a musical theatre reference: Paint Your Wagon.)
I think like Taylor Mali, a teacher and poet known for his profound (and profane) response to that pointed dinner party question, “What do you make?”
At Seattle Children’s Theatre, I built props and scenery. What I made looked like this:
We used to get stories and letters like this almost every week about how our work helped kids step through milestones: learn to speak, to be comfortable with themselves, to talk about difficult subjects like race or bullying or death of a loved one. All kinds of people sent us stories about autistic kids, disabled kids, neuro-typical kids, disadvantaged kids and their transformative stories. We post these stories backstage near the greenroom, and like the testimonial given to the call center employees, these cards and letters reminded us about the real value of our work.
What gives me heart about the idea of the corporate world considering shared value as a new way to succeed is that I think that this helper mindset is learnable and has a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop, so you don’t have to be a natural-born-giver to thrive by focusing on shared value. While there is definitely an element innate aptitude or disposition and of acculturation at play, we can get better at it. Some tendencies may come from the genes we inherit. Others are a result of experience and social/cultural context. Our experiences are shapeable and changeable. I do think we can cultivate the practices of giving and helping, much like we can learn to play music, or speak in public, or work out to improve our physical fitness. What it takes is a focus on shared value, and practice.
Practice. Practice. Practice.