One of the greatest failings in business school is that our future business leaders are taught to ask “what can you do for me?” or, in the words of Janet Jackson, “what have you done for me lately?”
This isn’t just a business view, however; this permeates modern Western culture and makes the words of John F. Kennedy ring hollow: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” (Few people also recall the next line in Kennedy’s speech: “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”)
JFK had it right and it’s how I live my life: I endeavor to give, to contribute, to make what I have learned and figured out available to everyone without charge, without barriers, without restrictions or limitations. My business is all about disseminating information to improve people’s lives, gratis. No subscription fee, no download charge, no membership requirement.
I live my personal life with the same core philosophy, trying to focus on the needs of my friends and colleagues and meet them where they need to be met.
This isn’t to say that it’s to the exclusion of my own needs, and I am blessed to have many friends who give back many-fold what they receive.
But that’s your exercise for today, your daily meditation, if you’d like: pay attention to how your day goes and try to tally up the amount of time, effort and energy you put into asking for things you want versus the amount you put forth to help other people, meet their needs and try to make the world — or even just your tiny little corner of it — a better place.
I posit that the results will surprise you and leave you thinking about whether you’ve found the balance you need to be a happy member of society, and to be a contented part of your own village.