Why We Should Give More

Give!
It’s that time of year for me, another trip around the sun complete. This one is not quite a milestone count, but as good a time as any to reflect on purpose. Age will do that to you. We don’t get to reflect indefinitely. That which goes into our permanent record is anything but limitless.

Covid-19 will soon pass into history, but not its devastation. The time it has given us to think about our uses of time may be one of its few constructive legacies

Do we look externally for validation or is it intrinsic? What is a job well done? Are we meant to behave as survivalists with a primary worry of self or something different?

Giving is a curious notion. Perhaps it presents a choice that is inescapable. We do or we don’t. We make a choice even if we don’t make a choice.

I do wonder at length why we give. It’s easy to be conned and give wrong. The charlatans and traps outnumber our investigative hours. The risk of being fooled is an occupational hazard. I’ve made peace with that.

Here’s one good reason to take the risk and give: When we believe in others, we reinforce their courage to believe in themselves. When we share compassion with others, we demonstrate that compassion is possible and can be a virtuous circle.

We are directed to welcome the stranger. Soon after that our bond becomes our gift.

I find myself increasingly thinking about the notion of fairness. I do believe the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but I find the pace of alteration lethargic and unsatisfying. Are things better than they were 50 years ago? My father says yes and he has a 40% premium on years of observation to mine so I’ll go with his affirmation, but better is not the same as good. Relative unfairness is still unfairness.

Black Lives Matter shows us conclusively that the application of law is unfair. Two and a half million dead globally of coronavirus shows us that the availability of healthcare is unfair. The wealth of stock market gains for the few against the lost jobs and bankrupt businesses of many is almost violently unfair. Unfairness is not solvable. It is at best addressable through personal generosity and accessible charity.

Woke isn’t working. The Dr. Seuss debate was not a debate at all. A company for its own reasons decided to exercise copyright authority and stop selling certain books. It has that right. That is not book banning. No government or autocratic mandate was issued. If you still want for some reason to read these books they remain available at libraries, specialty stores, or in digital form.

I find the debate around capitalism equally disingenuous. If you think you have reason to storm the Capitol because socialism is coming for your freedom, you are deluded. There are no pure forms of economy. They are all mixes of this and that, some weighing more heavily in one direction or another, but always open to reversion by market forces.

Likewise, any cheesy rhetoric that would seek to undermine capitalism in the extreme is pointless. Free enterprise has created unbounded benefits for billions. No, it is not equally or fairly distributed. There aren’t enough recognized referees in the rough and tumble. Policies that ensure ardent competition inspire innovation with incentive compensation. That kind of moderate regulation protects our livelihoods and drives imaginative initiatives without useless polarization.

If you’re really worried about economic instability, worry about runaway income inequality. Without thriving buyers and broad access to manageable credit, there is little need for growth in sellers.

I am both beneficiary and critic of our system. If you’ve worked with me or read any of my books, you know I am not shy or apologetic about this.

I love our nation. I love free enterprise. I love working hard.

I despise exploitation. I despise greed. I despise arrogance and lack of humility.

Hegelian dialectic has taught me these head-banging notions can co-exist.

I love the impossible challenge, the learning that comes from failure, the teamwork of a shared victory overcoming competitors and naysayers.

I despise the selfishness, self-congratulations, and coldness that comes when we fail to recognize that too many trusting, hopeful, well-meaning individuals tirelessly try in their own way to navigate daunting obstacles, but often end up with little or nothing.

I believe we begin to bridge the gap by giving. We can give our time and attention. We can give money. We can give opportunity. We can give understanding and empathy.

As it becomes clear that there are fewer trips around the sun ahead of me than there are behind me, I find myself retreating to the existential. I find less meaning, reason, and justification in fairness than I hoped I might find at this age. At the same crossroads, I see time as more precious and commitment to social justice more urgent. I know I can’t fix much, but where I can have a slight impact, time is increasingly shorter.

I think perhaps we give to beat the clock. We can see a life change before our eyes because of something caring we do, but we have to endeavor to do it.

We give because all forms of faith suggest it is our duty. We don’t have to agree on spiritual reckoning to have this in common. We don’t have to believe in anything more than the tangible world we see to know we are expected to do something unexpectedly selfless with the disproportionate gifts we are awarded.

It is our calling to repair the world. Civilization will remain conflicted and in conflict, because human beings are imperfect, troubled, fundamentally flawed while evolving. That doesn’t give us a get-out-of-jail-free card. Existential does not have to mean cynical. It can mean we are empowered to consider the unfairness around us as a challenge to be met, an uneven distribution of pain to be healed, a sense of acknowledgment if not quite purpose.

We give to be more complete.

We give to be part of a whole that has been shattered by our own achievements.

We give because the math suggests there is little other way to balance a scale that assures us history will maintain its imbalance.

We give to combat rhetoric, indifference, and convenient but incomplete argument.

We give because justification is not justice, and because words will always fail us.

We give to remind ourselves we are human, and we have no choice to be anything otherwise.

Whatever necessary mission that elevates your imagination, whatever human cause that fuels your passion, consider increasing your commitment. No, it’s not a carbon offset, it’s not retiring guilt, it’s not a debt you owe or a pledge against salvation.

It’s the right thing to do, to whatever extent you can. It’s not hypocritical and it’s not posturing. It’s how you can be more dimensionally human.

An investment in your belief set is a pact with yourself. The outcomes of your contribution can carry you many more times around the sun with reason to renew your journey. Stay honest, stay measured, stay authentic. That distant, mythic, flickering light at the end of the tunnel has cascading spectrum to shine on you.

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Photo: Pexels

Your Next Move

Few people these days seem to have a lot of choices to make about job opportunities. With national unemployment stuck above 9% for the past 26 months, those who have jobs are largely counting their blessings, and those who don’t are spending most of their waking moments trying to get anything at all, hoping to stay in a field relevant to their expertise and not drain their savings. We all hear the stories of people’s sorrow, hardship, and demoralization. The impact is daunting, and those you meet fighting to pursue their passions and remain financially independent deserve our most sincere empathy. If you have the chance to offer support to a friend or networked acquaintance, do it. Even if all you can do is lend an ear, you may be surprised how much that outreach is valued and appreciated.

This past week I had the opportunity to lend an ear on a different tangent, helping advise a bright young rising executive on his next career move. I enjoy being able to mentor those whose careers I have watched evolve anywhere from one to thirty years, and although the last thing in the world I ever want to do (or will do) is tell someone what to do, I do like to put very difficult and often uncomfortable questions in front of people for them to answer, hoping that the thought process leads them to their own answers. My sense is, the better the questions, the better chance you have at improved answers, and anyone who knows me knows that I love to ask questions.

I didn’t know this fellow extremely well, but I had the good fortune of observing his broad range of skills. He called me up and wanted me to help him decide if he should leave his current position and take another offer. Simple enough, right? You have this package and set of circumstances, and the other company is offering that package and set of circumstances. Compare and contrast, make a decision, stay in place or move on. Well, if that’s your framework for making a career decision, I am certainly the wrong person to ask for coaching. First, you don’t need someone else to help you with that framework; you can do that math in your head all by yourself. Second, I would never use that framework; to me it’s a path to an almost certain dead-end.

Where I begin the process of deciding if you should make a move is with a very simple metaphor: have you ever played pool? If you haven’t, have you ever watched a pro run the table? And if you haven’t, check out Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman in the original 1961 version of The Hustler. But I digress. What you observe in the difference between amateur and professional pool is how the table is run. Amateurs look for the best shot on the table and sink that ball. Pros only take a shot when it lines up their next shot, so after a ball has dropped, there is another ball ready to drop, then another, then another, letting them run the table and only then sink the eight ball. A shot is only good if it sets up the next shot. Period.

That’s the framework I suggest for anyone trying to make a tough career decision: each move has to set up the next move, even if you don’t know where the balls are going to stop moving—which you never will, because our lives are governed by market forces and luck as much as they are our own determination (that’s a lesson humility teaches us). The job and package you have is a known. The package being offered is a known, the job not so much because you haven’t done it yet. What is unknown is where and when you will be at the end of the next job if you take it, and the one after that, and the one after that. Those can never be known, unless you can see the future, in which case you don’t need to have lunch with me.

To have a chance at getting the right decision, you’re going to need to answer three extremely personal questions. Sorry.

The first question I asked this fellow was quite simple: to what do you aspire? If you could see the future, five years out, ten years out, what do you think you want those illusive opportunities in your target sights to be? Force yourself to focus on that, think about what you want downstream. It may never happen and you may change your mind a dozen or more times between now and then, that’s fine and natural. Still, ask yourself right now, what is the downstream job you want?

Now the second question: why can’t you have that job right now? It’s a trick question. You can’t have it because it isn’t being offered, but the real question is what skills and experience don’t you have right now that would let you step into that job? You know what experience and knowledge you have today. What don’t you know or haven’t you learned to make you qualified for that opportunity? You must answer this honestly and specifically.

Now you’re ready for the third and most important question: what knowledge and experience do you need to acquire in your next opportunity to most closely qualify you for the opportunity beyond it? You know the present, you have an inkling of what you think you want the future to look like. How do you close the gap between the present and the future? What do you really want out of your next job to set you up for the job beyond it, or set you up for the best chance at the desired job beyond it, or set you up for the best and broadest set of potential choice opportunities for the job beyond it?

To me, that is how you decide if the next gig you are being offered is the right gig for you. Don’t take the shot unless it sets up another shot. More money is nice, more responsibility is nice, an expense account is nice, a beautiful office is nice. All of those things are very, very nice. And all of those things are fleeting. They can disappear in a nanosecond. When they are gone, what will you have? The only thing you will have is your experience—what you have learned is what you can take with you. Nothing more, including salary history. What you can do next is a combination of your track record, your integrity (= your reputation), and the probability that what you have learned will be of value to your next set of challenges.

At the end of our lunch, the fellow whom I assaulted with these questions made an interesting decision. He was neither going to stay in his current job nor take the new offer on the table. He was going to revisit an offer that had been made to him a few months earlier that he had rejected. He realized he had rejected it for the wrong reasons. He rejected it for the package and relocation requirement. When he thought about the opportunity downstream that he really wanted and the gap he needed to fill to be ready for that, the offer he rejected appeared to him to be the perfect fit. He left the lunch hungry to see if that gig would still be there, and if not, how he could actively find one more like it. He was 100% focused on filling the learning gap—that was his new criteria! That felt pretty spot on to me, and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. I have a pretty good idea that he and I will be talking again in about five years.

Oh, one more thing. If you are going to be a manager and have never had a good boss, get one. The odds are terribly against this, as you know from your history. The reason most employees complain about their bosses is because their bosses aren’t good bosses, and the reason their bosses aren’t good bosses is because they never had a really good boss. There is no way you can learn to be a good boss if you haven’t experienced one, been mentored by one, and drained them dry of all they know. If this is part of the package, value it over cash big time. Most people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. The value of someone who cares about you and will help you become your best cannot be quantified.