“Instead of worrying about success and failure, why not focus on being a contribution?”
~ Benjamin Zander, Conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra
So often the game of success and failure sucks us into the life-draining world of comparison. We can easily become insulated and blinded in our drama of trying to “make it” that we end up in a race for praise, accomplishments and awards leaving us never quite satisfied, yet always searching for more. To be sure, striving for excellence, reaching for our goals, and seeking to achieve all that is possible is no doubt essential to cultivating a passionate and purposeful life. Yet the paradox is that in order to create truly meaningful work and fully embody the passion and purpose we seek, we must also dedicate ourselves to a vision that is beyond our own successes and failures. This doesn’t mean doing away with our dreams, but it does mean widening our view. In the game of “personal achievement,” we run the danger of becoming too narrow and short-sighted. But when we widen our lens to include being a contribution, we start a ripple effect that transforms those around us.
Many brave individuals have taken on this call to widen their view, embody a larger vision and dedicate themselves to being a gift to others. Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Rosa Parks – these catalysts reached far beyond their own successes and failures to create immense transformation in a time and place when their respective communities needed their contribution the most. Though most of us can easily resonate with the passion and purpose of these individuals, often times we view them as being extraordinarily different, vastly superior, or much more capable than ourselves. Some of us may be thinking that it’s one thing to speak of Mother Theresa, Gandhi, or Rosa Parks but it is quite another to imagine ourselves being such a contribution.
While it is true that the impact of these contributors on our world was uniquely deep and widespread, it is also no less true that each one of us has a lever in the world that we can use to improve, to uplift, to create meaning where there was once apathy, connection where there was once isolation. In Benjamin Zander’s words, “When you play the contribution game, it is never a single individual who is transformed. Transformation overrides the divisions of identity and possession, recasting the tight pattern of scarcity into a widespread array of abundance.” Never doubt that an intentional, committed individual can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
In the spirit of being a contribution, we end this Asterisk post with a gift. The gift of story:
Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm out in an arc. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her: “There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?” Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water saying serenely, “It certainly makes a difference to this one.”
We invite you to live the essence of this story and seek to be a contribution, whether that’s coaching your employees, connecting with a family member, giving encouragement to a friend, or saying a kind word to a stranger. You just might be surprised at what effect seemingly simply acts can have on creating organizational culture change and radiating possibility in other people’s lives.
When was a time someone else was a big contribution in your life? What happened? What did it feel like? What about when you were a big contribution in someone else’s life? What was the experience like? How can you more often be a contribution?
Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.