It turns out that nice guys don't always finish last. Through the ideas, books, and research of a few individuals, it becomes clear that the more folks give, the more they actually receive.
Giving and connecting are deeply intertwined. We support and give to those people and causes that we have a connection to. So before we dive into the importance of giving and how essential it is, let’s take a quick look at connectivity as a whole.
Connectivity has been changing rapidly in the past 100 years. Advances in telecommunications, transportation, and the wealth of the average citizen have all contributed to this shift. We’re moving faster and easier, connecting from further distances for longer, and all for cheaper. It’s important to note this growth isn’t linear, but rather exponential. Just think where we were at the beginning of the 20th century: no phone, no internet, no computers, no email, and (mostly) no cars. Things have certainly changed.
And yet now in quarantine, I’d argue the exponential curve is being pushed even further. I believe we’re about to experience another radical shift that will have a serious ripple effect. An essential revision is happening to the age-old question, "How are we connecting?" The focus was on the tools — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc — and the impact they were having. Now, the question "Who are we connecting with?" is becoming more and more prominent, even necessary, as we practice social distancing and confinement in the face of COVID — or, as I like to call it, Meaningful Connection Deprivation.
I am constantly thinking about who I’m connecting with and how I spend my time. My mentality is that who we surround ourselves with is a reflection of who we really are, who we can be, and who we're striving to become. So as I think about this question of who to connect with, I reflect on those folks that most inspire me — Donald Glover, Barack Obama, Robin Williams, Dave Chappelle, Ella Fitzgerald, Jerry Seinfeld, Kendrick Lamar, to name a few. They have defied norms, challenged stereotypes, put things in writing, and most importantly to me, used their platforms for meaningful conversations. Whether in my own projects or supporting theirs, I dream to meet them, work with them and learn from them (where possible).
Now, the question "Who are we connecting with?" is becoming more and more prominent, even necessary, as we practice social distancing and confinement in the face of COVID.
For someone like myself that loves bringing people together, I’ve thought about this more existentially: How can we meet the people that most inspire us, and how can we meet more amazing people that can drive us forward? Searching for an answer, I found two ideologies that I felt were worth sharing, as they are helping guide my life right now.
The Invisible Council
In “Think and Grow Rich,” one of my favorite books, author Napoleon Hill shares that he was able to meet with all of his inspirations: luminaries, former presidents, entrepreneurs, the world’s richest and most successful business owners, and more. He claimed it didn’t matter if they were alive or dead. That’s right. He said he even met up with Jesus.
How, you ask?
Introduce the “Invisible Council”, a concept that he created using his imagination. Each night before going to sleep he would close his eyes and envision himself in a conference room with those individuals that most inspired him. He would speak to them, ask their council, and gain general guidance and advice as a means to move him forward in his life trajectory.
In only a short amount of time, positive changes began to emerge. His perspective shifted, new ideas formed, and he was able to tap into an “infinite warehouse of wisdom,” one that contributed to everything he did. Funnily enough, Hill stated that after a while, sessions and councilmembers took on a life of their own — Abraham Lincoln was always late and never smiled. Members often argued with one another. Some people stayed late while others had appointments to attend to. One might even excuse himself to go to the bathroom. Ha! Can you believe that?
I can. Because I tried it! It was unbelievable. Tremendously powerful stuff. Highly recommended!
But… as someone whose Love Language is quality time and physical touch, it just wasn’t enough. There was still something about meeting people in real life that felt needed (I’m sure this is something that many people can relate to at this present moment).
So while the Invisible Council offers a beautiful way to tap into our own potential, this next discovery provides an opportunity to learn from others in a more tangible way.
The Influencers Dinner
“The Influencers Dinner,” according to its website, is a “Secret dining experience with the intention of bonding and connecting industry leaders.” Twelve influencers are brought together from varying fields, and nobody can talk about work until the end, where attendees have an opportunity to guess each others’ professions. Pretty cool, right?
We’re not talking about just any average Joes or Instagram influencers, though. I’m talking about everyone from Bill Nye the Science Guy, to jazz legend Norah Jones, to Hip-hop legend Rahzel, countless TED speakers, to NBA All-Star Isaiah Thomas...the list goes on.
And here comes the cherry on top. Immediately following there’s a “Salon,” an invitation-only party for anyone that’s ever been to the dinner. And from what I understand, it turns into one heck of a party. Jams and dances and poetry readings and more fill the room, where people let loose and connect in beautiful ways (so I’ve been told).
I learned about the Influencer’s Dinner through a few articles. The founder, Jon Levy, was asked, “How do you get these people to come?” His response led me to a fundamental shift in my thinking about community, connectivity, and what makes the most incredible people, who are often givers by nature, so incredible.
Levy stated that it wasn’t just about novelty or grandeur, or even about what was for dinner. It was about the invitation itself. It was offering an invitation without asking for anything in return. This is what caught people’s attention — Levy’s reputation of a no-strings-asked invitation. A genuine invitation.
This is, of course, somewhat of a paradox. Giving with the hope that you attract great people is inherently hoping for a return of some kind, and therefore not really true to this ideal. So...is it possible to do this? I turned over this problem for days in my mind, and came to the conclusion...yes. YES. Here’s why.
Think about it like this: imagine you decide to bake a pie and start giving out a whole bunch of free slices. You’re putting out good energy, and good pie. The response is immediate, like a moth to a flame. People rush over. Some hear about what’s going down, run over as fast as they can, and grab as much pie as they can hold (before coming back for round two). Others might take a slice, say “Thank you,” and be off.
It was offering an invitation without asking for anything in return. This is what caught people’s attention — Levy’s reputation of a no-strings-asked invitation.
But then there’s a third group, and this is where the magic happens... Somehow, there are always some people who, rather than taking pie, will ask, “Hey, can I help you bake more pies?” or “Do you need help with that?”. Sometimes even, “I have some cookies I can bring… can we make a dessert platter together?!”
The exact words said aren’t important. What is important is what we can extract from this behavior. The people that surround you in life are a result of two factors:
The intentions you put out.
Your ability to discern between who the “Takers” are in your life (the people who are in it for the “free pie”) and who the “Bakers” are (those individuals that want to bake with you and give more than they receive). Bakers don’t care about pie for themselves, they just want to help out.
This is what Levy was saying. The amazing people that were coming to his dinners… they were bakers! In other words, they’re givers. True, unconditional givers. The top tier of individuals in the world throughout history — the Nobel Laureates, the change-making leaders, the multi-Grammy award-winning artists, the Macarthur Genius Grant winners, and the NBA All-Stars. All of them were givers, and they achieved these dreams through giving.
Best-selling author and acclaimed professor Adam Grant’s book “Give and Take” talks all about this. Grant defines Takers as people who, when they walk into an interaction with another person, try to get as much as possible from that person and contribute as little as they can in return, thinking that’s the shortest and most direct path to achieving their own goals. We’ve already defined Givers in a sense — they’re those folks who aren’t about the money or prowess. Instead, they’re about the act of giving and helping. They’re looking to help others in any way possible, with no strings attached. The book makes the case that despite the popular image of the “Taker” (the “ruthless, successful businessman that always ends up on top,”) it’s actually the givers (the folks that are most authentic and in alignment with this ideology of unconditional giving) that end up on top. They’re often the most successful, inspirational, and connected people in the world. The book (one I highly recommend) essentially redefines the old mantra, “Nice guys finish last”. Booyah!
So here’s where it all comes together. The Influencers Dinner is able to attract great people because the invitation is genuine and its intention is true. Givers can attract other givers. Alternatively, givers can recognize untrue intentions, since these are individuals constantly being asked for things, or given things with strings attached. Truly getting the attention of these folks requires being authentic and genuine. It’s the real-life version of “The Sword in the Stone” and ‘Excalibur”. One needs to be totally generous. Giving regardless of the outcome — just give! If we’re true to this, we’ll attract great people.
We should consider the definition of giving here. Giving comes in all shapes and forms. Not just in the literal sense to charities and people, but figuratively as well. Giving yourself wholly to a cause, ideal, or belief, losing your sense of self in the process, and doing it for reasons other than your own personal gain. Not just paying lip service to a willingness to risk it all for their ideas, but actually taking risks: risking failure, risking exposure, risking financial loss or social repercussions. As I looked at my own heroes, this certainly was something they had all done.
It’s worth mentioning that while many folks’ heroes (including some of my own) are like the larger-than-life superstars I mentioned earlier, thinking about the influencers and people who may not be famous but who mean a lot and inspire you on the ground is just as important. For myself, there are many amazing humans: Dave Gise, co-founder of the Centre for Social Innovation in NYC; acclaimed writer and activist Jamal Joseph; House of Yes owner Justin Ahiyon; Producer Meghan Stabile (of Revive Music); music industry guru Thuy-an Julien (who, quite frankly, has done it all); Future Meets Present founder Amer Jandali; programming badass Monique Martin at Harlem Stage; artist and awesome human Tasha Blank of The Get Down; Wardrobe Founder Adarsh Alphons (not to mention Project Art Founder); creative ninja Angela Gil of the World Jam and Future x Sounds; the incomparable Guy Routte (he, too, has done it all); super awesome David Tao of Barbend and JAKK Media; career coach Elena Addomine of INSOL consulting; Erika Elliott of Summerstage… the list goes on!
Giving comes in all shapes and forms. Not just in the literal sense to charities and people, but figuratively as well. Giving yourself wholly to a cause, ideal, or belief, losing your sense of self in the process, and doing it for reasons other than your own personal gain.
So now what? Employing this giving mentality is the hardest part. Giving unconditionally is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Confinement is both giving us time to (re)consider our connections and forcing us to actually connect with them (because let’s face it — we’re all craving some connection).
For those wondering where to begin, here’s a few great ways to start:
Start with Adam Rifkin’s “5-minute favors”: Take 5 minutes out of your day to connect two people together, or provide some advice over lunch. This small act can mean much more than moolah. Take (and make) those lunches!
Get creative with your giving: Like these two amazing humans who launched an annual “Random Acts of Kindness Trip” they do every year around the U.S. My favorite idea they’ve done is hiding a dollar behind items in the dollar store!
Create your own charity policy: For my own company, Moon31, I created a policy to weigh all of my philanthropic decisions against. How many charitable projects per year do I feel ok doing? How much time am I ok with and able to give? This will help with avoid you turning into Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” - be realistic in your giving!
Consider if are you a matcher, giver, or taker: Self-reflection and evaluation is a great place to start. Take the test! Or if you need some more levity, try finding out which Harry Potter house you’re part of first by this virtual sorting hat experience (hey, you’ve got the time).
Plan for the future: If you’re thinking this isn’t the right moment to start, evaluate that train of thought. If not now, then when? Make a plan.
Start close to home: Facilitating joyful, generous connections amongst those people that you may have more access to might be a better place to start! Say thanks, reach out to offer a hand, and just let them know you’re here and thinking of them.
However you choose to start, remember that giving comes in many forms: always doing a better job than what we’re paid for, always trying our best, and putting every ounce of ourselves in what we believe in.
This is a tremendous opportunity to reframe our narrative and life trajectory by answering the question, “Who am I going to connect with?”
Or, better yet, let’s start by making some pie and passing that puppy out!
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