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It's Not About You

February 19, 2012

These days it seems like everyone is looking out for number one. To some degree, you have to. If you aren't looking out for yourself, then who will?

But over the last little while I've been impressed by the importance of looking outside yourself. Every week, my capstone team prepares a report for our coach and sponsors which describes the results of our week's efforts. As we write these reports, it is easy to get into "me mode" and talk about all the activities we were involved in. We soon learned, though, that we get a better response if we stop trying to pat out backs and instead talk about what's important to them. They don't care if we came in early one day to finish things up. They don't care if we meticulously ran three tests that didn't work. They want to know what did work, and if nothing worked, they want to know our plan. Writing reports that only contain the results they are looking for is hard work (it's easy to be a "me-monster"), but focusing on what they need really helps us look competent.

Of course, the best reasons for being selfless, are the selfless ones. Every time I walk into the Tanner building on BYU campus, I see a bust of N. Eldon Tanner, with a quote of his inscribed nearby, saying:

"Service is the rent we pay for living in this world of ours."

I think we often fail to recognize that we were born into a world with all the infrastructure in place for us to live, love, and succeed (especially for those living in 1st world countries). We have ways to educate ourselves, entertain ourselves, build things of value, grow relationships, and achieve. Even if looking outside ourselves brought us no external benefit, it would still be the right thing to do.

But ironicaly enough, it does benefit us. Guy Kawasaki, the entrepreneurship thought leader, talked about this in his book "The Art of the Start." He writes:

"There's a karmic scoreboard in the sky. This scoreboard tracks what you do for people. If you want to be a world class schmoozer, ensure that you're hugely positive on the scoreboard. You accomplish this by helping people--especially folks who seemingly can't do anything for you. And do this without expectation of return. Eventually, the scoreboard will take care of you."

He doesn't mean this in a religious sense (though Jesus has his own advice when it comes to service... see Matthew 25:35-45). He means that the world tends to reward those who do good, over time. One of the main points of Carnagie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is that showing a sincere interest in other people will pay huge dividends over the course of your life. Think about it, In a world of self-absorbed people, someone who takes the time to remember your name, pay you a sincere compliment, and actually listen are going to make an impact.

I think that this "karmic scoreboard" works, in part, because you start to build up a reputation... a brand. As you reputation precedes you, it sparks conversations, improves your friendships, and influences your business. Likewise, a negative reputation can bring negative external consequences.

Service brings both extrinsic and intrinsic value. People who serve are happier, healthier, and tend to have more friends. And anyone who doesn't think that warm fuzzy feeling is real, hasn't helped anyone in a while.

Not that I have. But I have some great examples to follow, and a lifetime to improve.

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