Life, well lived.

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“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

These are great words from Emerson and they speak in direct opposition to our society’s obsession with getting and having more than our neighbors. We see it in all areas of life but none more than our workplaces where we try to get ahead of the person in the next cubicle or seek to beat our competitors.

In his book Give and Take, Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant says there are three types of people, Takers, Matchers, and Givers.

  1. Takers are those who are always working to get more than they give.
  2. Matchers believe in fairness and balance in relationships. If they do something for you, they expect you to do something for them in the near future.
  3. Givers, in contrast, are focused on others.They give without keeping score and simply seek to enrich the lives of those they interact with.

Now, before you go off thinking you’re a good person but it’s a dog-eat-dog world and giving just won’t cut it except in some utopian fantasy, Grant begs to differ. He gives some pretty persuasive arguments for why giving is the best long-term success strategy. Here are three.

  1. Givers have bigger, broader, more useful networks because rather than looking to get as much as possible from their contacts, Givers are always adding value.
  2. Givers develop great reputations. When you’re known for being helpful, others become eager to help you and see you succeed.
  3. Givers influence others to share and have the same collaborative spirit. Givers are more likely to have others be more willing to give back when they have a need.

So why aren’t we flooded with Givers? Probably because we’ve been duped into the belief that taking and matching are the only ways to succeed. We’ve been brainwashed to think that having more on our side of the scoreboard is somehow better. Regardless though, we can change that. We can take steps to give more, to, as Ken Blanchard says, not think less of ourselves but just think of ourselves less. And I’m not suggesting giving away all worldly possessions and living in a monastery, I’m only suggesting little changes that can tilt the celestial balance toward good a bit more often. Things like being a little more selfless with your time, being more generous with encouragement, sharing the odd random act of kindness, and starting from a perspective that most people are generally good rather than the opposite.

So, to summarize Emerson (and Grant too), a life well lived is not about what you get, it’s about what you give. What legacy are you leaving?

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