It is time for us to decide what we stand for.
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It is time for us to decide what we stand for.
Yesterday I posted to the Plenty blog one of the more powerful and personal pieces I've written in quite a while. It is about Nigeria and Central Africa -- and it is also about you, me, and our role in creating justice. I hope you will give it a few minutes of your time. The text of the article is here.
It wasn't easy leaving Event 360, the company I helped found eleven years ago. Event 360 specializes in event fundraising. Through our work we raised nearly a billion dollars for charity. As the CEO, I was responsible for strategy, for presenting a great deal of our client-facing work, and more than anything, for helping drive the values of the company. Event 360 was (and will always be) my baby, and I'm tremendously proud of what I helped accomplish there.
And yet over the last few years I found my goals and aspirations changing. In particular I became increasingly interested in the philanthropic mechanics behind events -- a mechanic we call peer-to-peer fundraising. As my time and attention steadily turned towards constituent analytics. multi-channel approaches, and overall nonprofit strategy, it was harder for me to devote time to large-scale events.
When I finally talked to my partners at Event 360 about leaving, I found willing friends. They saw my evolving interests and supported my desire to do something new.
To say that I started Plenty from the ground-up would be a complete fabrication, because of course no one does anything worth doing by themselves. And in my case I was very fortunate to have six compatriots join me in the launch. From the beginning, we have tried to put as much emphasis on the foundations of our young firm as we have on the compelling work we do with our clients. We wrote Plenty's values together; we picked the brand together; we assess our performance together.
I was reflecting on all of this while I was at the Run-Walk-Ride Conference in Atlanta last week. In a lot of ways, RWR was our coming-out party. Run-Walk-Ride is a tremendously important conference for the peer-to-peer space, and I've been lucky enough to present there for many years. But this year was the first time I attended with a business card that said, "Plenty."
It was fantastic to see the Plenty team share their expertise and energy throughout the sessions. Our group contributed in so many ways, and it was hard not to be struck by the sheer amount of competence and commitment the team brings to the table. But they bring something else, too. They bring a spirit of inclusiveness -- an eagerness to enlist others to create something bigger than themselves.
In the lead-up to the conference, our team was talking about something we could do at our conference booth. If you've ever staffed a sales conference, you know that "the booth" can fill even the most hard-core salespeople with dread. Working at the booth can be tiring; it can be nerve-wracking; it can be mind-numbingly boring. And so coming up with "something for the booth" is the trap of every trade show. It is easy to talk so much about SWAG and tchotchkes that you miss the core purpose of the booth, which of course is to engage with others.
In any case, we were kicking around ideas and a steadily escalating array of giveaways. Finally, someone on the team suggested we do something very basic: Hand out Post-It notes and ask passersby to write down what they are "Happy to have plenty of." It seemed like a corny idea, but no one had a better one, so we went with it.
You know what happened? People walking by the booth were interested to be asked to contribute. They stopped what they were doing and turned towards us. They would laugh and write a silly thought, then pick up another slip of paper and write something more meaningful. It's funny -- often in our desire to connect with others we forget to ask them to engage with us. We forget that they are the most important part of the conversation.
By the end of the conference, our board was covered with notes about abundance and reflections of gratitude.
I can't think of a better metaphor for my first three months at Plenty. We decided, "let's do something meaningful, together," and that was the most important step.
Have you ever asked a child to draw their world? It is interesting to see how the drawings differ depending on the age of the child. A three year-old will give you a few lines and maybe a circle for the sun. A five year-old will add in some people, some green grass, and maybe a rainbow. Or two!
But something happens in grade school. A third-grader will give you a picture of the round earth, and the sun and the moon, and maybe some planets and stars. Theirs is a completely different "world" -- instead of one centered on themselves, the older child draws their conception of a small planet moving around a massive solar system.
I can remember my first trip to the local planetarium. I'm sure I was seven or eight years old at the time. I remember giggling when the lights went off, and then oohing and aahing as the stars lit up. I can even remember Carl Sagan's voice challenging me to reflect on the limitless cosmos. And in that moment was planted the first seed of a frightening and profound thought: "Wow, maybe the world doesn't revolve entirely around me."
Almost all of us learn this lesson at some point in our lives. Most of us start to understand it as kids. The lesson deepens when we are adults, maybe as an outgrowth of tragedy or hardship, or perhaps as a result of immense gratitude. A few of the more preoccupied among us don't fully get it until we are very old. An unlucky few never really get it, and die missing one of the core messages of the universe.
Here's the thing: There are billions of people on the earth, and the fact is that the worries and concerns and goals and priorities each of us carry around don't matter much to anyone we meet, and don't matter at all to the people we don't. We are immeasurably insignificant to the universal machinery.
And yet the other truth is that we each have been given a unique combination of gifts and talents. The limitless cosmos is made of individual stars. As much as you might not want to admit it, you are distinct. There is a role somewhere that only you can play. You are immeasurably important to the universal outcome.
As we enter the new year, I find this duality daunting and inspiring. If my worries don't matter, I must be wary about my own vanities and understand that I will be most useful outside of my own head and in the world at large. And if my part is uniquely important, I must find the courage to push myself past my own doorstep.
As we enter the new year, I have no doubt that you offer something unique and I have no doubt that we need you to offer it. My 2014 wish for us all is that we find the humility to push past our individual conceits and find the courage to unlock our distinctive talents. It is indeed a big universe, but we need as many stars as we can find.
Happy new year!
We've all learned not to burn our bridges as we make friends, build relationships, pursue our careers, and live our lives.
I've recently learned that this concept goes all the way back to ancient China, and specifically to Miu-King, a soldier and earl, who burnt his boats as he invaded Tsin to ensure the only options for himself (and his relectant troops) were victory or death. We see this concept again in the famous story of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon. Caesar led his army over the Rubicon River, and saying "The die is cast," sealed his fate (and again, the fate of those around him) to one of only two options.
As new languages emerged and people spread across the globe, the allegory evolved, and the old world idea of "burning one's boats" became in America "burning one's bridges." And something else happened, too. Apparently as we've traveled through time we've gotten more willing to hedge our bets, and the idea of burning one's boats has transitioned from a statement of determination to a warning against hemming oneself in to only a few choices.
I've burned my share of bridges, some on purpose and some accidentally, and I have to say I think I've regretted it each time. As you look at the pile of smoldering ash you think, "Well, that could have gone better. Now I'll have to find another way around." And sometimes there's no short way back. Sometimes you've got to tighten up the pack and prepare for a long hike.
At the same time, as I consider my own life and as I talk to people around me I've realized that we often take the advice "not to burn our bridges" as an excuse not to cross any bridges at all. And without knowing who you are or anything about you, I can tell you that is the wrong advice for you.
I know this to be true: We are presented with opportunities and it is our test in life to take them. The bridge in front of you leads to something different, and possibly harder, but it is worth walking across. You don't have to drop a match once you get to the other side; leave the lighter fluid in your pocket. But you should go ahead and make the crossing. There's something new on the other side of the ravine. You've been on this side long enough.