Was he great because it was preordained, because he was destined to be a leader and influencer, because he was hand-selected by some almighty providence or the forces of history to be the right person for his moment in time, to be a martyr for his cause?
Or was he great because he chose to be?
Of course, Martin Luther King was a rare talent. He was one of the greatest orators in the history of the English language; he was a great organizer, strategist and leader. He had strong religious faith. He was hailed during his lifetime as a present-day Moses who would lead his people to the Promised Land.
But maybe the most important reason for Martin Luther King’s greatness was not his innate talent or some larger sense of destiny, but his own choice – time and time again – to be generous, to be a leader, to reach out to people, to keep organizing, to keep working….even when he was tired, even when he feared the effects on his family, even when he feared for his safety, even when he was thrown in jail, even when he feared for his life.
Most of us in America in 2015 do not face nearly the risks and threats and seemingly intractable violent hatred that Martin Luther King faced during his life. So what’s holding us back? Why aren’t all of us – you, me, all of us – more like Martin Luther King? We can’t all be great orators or organizers, but why can’t more of us make the same simple choice he made: to keep doing everything in our power to make life better for the people around us, to keep being tirelessly, radically generous?
I don’t believe that the only people who should be allowed to have success or be encouraged to make a difference are a tiny percentage of elites, or a preordained chosen group of people. I believe that everyone has innate human potential to be of service, to make a difference, to be more than what they think they’re capable of being. I believe that humanity’s biggest achievements arise not from rugged individuals or lone geniuses, but from a rich context of learning, sharing and generosity. We are all “standing on the shoulders of giants,” as Isaac Newton said. I believe that with our modern Internet connections and the “share economy” and instant mobile communication and information spreading faster than ever before, it’s possible for anyone to make a bigger difference in the world IF WE CHOOSE to do so.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in my own life. I want to be more generous. I want to make more of a difference. But how? How can I align my skills and interests in a way that really helps other people? How can I do the most good with what I have to offer, in the most efficient way possible?
I used to be pretty active in my community – I worked in politics, I volunteered at a public school, I hosted international visitors through State Department programs. But for the past few years, as a freelance writer and work-at-home dad, I haven’t been feeling as involved and generous as I used to be. I’ve been very focused on raising two young kids and paying the bills and taking care of my own house and family. I haven’t been as involved as I would like to be in the wider world.
But I want to do better about this. So in 2015, I want to start something new – my own personal “Generosity Project.”
I have over 1,000 Facebook friends. I have connections all over the U.S. and all over the world. I’m a freelance writer with good communication skills and a flexible schedule – I want to use what I know and who I know to help other people get connected to opportunities.
Here’s what I want to do to be more generous this year – I want to help other people:
- Find jobs
- Get connected to people who can offer career mentoring or advice (for free)
- Learn how to make money by doing freelance writing or otherwise utilizing skills and interests that they already have
- Learn about great nonprofit organizations, volunteer opportunities, or good causes to support
All of these topics are very important to me, and I think I have the right blend of connections, interest and aptitude to be effective in helping people in this area.
I’m a good connector of people. I like introducing friends to other friends; I like helping people get new job leads, I like being a freelance writer coach to help people learn how to make money online. I’ve already been doing this on a limited, informal basis, but I want to do more of it, more proactively, more expansively. I want to find friends on Facebook who are willing to offer their talents, expertise and connections to help offer career advice or pass along a resume or otherwise help connect talented, hard-working people with jobs and opportunities.
I’m really lucky. I get to make a living as a freelance writer. I’ve been doing this for four years full-time and I’m more successful than ever before. But I’m not interested only in making a good living for my own family – I want to do more to help other people find opportunities and make more money and have the same sense of empowerment. And I want to do what I can to help shine a spotlight on some worthy organizations and good causes for other generosity-minded people to donate their time, talents and money.
Will you join me? This doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment; I don’t need lots of time or money from any of you. I’m looking for people who are willing to…
- Be interviewed about your career or business. I’d like to do podcasts or e-mail interviews where we can create informative resources (published on my blog) to help other people who want to learn more about getting a job in your industry or who want to start a business. For example, how did you get started in your career field? What qualifications do you need? What advice would you offer to someone who wanted to get into your industry or work at your company? How did you start your business? How do you find customers/clients/buyers? What advice would you offer to someone who wanted to get started making money on the side as a freelancer/consultant or who wanted to start a small business from home?
- Help connect people with job openings. If I hear of someone who’s looking for a job in your area, would you be willing to talk with them via e-mail or connect with them via social media, and, if you feel comfortable doing so, pass along their resume or put in a good word for them?
- Serve as short-term casual career “mentors.” Would you be willing to help people who are looking for a new job or a new career field? Would you be willing to answer questions/do a brief phone call or Skype call with someone who wants to learn more about working in your career field?
- Share the story of a nonprofit organization that you work with or volunteer with or donate to. What makes them great? Why is their mission so important? What do people need to know about this organization? I’d like to write profile articles of some of great nonprofits from around the U.S. and around the world to post on my blog and share on social media.
Benefits of doing this “Generosity Project:”
- People get new jobs (and companies get great new employees)
- People get inspired and get the information they need to help start a business or make extra money on the side
- People get to make better-informed career decisions
- Nonprofit organizations get more donations and more volunteers
- Career mentors and interviewees get the satisfaction of helping other people while getting a published blog article or podcast to share their own stories
- Small business owners/freelancers get free publicity for their businesses
- I get to expand my network and become known as more of a leader – maybe someday, the people I help today can connect me with opportunities too!
Of course, there are also a few possible risks and downsides of doing this “Generosity Project:”
- People might take advantage of me. There might be unscrupulous/unqualified/disreputable people who try to use my reputation and connections to get a job, even though they’re not seriously qualified or are being dishonest about their qualifications. It could reflect poorly on my reputation if I tried to vouch for someone who wasn’t really who they said they were.
- There might be overwhelming demand – too many job seekers, not enough jobs; too many people looking for help, not enough people offering help.
- Too much time commitment – I can’t spend too many hours each week creating content for free (doing podcasts or writing articles) or networking on behalf of other people, because I’m really busy with my own (paying) freelance writing work.
But on the whole, I think the benefits outweigh the risks.
Ever since I started working as a freelance writer, I’ve realized – on a new level – the importance of networks. I work with clients all over the U.S. and all over the world. Instead of one “job” with a salary and benefits, I have lots of smaller “projects” that add up to a good living. Instead of relying on one single company to give me my livelihood, I have a broad network of clients. Freelance writing is my dream job, and I’ve created it all for myself – and I feel very well-supported by this invisible “safety net” of lots of different clients – but what if I could help other people extend their own “safety net?”
Whether we realize it or not, we are all inter-connected. No one is every truly alone. We are all one or two degrees of separation removed from great people who can help us find what we’re looking for in our careers. What if we used the power of the Internet and the power of Facebook not just for screwing around and sharing funny cat pictures, but for taking some positive, proactive steps to make a difference in people’s lives – helping people make more money, find better jobs, or make a career change in a way that will benefit them for years to come? I want to be a connector of people. I want to introduce people for their mutual benefit. I want to help people get a step closer to the job of their dreams.
I know I can’t help everyone. Not everyone is a good fit for a certain job, not everyone has the energy or capacity or desire or will power or “hustle” necessary to start a business or work extra hours freelancing in addition to holding a full-time job. Not everyone is willing to change. Some people stay stuck in the same thought patterns and never break out of their comfort zones – and that’s OK.
But what if this “Generosity Project” could help someone figure out how to get started as a part-time freelance writer and earn an extra $200 or $300 or $500 a month? What if this project could introduce some talented job candidates to some great employers who might not otherwise find each other? What if I could help speed up the natural sorting process of people finding the right job and the right career and the right company, and make it a little more efficient and more human? Wouldn’t that be great? And I can do it all from home? I already waste way too much time on Facebook, so why not put some of that time to good use?
I don’t know how “big” I want this to get. I’m a really busy person and I have a lot of demands on me already from my work and my family and everything else that goes with being a parent and a spouse and a homeowner. But I really want to try to do something. I can’t solve all of the problems in the world, but maybe I can make a difference for this specific problem: helping connect other people with jobs and opportunities.
What if we could all be a little bit more generous with our time, talents and connections? What’s holding us back? I’m going to start making a conscious, proactive, public effort in 2015 to be more generous. Starting NOW.
If you would like to help, please send me a message: Benjamin.firstname.lastname@example.org
Or connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bengran