Put Generosity at the Center of Your Professional Life

We’ve been in the midst of a weird cultural moment where an outsized amount of press has been given to two very different views of the world. On the one hand we have the mostly populated by me-first and only one winner worldview explored in Squid Game. On the other is the kindness-laden exploration shared by Ted Lasso. From the collective perspective of critics, it seems that Ted Lasso is more far-fetched than Squid Game. I don’t want to spend time debating which is truer, but I know which one I am pulling harder to win, unsurprisingly that would be Ted Lasso with one big caveat. I am a big advocate for generosity on top of kindness. 

Put generosity What do I mean by that? To help you not go down the same research rabbit hole that I did let me make this distinction that was more or less the same from looking at dozens of websites. “There is a slight difference between kindness and generosity as kindness basically refers to being helpful to and considerate of other people whereas generosity basically refers to the action of giving something, either abstract or concrete.” I love an act of kindness, but I also would push you to show the action of generosity.

That has been one of the driving forces in how I show up in the professional world. It wasn’t a premeditated or tactical choice, but in my experience, it has made all the difference in access to opportunity and in the creation of deep & meaningful relationships. I would argue that it should be the basis of how you network and get to know each other.

Like any other practice there are some different ways that you might approach this. How can you start acting? Let me list the ways:

  • How can I help? Is one of my favorite phrases to ask someone because it shows the intent to act in support of the struggle someone is facing and gives them permission to share what’s difficult. Oftentimes, the way you can help is rather simple, edit a note, listen to a dilemma, or make an introduction but your commitment to them in a moment of need indicates that your view of connection isn’t like that of a barnacle to a ship.
  • Paying attention to what they said and follow up. You’ve asked the question above and now is the time for you to follow-up with the support itself. If there was a specific action that you have the tools to act on immediately, for example make an introduction to someone they want to meet, do it. Perhaps they were supposed to send you something to review or share background materials that is holding you up from helping them. Go out of your way to remind them that you are looking forward to following up on what was discussed. Sometimes, the person will apologize that they've been delayed because things have come up. Of course, that’s fine. However, very often I will get a response from someone sharing that they suddenly felt guilty getting external support. They are still in need but didn’t feel worthy of help. This is why I tend to pester, because I’ve been in the role of undermining myself in the same way in the past, and occasionally the present.  
  • Checking-in when you need nothing. There is so much talk about how frustrating it is that people are users or only reach out when they want something. A good way to shift this is by demonstrating behavior where you neither want nor expect anything from them. Simply done, but it gets across that you don’t only come knocking when you need to borrow a cup of sugar. 
  • Checking-in when times are tough for them. This can feel harder. You are perhaps setting yourself up for a tougher chat or someone who is in greater need, but you might be the professional life preserver, or ideally one of many helping that person stay afloat. AND, you never know when you might be that person in the future. 
  • Sharing opportunities that you come across others might like. Access to opportunity doesn’t go as broadly as is fair. Knowing people and what they are seeking means you are positioned to connect them to intriguing opportunities that may or may not be right for you. I just had to make this effort recently and, in my head, decided that it isn’t me vs this person. Rather, it is about the right person finding this opportunity and they may be a better fit for the selection committee. 
  • Saying not me, BUT I know others…. In the same vein there will be opportunities that you may not be interested in, and you spend your time to locate people who could be intrigued by the possibility. I’ve done this for grants, fellowships, jobs, and consulting opportunities. 

If you’ve read this far you too want to be more generous. Good for you!! A few final tips. Don’t create a spreadsheet that counts your acts for them vs theirs for you. People who do that are missing the point and end up very bitter. There will be those that over time you’ve come to realize don’t try to engage in the same way to take an interest in your well-being. They aren’t difficult to spot, and you can remove them from ongoing consideration. Finally, like all other things there may be people who visit the well too frequently. Generosity isn’t a blank check. You can create boundaries to what you are capable of doing now. 

Thank you for contributing to making for a more generous world. I look forward to meeting you soon. 

Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor.  A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021. 

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