Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Finding your calling (cont): Everyone can make a difference in the world

This is excerpted from GREAT WORK.

In the last blog post I talked about finding your calling by discovering those passions that have stayed with you your entire life. 
You can often weave those into a calling. 
However some callings make a bigger difference in the world that others.

Chapter 1 was intended to help you find your calling based on fit: what do you find interesting and what do you love to do?

But happiness, as I explained in Part 1, also comes from having a purpose larger than yourself, a task that is challenging and that drives you to deepen your competence over time.

Many careers and callings could fit this bill. Some parents feel their calling is to raise well-rounded and responsible citizens. Teachers work to bring out the talents of their students.

But if you really want a challenge, try saving the world. Oh, my, does it need it!

Of course, no one person can save the entire world. But there is a piece of the world’s problems that you are uniquely positioned to solve. In the end, people want to know that their lives mattered. Each generation has its primary challenge. So let’s examine what it means to make a difference and how to find your unique role in saving your little piece of the planet.

The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself
so you can be a rainbow in somebody else's cloud.

Somebody who may not look like you.
May not call God the same name you call God - if they call God at all.

I may not dance your dances
or speak your language.
But be a blessing to somebody.  
Maya Angelou, American author, poet, dancer, actress and singer.

Wanting to make a difference makes a difference!

Before I started AXIS Performance Advisors, I was a director of a small national training company. The president, Alan, wanted to update the vision and mission. So he shared with me what he had written. I can’t recall exactly what it said, but it was basically, “We exist to create quality and profitable training programs for the utility industry.”

I told him that didn’t seem the slightest bit inspiring. “It sounds like we are basically in business to make you money. No offense, but that is not what brings me to work. Training is just a means to an end. What gives me juice is to make a difference in someone’s life.”

I am driven by two main philosophies:
know more today about the world than I knew yesterday
and lessen the suffering of others.
You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

—Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist/cosmologist
and science communicator

I went on to tell him about a young woman I coached briefly. She was petite, soft-spoken and desperately shy. Unfortunately, she was going to have to give a presentation to a national trade association of her peers where we couldn’t count on her even having a microphone. And each time she started her presentation, the moment she made the slightest mistake, she covered her face with her hands and turned to the screen. She and her teammates were leaving for the conference in a few days.

So I started coaching her. “Turn around! Keep going,” I demanded from the back of the room as she struggled through her presentation. I took her outdoors into a large field and had her give me her presentation as I walked backward away from her. “I can’t hear you! Use your diaphragm.”

I shared my best tricks for managing nervousness in presentations: what not to eat or drink, how to control what someone says introducing you so it’s easy to get started, how to engage the audience as if you’re having a conversation, and how to move your body to expel excess energy.

She was improving but I had to be sure she could handle the inevitable distractions at the conference. “It can be hard to keep your focus when people get up and walk out,” I warned. So we simulated a conference setting. We got about a dozen people from her department into a room set up conference-style and they were directed to be disruptive. A minute or two into her presentation, a pile of books hit the floor. Then someone simulated a coughing fit, and others in turn stood up and walked down the center aisle as if to leave. She finally handled these distractions reasonably well.

Time was up; they had to leave, so I wished her and her team well and crossed my fingers.

To make a long story short, she nailed her presentation. Her poise surprised her team as well as herself; and her content was well-received. She came back a different person. No longer meek, she had found her voice.

And I knew I had made a lasting difference in her life. She would never be the same. She’d carry this new self-confidence the rest of her days.

How can my work make me a better human being
and make a better world?

—Dr. Govindappa Ventkataswami, founder of the Aravind Eye Clinic

“That’s why I do this work,” I told Alan. “I want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

In the end, he rewrote the vision, “Helping people make a difference,” recognizing that as a training company, we wanted our participants to learn how to make a difference in their organizations through our training.

On the face of it, that doesn’t sound like much. But it transformed our business. Suddenly sales representatives had a story to tell, not just products to sell. They could tap into the emotions and aspirations of their clients. We often referred to the vision in meetings: “Will this really make a difference?” It coalesced everyone from the receptionist to the trainers, the sales people and top management. We all shared a common vision. And I don’t think it was coincidence that we started to become more profitable.

So wanting to make a real difference in the world or in people’s lives can improve the image and productivity of your organization.

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