“We *do* have time to make a difference.”
Two years ago today, the day after Christmas, I sat at our dining room table. The kids were fighting, there was wrapping paper everywhere, and the Christmas tree was at a 45 degree angle. There was no spirit of giving, the magic had seemingly died, as it always seems to do on this most unnoticed day of the year.
But instead of just letting that spirit pass away, I did something different. I asked myself a series of questions, “What if I could create that giving spirit myself? What if I could be more generous? I have little money, but could I give my time away? Every day? Was that even possible with three kids, a full time job, and a very busy schedule?”
And so began a one year commitment, which grew to two. It began a commitment which not only changed me, but hopefully started to change the lives of the people around me . It began to change my nature from inwardly focused to outwardly directed. It was my Resolve To Give challenge.
So, after two years, what has changed?
In a word, inward, … everything.
Giving is incredibly powerful, nuanced, and deep. I believe that giving time daily has inexorably changed my view of other people. More importantly, I believe it has fundamentally altered how I act toward, and interact, with everyone – family, neighbors, friends, and even strangers. It seems to have opened my eyes up to some important ideas which can help us better lead our daily lives. Ideas I have shared over the past two years and which I’ll summarize here.
- Giving time is a path, not a destination. Giving time isn’t a place, it’s a path – a path to a better life. And you don’t have to wait one minute to start walking down it.
- The intention to give is critical. To fundamentally change yourself for the better by giving, you must give consciously, intentionally, and with purpose. Don’t give time because you should. Do it because you want to.
- Connection, not isolation. We can isolate ourselves in many ways – physical, emotional, ideological, theological, and unintentionally. Connecting ourselves is not only important, I think it’s fair to say that it is crucial to happiness.
- Giving is uncomfortable. It is by overcoming that discomfort and seeking out new ways to give, in new communities, and with new people, that helps us overcome our fear of the unknown and allows for real change to happen.
- Listening is key. Listening isn’t taught in schools, nor is it encouraged in today’s world. But learning to slow down, listen, not respond quickly, and really take in what others are saying can change our world view, and better solve the problems that face us.
- Talk about giving. It’s not boastful to talk about generosity. Rather, it’s what will inspire others to give more. What we talk about, we think about. What we think about, we do.
- Time, not money. It’s the time we invest in others that pays us back. Not the money. Yes, a million dollars can change people’s lives, but writing a check once probably will have little impact on the giver. No matter how rich they are.
- You can’t change people, but you can help them. No matter how much I give, I can’t fundamentally alter a person’s world view. I can’t make them say thank you, or open their eyes to their own destructive (or constructive) behaviors. They have to do that themselves. But I can set an example for others to follow by listening, helping, being open, patient, and accepting. And I can try to be there for them when they ask for help.
- Our stories define us. The stories we tell ourselves become our habits and actions. In short, they become us. Every time we say, “I am this way, or I do this, or It’s just the way I am,” we shrink our world. We are the summation of our stories – and if we let them, they limit us.
- Escape is a prison. Escape, whether it be vacation, taking a break, relaxing, can trap us as effectively as the stress we’re trying to run away from. That doesn’t mean relaxing is bad – quite the contrary. But if we don’t learn to manage with our stressful lives without running away, the thrill of escape is as addictive as any drug on the planet.
- Act more. Much more. The best intentions mean nothing without actions. Sitting around won’t cut it. If you want to make substantial change in your life, do more. And quite frankly, we don’t do as much as we think we do. (At least I don’t)
- Opportunity rarely enters a closed door. The more our biases and fears close us off, the more we arm ourselves against what could go wrong, the more isolated we become, the fewer opportunities we have. Giving can help us put down our defenses.
- “We” not “Me”. Once I woke up to how much we all speak about ourselves, I made a deliberate attempt to change the nature of my writing and my thinking away from “me” and to “we.” Doing that changed a lot.
- We *do* have time to make a difference. Before you were a parent, you didn’t have time for kids. Before you were a home owner, you didn’t have time for house maintenance. Instead, you made time. Giving is no different. To make a difference, make time to give more time. The time is there, believe me.
The personal changes within me are numerous as well. If I asked my wife Melissa, I hope she would say that today I’m more patient, open, caring, kind, helpful, courageous, confident, generous, less anxious, and more understanding. Instead of keeping score on household chores, I just do them. Instead of waiting for change, I make change or I try to accept what it is. I’m more open to new ideas and get angry far less often. And I do more than I ever thought possible – quite often without feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
It’s been a great two years, perhaps the best two years of my life. I can only hope that the lives of the people around me are better as well, for they have given me more than I can ever repay.
This post has been uncharacteristically self-centered, and for that I apologize. But I hope that by looking inward for a few minutes, I can help to show how powerful giving time is, and how it can put you on a path to not only help the people in your life, but to help you overcome some of your own challenges.
Tomorrow, I’ll look forward to where this project and blog will go.
Yesterday’s gift of time … Christmas. Gave my time to present opening, playing, and helping a little with Christmas dinner – although truth be told my wife did the majority of it.