Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 16, Issue No. 1b
May 15, 2017
By Dan Coughlin
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About three to four times every year I think it’s important that we step back from the doing of our work and think in a more aspirational and noble way. Otherwise we can fall into the trap of feeling like a beaver building a dam all day long, or a rat scurrying for food scraps.
In his new book, The American Spirit, the historian and author David McCullough shares fifteen of his speeches from the past thirty years. I found the book to be remarkably refreshing and inspiring. Through speeches to the U.S. Congress and a variety of university graduations, McCullough used moments in U.S. history to extract examples of the best in people. Over the past 240 years there have been many moments of bigotry, racism, sexism, cruelty, and meanness to other human beings within the U.S. However, there have been moments where people have acted in ways that we can all aspire for.
In Chapter Five, called The Animating Spirit, he told the story of Benjamin Rush, who served other people in a myriad of ways as a physician, teacher, and educator. Rush said, “To spend and be spent for the good of mankind is what I chiefly aim at.”
Wow, what a statement, and he backed it up with his actions.
Aspire. Dream. What can you do to make an extraordinary difference in your family or in your organization or in your community or in your country?
I see Rush’s statement in two parts: spend, and be spent.
To me, this means spend some of your time, energy, and money in preparing yourself to be able to make a great difference in the world. I’m a big believer in spending time in reading books. I think the ideas in books help to prepare me to make a bigger difference in the future.
What can you invest yourself in that would prepare you to make the type of impact that you want to make?
If you want to help solve the literacy problems in your community, could you volunteer to teach children how to read? This might help you to understand the problem at a broader level.
If you want to develop young leaders in your company, could you volunteer to mentor one young person? This might help you to see how a mentoring program could be applied across your organization.
If you want to create a better service for your customers, could you go and spend time with a customer as he or she uses your service? This might help you to see issues that customers deal with that people in your organization are not seeing.
To be spent means to do the work. To actually do the thing that you have developed yourself to do in a way that really makes a meaningful impact.
You’ve spent your lifetime developing yourself into the person you are today. What would it mean now to be spent in a worthy cause?
Step back from the doing of tasks, and lift your eyes above strategy, tactics, and action plans.
What can you do to really matter in a significant way at home, in your community, at work, and in your country? What can you do that no one else can do in the way that you can do it that will really matter in the big scheme of things?
It’s okay to aspire for noble actions.
Go ahead, be noble today.