Why Some “Help” Really Hurts

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When I visited a school in a Ugandan village, the local leader I was working with told me that the buildings were not being maintained and would continue to fall apart, because everyone knew that western aid-workers would just come rebuild them if needed.

Very revealing.

This doesn’t mean I think assistance programs are bad, but this concept makes you think hard about how aid should be shaped to have good long-term effects. I remember seeing lots of very clear and damaging cases of “shifting the burden to the intervenor” while living in and visiting some very poor areas in Africa.

Consider this–from Peter M Senge’s excellent study, The Fifth Discipline: The Are & Practice of the Learning Organization:

“The long-term, most insidious consequence of applying nonsystemic solutions is increased need for more and more of the solution. This is why ill-conceived government interventions are not just ineffective, they are “addictive” in the sense of fostering increased dependency and lessened abilities of local people to solve their own problems. The phenomenon of short-term improvements leading to long-term dependency is so common, it has its own name among systems thinkers–it’s called “shifting the burden to the intervenor.” The intervenor may be federal assistance to cities, food relief agencies, or welfare programs. All “help” a host system, only to leave the system fundamentally weaker than before and more in need of further help.”

You see lots of this. And it’s not just in poverty relief. You see it in personal life. You see it in business–when companies use kid gloves and cute initiatives to train and empower leaders (watering down what real, complicated leading looks like) and end up just babysitting a lot of managers that were never given the chance to be taken seriously. You see it in customer service–when out of a desire to go above-and-beyond, companies accidentally train customers to be extremely high-maintenance instead of self-reliant. Examples are endless.

So the tough question is–how do you help AND avoid that effect?

I don’t have a perfect answer, but I think it starts somewhere along the lines of: “Teach a man to fish…”

What do you think?

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Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb

How to Create Your Own Luck

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” – Benjamin Franklin

I distinctly remember a day at the office last year when it hit me more clearly than ever before that you create your own luck. Not always. Not indefinitely. But generally–you can make yourself get “luckier.” As the old Greek proverb goes, “God helps those who help themselves.”

It’s not magic. It’s common sense. But a little gem of common sense that doesn’t seem quite so common to many an “unlucky” person.

Here’s what happened:

I was working as a team with a few sales reps of sorts who would send people my way. The more they sent my way, the more they got paid and I got paid. Having been in their position before, I had lots of tips and best practices to share. I had especially become very good at collecting leads. Since it was their place to contact leads, not mine, I knew I could benefit the entire team by sharing my leads and strategies with them.

I dedicated a lot of time to helping the most senior sales rep with gathering leads and making referrals. I even took on some of her workload so she could focus on building her sales. But she just didn’t deliver. She spent a lot of time finding ways to avoid actually making the referrals. Sales is scary.

Then there was the most junior of our sales reps. She had very recently started with the company–no prior experience, lower rank and pay. No reason to expect she would be the big producer. So I still sent some leads her way and gave suggestions here and there. But she wasn’t my focus. I started to notice, though–whenever I sent her a lead, she delivered. And then I got an email that changed the whole relationship: “Hey, I wonder if you have any suggestions for prospects I could contact?” Immediately my focus shifted. I gave her twice the help that I gave anyone else.

I started to feel a little bad: Was I playing favorites? Shouldn’t I be helping everyone equally? Was I giving the new girl an unfair advantage? So just to feel “fair,” I tried to even it out–invest as much time and energy into the more senior rep. And it just didn’t pay off. When I helped her, nothing happened. When I helped the new girl, results happened.

So I came to the conclusion: The bottom line increases more when you help those who help themselves. The recent hire was creating her own “luck” by producing results and asking for help. Her behavior attracted help.

I have always distinctly remembered her example. Sure, you need “luck.” But often “luck” is sent your way by people who see your initiative and realize investing in you will pay off.

Even if someone won’t directly benefit from giving you help, there’s just something about your having a good work ethic that makes people want to give you a leg up.

Want “luck?” Give people reason to believe in you and help you.

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

I ran across something I wrote down when I got home that day last year:

“There are thousands of people around you who are watching and are impressed when you do something well. They then WANT to help you. For instance, when I see one person looking for prospects and another on Facebook, I am impressed with the first person and try to find ways to help them and encourage their behavior: e.g. sending them my own leads.”

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“The day you decide to do it is your lucky day.” – Japanese Proverb

“It Was a Good Learning Experience”

“What the hell just happened?”

I sat with my boss behind a closed door. We were both stunned. Didn’t really know what to say. Something shocking and incredibly hurtful had just happened. We were totally blind-sided. Couldn’t have been much more painful or much scarier.

I took some deep breaths and realized there was only one way I could handle it. “You know what? . . . A year from now, this won’t even matter.”

A year later I realized I was totally wrong. A year later, it did matter! It had turned out to be one of the most beneficial experiences of my life. I had learned valuable lessons, grown so much as a communicator, and developed some key relationships–all because of this “bad” experience. In fact, if I could take the whole event back–I wouldn’t! It was a good learning experience–too good!

 

It wasn’t the last big “bad” experience I’ve had. But each time they feel a little different and go a little better. I’ve learned four important lessons about “bad experiences” that are really helping.

1. It WILL turn out for your good–IF you want.

Sometimes people seem to end up in a genuinely worse place after an upset. But most of the time, that’s a choice. In my experience and the experience of everyone else I’ve gotten to talk to about life’s tough things, it depends on your attitude.

The more earth-shaking the experience, the greater the potential to grow from it. You can learn big things. You can develop toughness. You can end up wiser. You can gain more perspective. You can deepen and strengthen relationships. You can even take advantage of whatever changed and leverage it to take even bigger steps forward.

The key word is CAN.

2. Once you understand that it will turn out for good if you want, the GOOD will happen faster.

The bad-leads-to-good perspective doesn’t change the fact that pain hurts. What the perspective does change, I’ve noticed, is how quickly your focus (and therefore feelings) start shifting from the pain to the benefits.

The first time as a kid that you feel like you’re drowning in the deep end of the pool, you panic and splash around and it hurts and you’re terrified. Eventually you realize you can swim to safety. The next time you’re in too deep, you already know your plan of attack: Look for a wall and start swimming.

In the same way, once you truly understand that you can make a “bad” experience turn out “good,” you start working on it a lot more quickly.

3. Even the “worst” outcome sometimes feels worthwhile when you compare it to the new You that will come out of it.

Let’s say it gets really bad. Like you get fired. Or you go broke. Or your car dies. That seems like a pretty clear negative, right? An obvious net loss.

Well not necessarily. In fact, if you decide to leverage it for your own good in every way you can, to look for the silver linings and chase them–often you end up much better for it. Sometimes it takes a year. Sometimes half. Sometimes a month. Sometimes even less. But eventually you’ll probably be glad you had the experience, even if it turned out really bad. Would you take back all the “bad” things that happened to you as a kid? Or are you too grateful for the You they’ve created?

(I don’t want to be flippant or fake. Sometimes the “worst” means you’re dying of cancer. Or you lose a loved one. That’s real. Sometimes maybe there’s really no light at the end of the tunnel in this life. But 9 times out of 10, when someone’s in despair–they can still come out a better, wiser, stronger person in the end. It’s those 9 times I hope this post might help with.)

4. Finally, if you make the “learning and growing experience” mentality a habit, bad experiences will just become “good learning experiences.”

You can be a person who lets bad stuff break you down and stunt your growth. Or you can be a student of life and let all the experiences–“good” and “bad”–be good learning experiences. You can commit to focus on growing as a person when times get tough.

I can tell you from personal experience–the more you force yourself to focus on the learning and growing opportunities when bad things happen, the sooner it will become second nature. And once it’s second nature, as a general rule, things just go much better. Things don’t hurt as badly. Pain doesn’t last as long. You get better at learning and growing. You become a pro at bouncing back from upsets and just doing life better than before.

 

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And when life kicks you in the butt, grab a pen and start taking notes. Make that a core part of who you are. You’ll be a happier, stronger, wiser, and more effective person.

Of course. There’s another option. You can let everything just break you down. You can stop getting back up when you fall. You can just give up on yourself. Sometimes we start to do that, and it’s very sad . . .

“Eeyore, the old grey donkey, stood by the side of the stream and looked at himself in the water. ‘Pathetic,’ he said. ‘That’s what it is. Pathetic.'” – A. A. Milne

How will you deal with “bad” experiences in the future? Will they leave you weaker or stronger?

“You just have to decide whether you are Tigger or an Eeyore. You have to be clear where you stand on the Tigger Eeyore debate.” – Randy Pausch

We Eloped to Italy!

Hello again!

I’ve missed writing! I decided to take a break for a while last summer with our wedding coming up and with some other big life changes–a big promotion, a move, and too much more to keep track of!

It’s old news now, but I’m still so excited to share that I got to marry my gorgeous best friend Alyssa, in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. We eloped to Italy and exchanged vows at the incredible Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como, August 25th of 2015–il giorno più bello.

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In the morning, an amazing hair and makeup artist (Valeria–remember her if you ever know anyone getting married in Italy!) came from Milan to our private apartment just up the hill from Lake Como. We felt like royalty. And Alyssa looked like a goddess! We went down to the lakeside, met our photographers (Alessandro and Veronica–they’re AMAZING!), and waited at a hotel dock for our awesome wooden boat. The driver sped us to and from our destinations on the lake for the rest of the day.

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We spent the first part of the day visiting the most beautiful place–the Villa del Balbianello. It had been our dream for a long, long time to get married in Italy, and this Villa was our favorite version of the dream.

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The day could not have been more perfect, peaceful, and happy. Our ideal wedding day was one in which we would spend time together, just the two of us, celebrating us–just us–sharing our promises to each other–and just celebrating. And it was exactly that. It was as happy as could possibly be.

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We made our vows to each other and gave each other our wedding rings at the Villa. It was perfect.

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We spent the afternoon wandering from place to place around the lake. Alessandro and Veronica captured so many beautiful and happy moments for us to remember for the rest of our lives. Everywhere we went, people stared at us (especially Lyssi). We felt like celebrities. Everyone smiled and said “Auguri!”

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When we finally got back to our apartment in Mezzegra–a straight view from our balcony to the Villa where we had our ceremony–we were tired and hungry, but as happy as could possibly be! We realized that all we’d had to eat the entire day was a little breakfast of fresh fruit in the morning. So we went in search of a meal worth a wedding day. And we found a perfect one! We waited for a good two hours to get into a quaint little restaurant–a real hole-in-the-wall down the hill from our apartment–Antica Trattoria del Risorgimento. Delicious entrees, gourmet cheese, and amazing wine. A perfect end to a perfect day.

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I want to share a few more things with you that have been on my mind since my wildest dreams came true that summer day in Italy…

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Il dolce far niente

The wedding day was just the start. We honeymooned (luna di miele) on Lake Como for a while.

We learned some Italian–a lot when we were traveling, making our way from the airport near Milan all the way up to Lake Como by train and bus. Going to restaurants and markets. I think our favorite phrase we learned was il dolce far niente. It means the sweetness of doing nothing.

And that was our stay in Italy. We slept in late in our beautiful apartment every day. And we stayed up late and talked and read and laughed and played games and smiled and laughed some more. Visited the most incredible restaurants. Had an unbelievable amount of unbelievable pizza.

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We walked or jogged down to the market when we needed to restock our fridge full of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, bread, wine, and cheese to die for. We ate and drank what sounded best when we felt like it. We sat on our balcony a lot and just stared at the incredible lake and mountains. We talked about our dreams and our memories. We smiled a lot. We took our time.

We went exploring every day–walking everywhere we went. Walked miles and miles some days. Lenno, Mezzegra, Tremezzo. Followed paths that were taking us who knew where. Went running sometimes. Or just sat on benches. Took some beautiful pictures.

Meals in Italy are very slow and long. People gather for hours to just be together and enjoy each other.

It was such a relaxing adventure. So peaceful. We really got to know the sweetness of doing nothing. Of just resting. Just experiencing the beauty around us. That’s something we will keep for our entire lives. An idea that we will build our life around.

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Look what we did!

Life hasn’t been a joy ride for either of us. We always had these big hopes and dreams, but when we were being honest, neither of us often expected we’d be able to make them come true. At least not so soon and in such a big way. We’ve had to work hard and push through a lot to make dreams come true.

Figuring out how to go make a wedding happen at one of the most incredible wedding destinations in the entire world–taking that on all by ourselves–was a crazy experience. It started as a “Wouldn’t that be amazing? If only…” And then we got thinking. “Why not?”

Why not? Because we can’t just up and fly to Italy, get our own apartment, rent time at a famous Villa, book Italian wedding photographers, planners, and artists, and secure a beautiful wooden boat for a day. That’s a lot of … stuff to figure out. And pay for. And make happen. Despite all the reasons why it wouldn’t make sense or we probably couldn’t do it.

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Well. We did it. And it went absolutely perfectly! What an adventure! So many details and nerve-wracking research went into that elopement. So many things aligned just right. Sometimes things “align just right” because you spend hours and hours searching and researching and asking for advice and trying crazy things.

We really made it happen–our biggest dream so far in life. We made it happen and it was incredible!

And that’s something I’m really proud of. It was so encouraging to look back afterward and to be able to say–“Wow. Something so difficult to pull off and such a huge dream. We went after it, and we made it happen.”

Good lesson. We can make things happen. And so can you. Never give up hope. Chase your dreams. You’ll be shocked by what you can accomplish.

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My friendship with my wife is the most important thing in the entire world.

Our life is about us. Not only about us. But in a big way, it is about us. Alyssa and I are best friends. And we’re a team. Taking time away from the rest of our day to day life and just celebrating our relationship–it was so clear just how valuable our relationship is and always will be.

Alyssa’s happiness is more important to me than anything else. I honestly am at a loss for words to describe how much I care for her.

But “marriage” gets such a bad rap–it’s sad. Married couples (even and sometimes especially the ones who are really pious about it) so often get sick of each other. They just live in this constant frustration and annoyance with each other. And they complain about each other incessantly to friends, co-workers, even strangers. It’s expected.

… Why?

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Yes, relationships take hard work. Humility, courage, honesty, care, tears, selflessness.

But they can also be full of happiness and fun and beauty.

But maybe in our darkest days we should think back to the beautiful, happy memories of being truly in love–wrapped up in each other. In that moment, our hearts belonged to each other in every way.

We humans forget that too quickly and easily. We forget just how much we adored the good in each other, just how genuinely we embraced each other’s weaknesses, and just how important being best friends was.

Well I owe it to my beautiful wife and to myself to not forget. Nothing can ever be as important in my life as my best friend and “life person”–because as soon as something becomes more important, we lose that incredible purpose in our lives: To be each other’s best friends and closest teammates for life.

Nothing else in the world is as valuable as having and loving each other.

Maybe that’s just us. But we will be happy.

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Thanks very much for letting me share with you one of the happiest stories in history–at least to Lyssi and me. The memory means more than I can say. The wedding was perfect. The honeymoon epitomized il dolce far niente. The adventure was empowering. And it’s all for the sake of having the most beautiful and satisfying life with my best friend.

I’m excited to get back to writing now!

A BIG thank you to Alessandro and Veronica Roncaglione for being the most incredible wedding photographers for Alyssa and me. They couldn’t have done a more perfect job! Grazie mille!

And thanks to all our friends who have been there along the way to be happy for us and help us celebrate!

Take a look at all the rest of the pictures!