I remember when Bill Gates hadn’t yet begun giving all of his money away. The richest man in the world received criticism for not being more generous. These days, Gates is viewed by many as the most generous man on the planet. His foundation has sent ripples through humanity, extending the lives and health of the most unfortunate. It has helped close the global wealth gap and empower generations in many of the world’s poorest, most maligned nations. He’s one of the few people whose money we couldn’t spend more wisely than he does. And while many of the world’s richest people have been extremely generous in their work and donations, it’s inspiring to see world’s richest man retire in his 50’s and spend all of his time on charity. Heading into 2017, remembering how people viewed Gates before he became so charitable, I think about my own generosity.
“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” – Millard Fuller
Bill Gates was likely a charitable person before he started his foundation, but he’s certainly one after. Labels like charitable and generous are nothing more than summaries of what we’ve done so far, not what’s up next. That thought has shaped my two overarching plans for 2017.
“Fake it ‘till you are it”
It’s important to remember that we organize and categorize people based on their actions. Athletes play sports, musicians play music, chefs cook. If I want to become someone who reads a lot, first things first I need to pick up a book. It’s easy to get caught up in the romantic idea that each person is meant for a job, skill, or hobby. But what is holding each person back from being them all? Why can’t our best selves be that of a phenomenal writer, dancer, musician, and friend?
It’s an easy temptation to look at nature or nurture for excuses. My pet peeve is the person who is “not a math person”. Not until they start doing math. Simple mental math can turn into complex formulas faster than one expects. Lessons from basic addition and subtraction provide the confidence to continue forward. If we want to be more generous, giving a coin to the homeless man every day is step in the right direction. By acting in a way that follows the labels we desire, we ultimately earn the label. Taking action can be contagious and can lead our mind into the place we want to be.
“Am I doing this right?”
I love this time of year, turning the page and starting fresh. The projects and passions I wanted to get more involved with in 2016 feel within reach. I can make lists for days that organize my goals for the upcoming year (and I certainly will), but my biggest lesson of the last year has shaped my goals more than anything else. I’ve found my ability to sit down periodically, often biweekly, and analyze my success has had greater positive impact than all of the lists I write. I care about staying in touch and watching the best movies. I care about being hard working and helpful. These things drive my todo lists and plans for the future. But to achieve, I need to put down the future briefly and analyze the past.
Self evaluations didn’t happen enough in 2016, but where they did it was immensely powerful. I consistently update my reading progress and ensure I’ve been talking with the people I care about. I adapt when I’m not moving in the right direction, at the right speed. Call the people I’ve lost touch with, or pick up those books I had planned to read. Applying these methods to my whole life begins in 2017. It’s fun and easy to plan for the future, but dismissing lessons from the past, or not actively seeking answers, guarantees we’ll run into the same mistakes and problems.
For me, this work involves not only looking back every few weeks, but having goals prior to those time periods. Arguably more important than the fine tooth comb needed for an honest evaluation is the organization and foresight to create actionable, meaningful goals. What exactly does it mean to be ‘charitable’ in my mind?
This year, I’ll be working on 2-3 week time frames, setting goals in a host of tasks. Before creating the next period’s goals, I’ll be comparing my progress to my original thought and the long term plans. Where possible, I’ll recalibrate. Formulating a full feedback loops ensures each future goal moves me in the right direction.
As you can imagine, writing will be a big part of 2017 for me, and I hope you’ll continue to read. I plan to experiment with new topics and different formats. Last year at this point, I wanted to be a writer, so I started to write. I hope this inspires you to take action toward your own goals. Writing a blog post about 2015 didn’t make me a writer and I didn’t think it would. But 20 posts later, I think I’m getting somewhere.