Had the great fortune of interviewing Tom Tierney last week. We discussed his book, Give Smart for the Drucker Business Forum and for the local NPR affiliate, KPCC. His book is really aimed at high net worth donors and would be philanthropists–how to effectively give away your money. As we prepped for the interview I told him this is a basically a career guide for the wealthy people who want to enter the world of philanthropy. He agreed.
Tom's book is a set of questions that apply to anyone who wants to start a "new career". Giving away money just seems easy to most people with wealth. What's there to think about?!! You pick needy organizations that are doing good and you give them money. How can that be hard? Any self respecting "successful" person who has built or grown a business, started a company, invested in start-ups or managed a for-profit enterprise can give away money! Wrong!
There is a prevailing by erroneous point of view that you just apply the most fundamental business practices to non-profit or even government work and you could solve problems so simply. What's wrong with this country is we have not take a business approach to the problems we face. Poverty, cancer, educating our children, and immigration would be solved. Really? C'mon anyone who feels that way, especially business executives, have no idea what they are talking about. I remember when David Gardner, former President of the University of California was discussing the issues of diversity in admissions and said, "Anyone who says they understand the issue does not understand the issue." Classic example of the more we learn the more we understand what we don't know. Tom's questions help people learn about what they don't know about themselves and the opportunity of philanthropy.
One of the most insightful moments for me came at the reception before the interview. We were discussing our concepts of time and what we expect from life in a small group. He took his pen and he looked down the shaft like it was a telescope. He said that we mostly look at our futures this way. He said that we see an infinite line of possibilities, of opportunities, and own deferred thoughts about success. This view gives us the false perception that we have a lot of time. But he said that it is more important to understand the finiteness of life and look at it sideways. He took the pen and looked at it in his hand. The pen's limits now come into view. How long life will be is a guess, but it will be brief. Thinking about the present and finiteness should give us a sense of urgency. Achieving things now instead of waiting for a future time when the "stars will align" or "luck will prevail" or the absolute most fallacious wish, "when I am not as busy".
People think anxiously about the future and forget the present, such that they live neither in the present or the future.
Two young people heard Tom's message as he was holding the pen sideways and immediately pointed out what they were doing to focus themselves on the present. It was clear they did not fully understand–they hopefully will. Planning their futures is still their career strategy.
While we plan for long lives, we also do many things in anticipation of a shortened one. We buy life insurance. We assign the guardianship of our kids. Nevertheless. we all expect to live at least the average life expectancy. After all, we are all better than the average, so we DESERVE, at least an average length of life, right? 80 years minimum.
But stuff happens. Plans change. Almost all of life does not happen exactly as we wish and thank goodness for that! Can you imagine if life was predictable? No surprises. Just a linear existence. If it were predictable then you would know your date of death and could plan accordingly. Sorry, not in this world.
We should be ready for the end anytime. We should be ready to lose things and loved ones anytime. Because that's when it happens. Did we do what we wanted to do? Did we nurture our relationships? Did we have a full life? Or are we deferring most of our living and loving to a future time when things will be better?
People live as if they will never die and die as if they have never lived.
Once we see the pen sideways and appreciate its finiteness, we can see that everyday, that every moment, that every conversation is important. That the future we envision may not come for you or others.
Life and death are irrational. When your time is up will not be up to you. Yes, eating right, exercising, and taking care of yourself are advised, but no guarantee.
Once you see and understand the finiteness of it all, you will think about giving now. You realize that the one thing you have is your ability to help others. To love. To support. To ease the suffering of others. Deferring those human instincts to a future time that will be more convenient is only reserved for children.
Look at the continuum of life sideways, embrace its boundaries and surrender to the urge to give and live.
Life expectancy: Live every day.
Here's to a long and prosperous life of living and giving, fulfilled in every moment.
Thanks for reading. John