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Being A Contribution

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Not long ago, I set out to reinvent my life with the sole purpose of being the most authentic version of myself that I could be. In my search, I've found many books that have helped me on my path - books that synchronistically seemed to jump off the library shelves right when I needed them. This book, The Art of Possibilityby Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, created a profound shift in how I view what's possible in my personal life, my relationships and in turning around difficult situations to the best advantage for myself and others.

One of the chapters in the book that had the greatest influence on me was called, Being A Contribution. It opened with this parable:

Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm out in an arc. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them out one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her, "There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?" Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely, "It certainly makes a difference to this one."

Reading this chapter was a beautiful wake up call. I recognized that I measure and judge my place in the world far too narrowly: everything is either right or wrong, I am a success or a failure, I am too much or not enough. I am also guilty of occasionally making decisions out of fear based on what other people might think instead of from a place of strong personal belief and integrity. Benjamin Zander, a successful speaker and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, came to the conclusion that instead of measuring his achievements in traditional ways, he could simply declare himself to be a contribution:

"I settled on a game called I am a contribution. Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, "Is it enough?" and the even more fearful question, " Am I loved for who I am, or for what I have accomplished?" could both be replaced with the joyful question, "How will I be a contribution today?"

The idea of declaring myself a contribution was liberating. It redirected my way of thinking.
I started to view difficult situations as personal challenges where I had an opportunity to rise to the occasion. I was recently in a work situation that was new and very perplexing. I was mired in negativity about finding a solution to a big problem. I was feeling like a victim and wanted to blame others for my predicament. But then I realized I wanted to resolve this with integrity and for me, that means not finding fault and blaming others but taking personal responsibility. So, I asked myself, "What is the best contribution I can make to this situation?" I visualized a happy outcome for all without having expectations about how it might unfold. I held the tension of not having answers but believing I could find one and ultimately, I did.

Frankly, I am tired of seeing the negative in every situation and of hearing myself say the words, "I can't." (again, fear talking). I knew at my core, that's not who I am or who I want to be in the world. When pressed in dilemma, when I think I have no options, I remember there is always another way and that's the perfect time to declare myself a contribution.

"Naming oneself and others as a contribution produces a shift away from self-concern and engages us in a relationship with others that is an arena for making a difference. Rewards in the contribution game are of a deep and enduring kind, though less predictable than the trio of money, fame and power that accrue to the winner in the success game. You never know what they will be, or from whence they come."

Excerpted directly from the book, here are steps to The Practice of Becoming a Contribution:

1. Declare yourself to be a contribution.

2. Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why.

"When you play the contribution game, it is never a single individual who is transformed. Transformation overrides the divisions of identity and possession that are the architecture of the measurement model, recasting the tight pattern of scarcity into a widespread array of abundance."

We all desire abundance. Whether it's financial freedom, friendships, love or creative flow. What if abundance wasn't simply about "me, me, me - that's mine." The scarcity mentality thinks "I can't share this because then there won't be enough for me." The idea that no matter how much we have, there is never enough. That is surely fear talking; we've all experienced it but it is simply not true. I have lived with this mentality my whole life. It has been passed down from generation to generation in my family and I am committed to ending its legacy for good.

I'm going to end with another parable from the book that speaks to possibility and to our "limited understanding of the nature of the gifts the universe holds in store for us."

Four young men sit by the bedside of their dying father. The old man, with his last breath, tells them there is a huge treasure buried in the family fields. The sons crowd around him crying, "Where, where?" but it is too late. The day after the funeral and for many days to come, the young men go out with their picks and shovels and turn the soil, digging deeply into the ground from one end of each field to the other. They find nothing and, bitterly disappointed, abandon the search. The next season the farm had its best harvest ever.

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