This fall, I spoke at TedxSMU on lessons learned in our work with generous individuals. And for the past year, we’ve celebrated and investigated bold generosity from social media mavens, designers, Wall Street executives, marketers and tech entrepreneurs through our Generosity Series. Inspiring examples of giving come from all walks of life.
So we like all the chatter about giving this week surrounding #GivingTuesday and the holidays. At my company, Catchafire, we’re lucky–giving is a part of our daily lexicon. It’s what we do: we empower professionals to donate their time and talent to causes about which they are passionate.
As for all the people we’ve profiled in this series, what ties them all together is that they share is a common and unmistakable trait: they truly believe that who they are and what they have is due in large part to luck.
And by luck, I mean the hand they were dealt at birth. The parents they were born to, their country of birth, their family’s socioeconomic status, their race and gender, their health.
Paul English, co-founder of Kayak, shared that giving back was a form of payback to that luck. “It seems crazy that those of us with luck think that people without luck are different than us,” English says. “They happened to be born in a different place or circumstances but they’re the same.”
Reflecting on the factors that set you up in life–for a successful career, a happy marriage, a good family, can change your perspective on life.
“For my whole life I have been a big believer in luck and that life is not fair,” Margo Alexander, former CEO and Chairman of UBS AG Global Asset Management, says. “A lot of people, for no good reason and no fault of their own end up on the short end of the stick and a lot of people become very lucky for sometimes no good reason either.”
Because when you realize that luck determined much of your life, you also realize that others (the homeless man on your block, the drug addict, the incarcerated)–they too were dealt a hand that they didn’t choose.
Mark Hovarth, chief evangelistic officer of InvisiblePeople.tv was once homeless. He knew how lucky he was to get off the streets and wanted to connect others to the down-on-luck circumstances of the homeless populace across the country.
Acknowledging that you were born with a basic advantage doesn’t diminish your success but rather gives you the power to empathize with others. As Jeff Skoll, the former president of eBay, said, “If you can find ways to give people hope that they can achieve something or make a difference, then there’s an opportunity for something good to happen.”
Across sectors, these leaders feel an obligation to use their positions, talents, and influence to help level the playing fields and offer those less fortunate access to opportunities that their life circumstances may not have offered them.
“There’s a lot of good fortune in the upbringing I had that gave me that balance of both sides, a lot of good fortune that I was given a creative talent, a lot of good fortune that I found a job where I could actually put that in and build a business,” David Droga, founder of Droga5, says. “I am grateful for that. I’ve always thought that one side of being grateful is to spread it a little bit.”
As Debbie Aung Din and Jim Taylor, founders of Proximity Designs explain, “We were both fortunate to have access to good educations and supportive families. We’re motivated to help in situations where the stakes are high and the problems are big–where we know our unique skills can make a positive difference.”