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Using Your Talents to Help Others

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HANDS ON PIANO
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Giving can be as simple as giving joy to others -- sharing our talents and skills to help them tap into their own ability to experience wonder. Improv Everywhere, in collaboration with Carnegie Hall, set up an empty podium on the streets of New York in front of an orchestra with the sign "Conduct Us" -- allowing bystanders to conduct some of the most talented young musicians in the world. The musicians responded to the amateur conductors and altered their tempo and performance accordingly.

Monica Yunus and Camille Zamora, who met while studying singing at Juilliard, founded Sing for Hope to share their love of music with their community. They have been planting dozens of "pop-up pianos" in the middle of parks and street corners in New York City so passersby can play music or simply listen to it and build connections with strangers they would have otherwise silently passed by on the street.

Robert Egger took the skills he honed from running music clubs to found the D.C. Central Kitchen, which redirects leftover food from local businesses and farms, prepares the food in kitchens that employ the homeless, and then delivers it to feed the needy. He is now working to launch the L.A. Kitchen. "My attitude," Egger says, "is that food isn't just gasoline for the body; food is community."

We tend to identify creativity with artists and inventors, but, in fact, creativity is in each and every one of us, as David Kelley, the founder of the world-famous design firm Ideo and the d.school at Stanford University, writes in Creative Confidence, a book he coauthored with his brother Tom. We simply need to claim it back and share it. We are too quick to censor or judge our natural creative impulses as not being good enough. But we need to give ourselves permission to follow what makes us feel most alive. And when we are most alive we are most compassionate and vice versa. If you love to sing, sing -- you don't have to sing in a choir or become a soloist. If you love to write poems or short stories, write them -- you don't have to become a published author. If you love to paint, paint. Don't squash your creative instincts because you're not "good enough" to turn what you love to do into a career.

As David and Tom Kelley write, "When a child loses confidence in his or her creativity, the impact can be profound. People start to separate the world into those who are creative and those who are not. They come to see these categories as fixed, forgetting that they too once loved to draw and tell imaginative stories. Too often they opt out of being creative."

A friend of mine has a ritual: He writes a poem every day with his morning coffee . "It centers me," he says, "and then I ride that wave during the day -- it helps me stay connected." My sister graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London with many awards and accolades. But after years of auditions and not getting the parts she hoped to get, she began to feel lost and discouraged. In her book Unbinding the Heart, she describes a moment of epiphany on a New York bus:

After auditioning for a six-hour play adaptation of many Greek tragedies combined, and not getting a part -- not even in the chorus -- disappointed and distraught I got on the bus to go to my singing lesson on the Upper West Side when I started to notice the faces of the other passengers. Each one of them looked burdened, their worries the only thing showing in their expressions. As I looked at everyone around me, I was filled with compassion, and the understanding that their disappointments were probably much bigger than mine. If only I could bring some joy onto this bus, I thought.

And then I realized that I could. I could act right here! I could entertain these people for a brief moment. I could do a song and dance right here and now!

And with that thought, I broke down the barriers . I reached out to the woman next to me , struck a conversation, and asked her if she liked the theater. We started talking about our favorite plays and characters, and I told her that I had just performed the part of Saint Joan for an audition. She knew the play, and we had an unexpectedly wonderful conversation. In my enthusiasm, I said to her, "Would you like me to do Joan's monologue for you?"

"I would love that," she replied.

The first words of the monologue are: "You promised me my life, but you lied. You think that life is nothing but not being stone dead." As I said the words, the woman's face started to change. I could see that she was being touched; I was being touched as well, sharing my talent for a moment, on a New York bus.

By the time I finished, the woman on the bus had tears in her eyes. As she got off at her stop, she thanked me. I felt elated. I felt a release, as if a door had opened that I didn't even know was there. Here I was thinking that I had this wonderful gift that was not being recognized by the world. And then it dawned on me how many conditions I had put on my gift. That moment of sharing without an agenda of getting a part wasn't about the outcome but about the joy of touching others and giving unconditionally what was mine to give. And that brought with it a tremendous sense of fulfillment.

Your gift may simply be making a beautiful meal for someone down the street who is sick or has suffered a loss. The phrase "To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived" crystalizes giving.


This is an excerpt from Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving.