Countdown to Generosity Day

Generosity PicAs I’ve mentioned before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, after all, it includes my two favorite words – ‘thanks’ and ‘giving’.

My second favorite holiday is Generosity Day (otherwise known as Valentine’s Day).  That’s right, this Friday is a day totally dedicated to doing for others and sending some ripples of kindness out into the world.

If you haven’t heard, Valentine’s Day got a reboot in 2012 as Generosity Day.  You can read all about it in my post from last year.

Some people may think a day devoted to generosity and do-gooding is silly and inconsequential — I can’t imagine who they might be, but it’s possible there are skeptics out there.  To the doubters, I can only say that there is scientific evidence to support the value of generosity for us as individuals, organizations, and societies.  Not only are humans hardwired to be generous, but generosity, kindness, compassion, and empathy improve health and well being outcomes

Generosity results in a healthier heart — both your literal and metaphorical heart.  That’s powerful. 

How will you be generous this Friday?  

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R.A.K. – Everyone’s Doing It

There’s a new fad that I hope becomes the new normal: random acts of kindness (R.A.K.).  Strangers are ‘paying it forward’ and committing generous acts just for the fun and reward of doing something nice for someone else.  I wish these deeds were the headlines on the evening news and not relegated to human interest side notes.  It’s important to be reminded that people are inherently generous and ready to help.

Here are just a few examples of random acts of kindness in action.

New York Times piece on people paying for the orders of those behind them in line at fast food joints

Huffington Post slideshow of 21 random acts of kindness


Image credit: Virtues for Life

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Way to Be: My 3 Words for 2014

It’s resolution time.  Chris Brogan sets New Year’s goals around 3 words that “will become part of the way you identify yourself, and thus, a guiding light for your efforts.”

I welcome the simplicity of 3 words that can serve as a mantra and keep me focused on the priorities that matter all year.  Life inevitably gets crazy and it’s reassuring to have a map that keeps you on track, but not a route so predefined that there is no room for exploration and ‘a-ha’ moments to intervene.

Here are my 3 words for 2014.


I loathe feeling like a failure and pride myself on never quitting.  But I’ve realized that those are the wrong motivating forces for making decisions and nurturing creativity.  This year I’m redefining what it means to fail and quit.  Instead of seeing them as negative signs of inadequacy and defeat, I’m reframing them as marks of effort, problem-solving, learning, and growth.  Giving myself permission to fail sets me free to reach for big goals by taking iterative steps to accomplish them.  The key here is to fail intelligently and quickly. Try, assess, adjust, repeat.


‘Thanks’ and ‘giving’ are two of my favorite words (and my favorite holiday, too!).  I see gratitude and generosity as two sides of the same coin.  It’s often easier to give to others – offer assistance, provide advice, make a donation, cook a special meal – than it is to receive the help.  But allowing another to be of service to you is a gift in and of itself, as is the expression of thanks that goes with it.  I am a giver by nature and generosity will be a big part of how I move through the world this year, but I’m going to take extra care to leave room for others to give their help, advice, words of encouragement and such to me.  In the end, receiving is just another way to give.


I’ve developed a passion for running.  The discipline has taught me a lot about myself and what I’m made of.  It’s also connected me to a wonderful community of runners, many of whom use running as a way to advocate for and support causes close to their hearts (as I have with Team in Training).  But the word ‘move’ means more to me than just a daily run.  It involves a commitment to take the bus to work so I log extra blocks walking and experiencing my city (not to mention the environmental benefits).  It includes spending the workday at my stand-up desk.  It entails planning trips to explore new geographies.  It involves gardening projects, hiking excursions, museum browsing, farmers market perusing, lake swimming and so many other wonderful ways to be in the world.


Image credit:

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Happy Halloween (Social Good Style)

Even on Halloween, Social Good Girl’s Guide celebrates all things ‘good’.  Here I am dressed as a Conscious Consumer – yes, everything I have on made a difference to causes – The Global Fund, St. Jude’s, 1% For the Planet and the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  I am a walking cause marketing billboard.


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Connecting the Dots for Change

The Millennial generation is amazingly committed to making a positive difference in their world, as were many idealistic teen and twenty-something generations before it.  Wanting to make a difference, however, and knowing how are two very different things.  Add to that a high rate of unemployment among workers under 25 (twice the national rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), dysfunction in our public sector, and challenging funding circumstances in our social sector, and it can be difficult for youth to navigate their options to effect change through their career choices.

I hate to see passion and desire to engage in meaningful work dashed because of lack of resources, networks and ideas to get involved in social good work.

It’s time we Gen Xers (and Babyboomers) help where we can with:

  • mentorship
  • internships
  • externships
  • job opportunities
  • informational interviews
  • and whatever advice, resources, expertise you have to lend.

One way I’ve become involved in helping the next generation launch social good projects is via a start-up nonprofit called Connected Potential, founded by Eleanor Hall, who is on a mission to engage “young adults in personal and professional development to help them meet their full potential and change the world around them.”  You can join this mission by becoming a mentor or advisor to a young adult creating a project plan to either start a social enterprise or complete a community-based project.  Learn more about volunteering as a mentor.

And check out our inaugural crowdfunding campaign and help us raise $10,000 in seed funding to grow our mission and engage more youth in changing the world, one cool project at a time.  Join us!


Image & video credit: Connected Potential

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No Expiration Date for ‘Paying it Forward’

This video is storytelling at its finest.  What a lesson in giving –  ’Must Watch’!

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Resist the Simulaca of Generosity

I’m a fan of the documentary Connected: an Autobiography about Love, Death and Technology, which poses questions about what it means to be connected in the digital age.  Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain posits that we need to strike a declaration of interdependence and remember how vital personal, real life attachments are.  Virtual connections certainly open up the world to us, but tangible, emotional links make it home.

I was recently reminded about the challenge of balancing virtual and real world connections by Jonathan Safran Foer’s opinion piece in The New York Times – “How Not to be Alone.”  In it, he recounts his struggle with how to react to a stranger – a teen girl – having a difficult conversation on her mobile phone on a public bench in Brooklyn.  When you see a stranger crying, do you intervene or bury your nose in your iGadget of choice and pretend you don’t see?  Which option makes the other person more comfortable?  Which makes you more comfortable?  Which is easier emotionally?

What is the role of compassion for the other in this world of virtual connection?

Safran Foer quotes Simone Weil (“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”) and asserts that “[b]y this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.  In an age of soundbytes and 15 second attention spans, how do we show generosity?

Here’s my challenge to you: Don’t let the poor substitutes for real connection be enough.

  • An in-person visit does more to solidify a relationship than an email
  • An actual hug is better than a thousand likes (there’s research on this one – don’t be fooled by chemistry)
  • A thoughtful, hand written letter means more than a text or status update
  • You get the idea!

Yes, we need the shortcuts, but remember to make time for the real gestures.

As Safran Foer concludes: “We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.

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Givers Got it Going On (at Work)

My Give/Take/Match breakdown.  Net giver - yay!

My Give/Take/Match breakdown. Net giver – yay!

No doubt you’ve heard someone referred to as ‘generous to a fault’.  Have you stopped to really think about what that label means?  In the helping professions, such as social work and disaster relief, practitioners often discuss self-care and strategies to safeguard their own emotional state, energy and ability to help others.  When you are your own professional instrument, you have to stay in good working order.  This concept applies more broadly to professional life in general.

In his recent book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Wharton professor Adam Grant provides research and data to illustrate the difference between people who thrive by being generous at work and those who burn out and fall behind their peers.

Grant identifies three reciprocity styles:

  • Takers typically come out ahead in their interactions with others.
  • Matchers believe in quid pro quo – for them, it’s more about paying it back than paying it forward.
  • Givers genuinely want to help others succeed and don’t keep score about who owes whom a favor.

Givers are either the most or the least successful of all depending on their ability to set boundaries around how they give.  You can see examples in Adam’s book of how this paradox plays out in engineering (productivity), medical school (grades) and sales (revenue results).

Bottom line: the secret to success is generosity, but with intention and economy.  You don’t have to emulate Mother Theresa and Gandhi to be an authentic giver, you just have to approach work, and life in general, with an attitude of looking to pay it forward and help where you can.  Ask yourself, ‘am I the best person to do this favor?’ and ‘is there someone I can introduce this person to who would be a better match for the need?’

Adam Rifkin, named Fortune’s best networker in 2011 is a great example of an intentional and economic giver.  Adam is the most networked person on LinkedIn and is a master of 5 minute favors (making an introduction, critiquing a pitch) and encouraging beneficiaries of his help to pay the favor forward.  He provides living proof that it’s more about fostering a culture of helping than being the person who does the most favors and selfless acts.

Are you a net giver?  Take Adam’s quiz to find out!

It's fascinating to see how you compare to other cohorts.

It’s fascinating to see how you compare to other cohorts.

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Shave and a Haircut…2 Hugs

I happened across this inspiring example of generosity on CBS Sunday yesterday.  Every Wednesday, 82 year-old Anthony Cymerys sets up a barber chair in Hartford’s Bushnell Park and serves his clients.  Joe the Barber, as he is known, began offering his services 25 years ago after retiring from business.  He now gives free haircuts in exchange for a hug – often the only physical contact his clients receive.  And they are more than clients to him.  They are family.

I am humbled.  Joe the Barber is my hero.

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