Imagine me lying on a couch, disappointed, in pain, face swollen like a balloon. A toothache (and surgery to fix it) left me reading a book at home, instead of being at a Seth Godin presentation at Hyderabad.
I was reading LINCHPIN… And had an epiphany.
I have always been hyper-competitive. A work-a-holic. Obsessively driven to be very good. Great. World-class. In just about everything I did.
That attitude has led to some interesting accomplishments over the years.
But somewhere along the line, something changed. Maybe it was the sudden death of my colleague, or the heart surgery of my good friend, or just ‘growing up’. All of a sudden, things that once seemed all-important didn’t seem so much any more.
It opened my eyes. I saw I was on a treadmill, running ever faster to stay in the same place.
So, I hopped off!
That was a scary decision. And unsettling. For an over-achiever, not having things to do, or a map/plan to do it, always is.
I started afresh with a modest goal – to fund one child’s heart surgery, through an untested approach. I created and sold information products, using part of the profits (along with donations) to do it.
The first led to the second, then the fifth, and twentieth. Today, the non-profit Foundation I set up in 2003 has sponsored SEVENTY heart surgeries for under-privileged children born with congenital heart disease.
This year, in 2010, I am well on track to hit my target (as stated in my book, “47 Hearts“) of performing 47 operations…
Yet the thrill from this is not a fraction of when I funded the first one!
Something is wrong.
The feelings of lassitude, restlessness, even frustration, had little to do with my toothache. They had been around for much longer. This was my chance to introspect about it.
Lately, I’ve been comparing myself against others, to my disadvantage. Like the guy who did a million dollar promotion. Or the other who builds his list by 400 new subscribers every day. Or the one whose blog gets 8 million visitors every year.
And the conversation in my head goes:
“Hey, look at what he’s doing. You can’t match that!”
“Oh, yeah? Sez who? Sure, I can.”
“Talk’s cheap. Show me.”
“Ok, I will!”
That’s my Type-A personality kicking in, struggling against the shackles to try and hop back onto the treadmill. Except the treadmill is now going faster than it did a few years ago. And the conscious part of my brain now realizes that however fast you run on a treadmill, you ain’t going nowhere!
That’s when a passage in LINCHPIN brought about the epiphany. Seth Godin writes about ‘art’ and ‘gifts’. He says:
“Art is the product of emotional labor. Art is a gift. The design of the iPhone is art. It changes the way some people feel. And there is a gift as well. People who see the iPhone but don’t buy one still receive the gift. An ugly iPhone would cost as much as the beautiful one. The beautiful part is the gift.“
And in one of those magical moments of synchronicity, so many things snapped into place in an instant inside my mind.
I realized that the work I did (create and sell infoproducts to fund heart surgery in kids) is “emotional labor”.
And that the ‘gift’ is how this work inspires many others to reach out for their own dreams, and live them.
The flood of comments, emails, testimonials and feedback from hundreds of people has told me how they drew energy and encouragement from seeing my purpose-driven work.
It motivated them to keep going. It made them take heart in their own purpose. It gave them faith in an industry niche that isn’t all sunshine and roses.
Until now, I had ignored that, or hadn’t valued it highly enough. I had taken my eye off the ball, to try and focus on things that were more important – to someone else!
Sure, a multi-million dollar promotion sounds attractive – until I realize that I don’t need one.
To hit even my ambitious stretch goal of funding 500 heart operations every year, I need (500 x $2,250) = $1,125,000 – which is halved with a subsidy from our State Government, leaving me with a funding target of only $560,000.
But even if that never happens, just having come so far along the path to a crazily impossible goal, to touching 70 little lives (and hundreds of bigger ones) through my ‘art’, suddenly seems so much more fulfilling and satisfying.
Sometimes, a paradigm shifts when we attain new heights, explore new opportunities, pursue new goals.
At other times, it happens when we see better just exactly where we stand.
Thank you for helping me see better, Seth!
And Happy Birthday, too.