On fame and generosity

Most people aren’t famous, and even if they are, they are only famous to those who know them.

There is a big difference between Steve Jobs famous and Steve Pavlina famous, even though both of them have their own Wikipedia page. Then, there’s Steven Sashen famous where he doesn’t have his own Wikipedia page but his startup does.

Pretty much everyone knows Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, the creator of iPhone, etc. But Steve Pavlina? Only those who are interested in the field of personal growth would have heard of him. And Steven Sashen? Only those interested in barefoot running and have heard of Xero Shoes would have any chance of knowing him.

And I’m willing to bet that you don’t know that many famous people. Famous celebrities and movie stars, perhaps. But famous historians, scientists, thought leaders, religious figures, musicians, philosophers, poets, etc? Probably not. Give it a try, of Wikipedia’s 129 “vital articles” under “people”, how many do you know?

Note: I don’t know if it’s fair to use Wikipedia as a benchmark for how famous or important someone is since anyone can edit it, but they do have their own system for assessing biographies, along with a priority scale for importance.

So if you accept that most people aren’t famous, even the somewhat famous ones, and that famous is only relative to the stuff you’re interested in, you can make either one of these conclusions.

Either a) it is nearly impossible to be famous because even famous people aren’t really that famous and you yourself don’t know that many famous people, or b) it is now easier than ever to be famous because it’s all relative.

Being famous to a billion people? Extremely unlikely, but being famous to just 10 people? Easy peasy, chances are, you already are! How about 100 people? Or 1,000 people? Those are all very doable, just join an active community somewhere and start contributing. Be generous, give lots and don’t expect anything in return. Over time, those 100 people or 1,000 people will come.

It doesn’t have to be an online community, you can volunteer offline, work at charities, join conferences and talk to people, help coworkers in your workplace, help other students in school, start a blog or youtube channel about something you care about, as long as you are generous and keep on giving, it’s easier than ever to become famous.

If you really think about it, what does it mean to be famous? Who are famous people but those who have contributed lots to society? And who are those famous to you but people who have contributed to the stuff you care about?

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Being a contribution

A contribution is something you make, it’s your gift to the community.

When you walk to town instead of taking the bus, or when you take the bus instead of walk to town, that’s your contribution. In the first case, you contribute to a lower carbon footprint. Not by much, just a little bit lower. In the second case, you contribute to higher revenue for the bus company. Not by much, just a little bit higher.

I think most people would agree that there’s not much difference between the two choices. That you won’t magically reduce global warming or make the bus company rich. So does it matter what you choose? No, not really, not unless millions of others make the same choice every day. And that’s the crux of the matter.

You don’t know whether your decisions will matter as there’s no way to tell. But here’s the thing, you don’t have to worry about whether you will succeed or fail at the big picture, just focus on being a contributing.

Because when you contribute, you are already making a small difference, and these little differences, they add up. They can have a ripple effect in ways you don’t know or understand. Just by seeing your actions or choices, someone somewhere might be inspired to do the same, and so on. And who knows, your one little action might just be the tipping point. At the very least, you might have made someone’s day.

So stop worrying about the big picture, instead, focus on being a contribution.

Rethinking charity

It’s a common response among charity donors. “I want 100% of my money to go fund the cause.” “How do I know the money I’m donating doesn’t go into your pocket instead of the cause?” “Please make sure that none of my donations goes to overhead, I want all my money to go to those in need.”

But do you know that charities have to pay for overhead? Someone has to organize the charity. Someone has to actually do the work of taking the money and giving it to the cause. Someone has to pay for all the credit card processing fees, transportation and logistic costs, equipment, admin and accounting, fundraising, website maintenance, etc.

The only charity I know of that manages to utilize 100% of all public donations on their cause is charity water. And the only way they can do this is by using a separate bank account funded by a separate group of private donors. These private donors will contribute a little extra to “match” your contribution just to cover all the overhead and operating expenses, including credit card processing fees. They do this just so you’re comfortable knowing that 100% of your donation goes to the cause.

Why do we apply this double standard to charities? Compare them to the standard for-profit company. If you’re the CEO of a video game company, or even a tobacco company, you can comfortably earn millions of dollars and contribute zero, or even negative, good to society. Whereas the CEO of a charity fights for a cause and contributes to the good of society but can’t earn half that amount without causing a public outcry.

If you really want to do good in the world, it’s actually better and more efficient to become the CEO of a video game company and spend half your salary to privately fund a charity, much like charity water’s group of private donors perhaps, instead of actually becoming the CEO of a charity. This way, you get to keep a bigger salary and still have complete control over the charity by being a board member. Think about it, there’s seriously something wrong with that picture.

Charities are forced to keep there overhead low and spend as much as possible on the actual cause. Failing to do that would cause a huge public backlash. That means charities can’t hire bright people, they can’t afford to spend big on daring projects with huge returns, and they can’t even pay their workers the average salary of a for-profit employee.

On the other hand, for-profit companies are free to spend as much overhead as the need, they can find and hire lots of talent, they can afford to take big projects with high risk but huge returns, and no one would even bat an eye if they reported a loss. If a charity reported a loss, just imagine how the public would respond!

If charities are forced to keep their overhead low, they’re operating on a scarcity mindset and won’t have the resources to achieve their goal. Imagine a bake sale with just 5% overhead raising a grand total of $100. Would you prefer that, or a professionally organized fundraising campaign with a 40% overhead but raising a grand total of $1,000,000? Well, guess what? A fundraiser with a 40% overhead would most likely cause a huge public outcry regardless of how much is actually raised.

Or consider this. All the volunteers at the bake sale, instead of spending 10 hours baking and selling cakes, what if they were to work their day jobs for 10 hours and donate their earnings? Wouldn’t that be exponentially more than the $100 raised by the bake sale? Well, guess what? Most people are more reluctant to donate their earnings and would much prefer to donate their time doing a bake sale instead, even though it’s less effective.

The way we think about charity is dead wrong and the TED talk below by Dan Pallotta masterfully illustrates why.

With this, I hope you would reconsider what charity is and rethink what it means to contribute to a charity.


HT Jemma Balmer

How you chose to listen to the world

Sitting quietly in front of my computer, there’s so much I can do. The entire world is at my fingertips, I can access anything I want. Hear news from the other side of the world? Learn how to bake brownies? Watch an MMA live stream? Those are just a few clicks away.

I can effectively listen in to the world whenever I want, there’s so much information coming in every single second that no one can keep up. Yet, we all have that ability through the power of the internet.

Having that power can be overwhelming. When faced with so many possible productive uses, we ended up not using it productively. We can’t decide on how to best use that power, so we chose the easiest way out.

Instead of tapping into the power of the internet to learn new skills, we mindlessly scroll through social media updates and funny youtube videos. Our signal-to-noise ratio is horrible, how much useful content are you consuming?

What are you doing with this amazing gift the internet has bestowed upon us? Waste it on mindless entertainment? Are you really satisfied with how you use the internet? If not, you might want to re-examine your relationship with the internet, unless you’re happy continuing your internet habits for the next few years.

If you’re happy with what you learn from the internet, perhaps consider contribuing something back? It doesn’t have to be original, just start giving back as thanks for all you’ve received. Who knows, you might just make somone’s day.