Fear seeks safety. Love seeks Truth. Please read and enjoy. Productive, truthful feedback welcome.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What Does it Mean to Be a Contribution?

What Does it Mean to Be a Contribution?
By Angela Noel


I’m starting a new job tomorrow. I’m not nervous; I’m curious. For the first time ever, I’m not walking into a new job hoping to prove they had made a good choice in hiring me. Trying to prove myself has always led to an over-indexing towards ego and selfishness and I just don’t feel like doing that anymore.


This isn’t to say that I don’t care. I care a lot. I care about contribution. I’m very interested in supporting the people on my new team, my new boss, and the mission of the organization. I just don’t think I need to DO anything to prove that. I think they’ll feel it, because I feel it. As Roald Dahl wrote in The Twits,  “. . . if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams . . .” Or this from Conan O’Brien, “Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.”  I trust in these amazing things because I know I will work hard. I know I am kind.

But, this wasn’t always the case. I used to compete, with myself if not with others. I wanted to shine, to stand out, to be the best or smartest in the room. I wanted this so desperately I’m sure it, too, shined from my face. Born of ego and insecurity, it offered a far less wholesome light; one as ready to cut down, as it was to help grow.

I remember the first day of a job I held more than a decade ago. No doubt I looked eager when I asked my boss, “What can I do to be successful right now?” He said something like, “Just do things. I’ll tell you when you’re wrong.” My stomach dropped into my shoes. I’d have to wait for him to tell me I was wrong? But I NEVER wanted to be wrong! Being wrong is bad. If he had to tell me I was wrong then I would have already failed! What followed from those first moments was a several-year tightrope walk.

I worried that at every second I would fall; that I’d be fired, shamed, or demoted. (All of which had happened to others.) Though the culture of that company bears some blame for my fear of failure, I’m accountable too.  My blatant need to shine brighter than others would assert itself at odd times. I cared about helping people, but I cared more about status. I wanted an office with a door. I wanted a title. I wanted power, responsibility, acclaim, praise—always praise.

Only when I realized this job was eating me alive, did I begin to understand not only what was wrong with the organization, but what was wrong with me as well. Yes, the culture had run amok, but I’d gone right along with it. I thought I needed them to tell me, through words, awards, or promotions what I was worth. And when the praise came, it was never enough. Not only did my external environment need to change, but I needed to change, too. I needed to do, what Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander, authors of The Art of Possibility, suggest: Name myself a contribution.

Naming myself a contribution meant that instead of competing in a world of scarcity, where praise, promotions, and fancy titles were the rewards, I could throw myself, as Ben Zander puts it, “into life as someone who makes a difference.” Success then is defined not as an “arena for my own success” but as an opportunity to contribute and create a fertile playground for the contributions of others to flourish. It wasn’t an overnight realization. I had to unpack years of competing. I had to stop comparing myself to others and assigning value to things that didn’t matter. Things like status.

For example, I have a number of very successful friends, people who make far more money than I do. I can look at them and feel ashamed. I can focus all my energy on making more money; or buy a fancy car to assuage my ego. But, what if I just asked myself a simple question instead: Am I enough? Do I have enough? When I redefined my success not in terms of competing with others, but in terms of whether or not I had what I needed, I started to change.

What do any of us really need, anyway? Tufawon (Rafael Gonzalez), whose rapper name intentionally evokes “two for one” to depict his mixed Puerto Rican and Dakota roots, said very clearly in a session on NPR’s Summer Music Series, that he grew up in poverty but was “privileged on many levels.”  He had enough. I, too, was privileged on many levels. Failing to acknowledge, with gratitude and humility, all that I did have because I always wanted more felt like the worst kind of hypocrisy. “Comparison,” Theodore Roosevelt said, “is the thief of joy.”

Over a period of years, I explored what it meant to be a contribution. One of the greatest gifts of this shift in mindset was the discovery that people are awesome. I know that sounds trite, maybe even dumb. But to me, it was a revelation. I’d spent many years worried about what others thought of me, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I thought about others. Too often, because I spent so much time comparing myself to them, people were divided into two groups: those I was better than, and those that were better than me. (Ugh. I hate writing that down. I wish it wasn’t true.) When I stopped comparing myself to others, I found a wealth of beauty before me. Because I didn’t need to assess the “better than/less than” question, I could pay attention. I met poets, yogis, mothers, fathers, painters, leaders, writers, bicyclists, nerds, entrepreneurs, volunteers, librarians, and teachers. I met thinkers, and feelers, runners, wine-enthusiasts, and computer whizzes. People, amazing people with passions for all kinds of interesting pursuits emerged. They had always been there; I just couldn’t see them before.

So, while I prepare to start a new job, I have a few butterflies about where to park. I’m a little worried about the traffic and that whatever I wear will somehow turn out to be see-through or on backwards. But, I am not starting this new job with fear. I’m going to meet amazing people. I’m going to do good work. No doubt, I’ll also be wrong a lot. I’ll make mistakes. But, that’s okay. The future has yet to be written. But whatever tomorrow brings, I know one thing; I’ll contribute, and that’s enough.

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Angela Noel lives and writes in Minneapolis. In between fiction projects, she posts inspiring stories about interesting ideas and compelling people on the You are Awesome blog. She enjoys yoga and loves books, humans, wine, and chocolate (but not necessarily in that order). Connect with her on Twitter at or Facebook or subscribe to her blog for a new post each week.


17 comments:

  1. Dave, thank you so much for hosting my words and experiences on your blog. Your re-committment to regular posting will make a difference. Your voice deserves to be heard.

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  2. Thank you, Angela. YOUR words, thoughts, and regular posting have inspired me.

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  3. It looks like my previous comment didn’t post successfully. I thought this was a wonderful thought-provoking post, Angela. And it really spoke to me, to the point where I almost thought you were writing about me! I too was very competitive in my career and was forever comparing myself to others. Now, I’m much more enlightened & have learnt what’s important in life. I wonder if it’s partly a developmental phase or having gone through tough times one learns what is important. I cringe at how eager to please I was. I do think it’s related to self esteem too. Now I’m much more comfortable in my own skin & am much happier just “being”. Fingers crossed this comment posts this time!

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    1. Thank you so much for persisting! It's comforting to know I'm not the only one who has struggled with the "competing" aspects of our culture. I agree with you that it may be a development phase of sorts. As we raise the next generation, I'm hoping I can transfer some of the "comfortable in my own skin" feeling. Perhaps it's impossible, and we just have to live through it. Either way, the feeling of contribution is like a cool drink of water after a long, hot run. Thank you, as always, for your wonderful, thoughtful comments.

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  4. It posted this time! Thank you for your persistence. And thank you for your thoughtful reply.

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  5. Wonderful thoughts Angela! I always hope my contributions to education will help create rounded individuals.

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    1. I am sure you are contributing! You and Dave have two things in common. I know your pops is a yogi and Dave is too. Dave is also a teacher, and so are you! So many connections. And you are all contributing to making the world a better place through teaching and listening.

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  6. Sometimes before we learn better we try too hard. 'If you don't succeed at first try try again.' In fact Roald Dahl got it right. if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams . . .” as you correctly pointed out. The first one needs amending somewhat... 'If you don't succeed to someone elses level ... let them do it for you! Not quite as catchy but we only need to compete with our selves. We need as a race to be the best we can be. Kind, honest, compassionate and hard working ... by that I mean the 'Human Race' and I hope my contribution to life is valued.Thank you for this post. On #SocialSaturday

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    1. Your contribution is valued. And I so agree, being kind, compassionate and hard working are three of the most important, if not THE most important contributions we can make to others.

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  7. I was born being competitive and I don't think that will ever change but I am happy with that moreso than I was...I don't hurt anyone else by being competitive and in fact told my children to do the best they could and if they came last but could look me in the eye and say that was my best..That is ok.. what is not ok is not to give of your best we can't ask any more of a person than their best..It doesn't stop me being competitive though it is inborn in me...lol

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    1. I think wanting to do our best and trying to climb over others to shine and win acclaim isn't the same thing. Your competitive nature sounds to me like you simply want to give it your all. In your posts about your experiences with writing, I can tell you're seeking not to make anyone else feel "less than" you're just trying to tell your truth. And that's really all any of us can ask of each other. Thanks so much for reading and adding your thoughts.

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  8. I started a new job on Monday just gone. I'm going through all sorts of emotions at the moment. I know I'm expecting far too much of myself at the moment. Like, I need to understand everything even though I've been there a week! Nothing like pressure to spoil an experience! I'm going to try your approach and have faith in the fact that I work hard and I'll be making a contribution. Thank you :)
    Mind Over Meta

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    1. Good luck in the new job! I'm three weeks in now, and I've still had to remind myself of exactly what you say here: I'm new, I have time to figure this stuff out. I do think thinking of myself as a contribution and a learner rather than trying to "prove" myself has made a huge difference in my experience so far. But, there's still those moments where I feel like I'm swimming through sticky mud and wish things were easier. That's when I have to remember, this isn't a competition (even with myself) it's all a journey and this moment is just one step.
      You're amazing. You'll do great.

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  9. Angela, all of your recent posts scream I'M HAPPY! From your contentment to love, and your happiness to your caring nature, they all are very clear in your writing. Your new work team is very lucky to have such a wonderful, smart, caring, and hard-working woman join their team. You will make the work place a better place, and hopefully you'll be even that much happier. Congratulations on everything!

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    1. Hi Erin! Thank you. You're absolutely right. I am happy. Brené Brown talks about "forboding joy" in her book, "Daring Greatly." It's that sense like, "Uh oh. Things are good, the other shoes is going to drop." She points Forboding Joy out as a manifestation of fear and shame. Like we don't "deserve" happiness so of course something bad is going to happen to take it away. At this moment in my life, though I'm aware of that little bugger in the back of my mind whispering messages like, "this can't possibly last," I'm confident that happiness is more than a moment in time. And thus, longer lasting. Because happiness is both a choice and an action, it's possible for me and everyone else to stay rooted in authenticity, connection, and contribution. Making us "other-shoe-dropping" proof.
      Thank you for your kind words, as always. My new team is as generous and kind as I could ever want. I continue to be surrounded by greatness. I'm a lucky woman.

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  10. As I was reading, I was already visualizing myself at work, going through my day with a different mindset. I love what you said about two groups of people - that is so true! Thank you for helping me shift my perspective!

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  11. Allison! Your comment made my day. I'd love to hear how your new mindset impacts your day and your relationships at work.

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