[Paging Jason Nazar] Give More – And Expect More

Kindergarten application season ends today for independent (read: private) schools in San Francisco, with invite or waitlist letters hitting applicants mailboxes as you read this. It’s a sellers market with high demand and low supply so things get more than just a little crazy. Not unlike March Madness, there will be plenty of tears of joy, and as well as lots of tears of disappointment.

As noted here, the one good thing you can say about the process is that job candidates can practice their job hunting behaviors because the processes have some similarities. With both the kindergarten and job interviewing process, the best advice is that that it helps to keep your wits (and honor) about you at all times.

Part of what’s struck me through this year’s process – one where I played docent tour host at my son’s school and well as helped out with a few applicants from my son’s former preschool – is how doing what I think of little things on my part has generated a fair amount of thanks and praise. Now, I like thanks and praise as much as the next guy (well maybe not so much, but that’s a different story), but I don’t think the stuff I did is unusual, or exceptional: many other people I know do or would do the same thing.

What I figured out is that I’m probably living mostly in a bubble: not the blue liberal bubble that most everyone talks about with reference to San Francisco, but something akin to a “thoughfulness” bubble. The bubble that I live in makes me lucky because people I interact  with are thoughtful – not always, perhaps, but mostly. My neighbors watch out for our house, keep a protective eye on my 7 year old when he’s out in our Dolores Park community, parents from my son’s school help out frequently before needed, the green grocer at Bi-Rite flags stuff that’s for me thats come in season, and people in general say stuff like please and thank you.

The same sorts of things typically happen with my exec and team coaching clients.

In brief, I mostly live in a world where people take care of other people.

My concern is that my experience of people helping each other out may not be everyone’s experience, though I wish it were. I fear that like the disappearance of motorists turning on their left turn signal before they hit the intersection, common manners and common generosities have mostly disappeared. Like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, there are rumors of selfless (as opposed to selfish) sightings, but no proof that they exist.

I doesn’t have to be that way, and I think one way to shift things back is to give more of yourself (before being asked), but also expect more from other people. What we know from any number of social situations and communities is that norming – the act of establishing cultural beliefs and supporting behaviors – is extraordinarily effective. As noted here in a post regarding Burning Man, part of it starts with consistently communicating in some fashion (like words or even better, behavior) what is expected.

A week or so ago someone named Jason Nazar started a 30 days of volunteerism challenge via Twitter. It’s a great idea – the proposal that everyone do some act of selfless giving for 30 consecutive days.

I have a similar and extended idea: make every day a day when you go out of your way to help someone, to take the time to be thoughtful. It can be as simple as noticing someone’s puzzled look and offering directions, trading tidbits about the best places to take a young kid for an afternoon outing in the neighborhood or helping someone prep for a job interview. What it does mean is working for all of us on being more thoughtful and giving to others without expecting anything in return.

In the real good karma that is life, there are no guarantees that any of this kindness will flow back to you. The one guarantee though, is if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.