How to Be Useful

I love this story of Jim Collins meeting Peter Drucker in their first encounter and Drucker’s respective challenge to Collins:

“My first meeting with Drucker is one of the the ten most significant days of my life … “

“… At the end of the day, Peter hit me with a challenge. I was on the cusp of leaving my faculty spot at Stanford, betting on a self-created path, and I was scared. ‘It seems to me you spend a lot of time worrying how you will survive,’ said Peter. ‘You will probably survive.’ He continued: ‘And you seem to spend a lot of energy on the question of how to be successful. But that is the wrong question.’ He paused, then like the Zen master thwacking the table with a bamboo stick: ‘The question is: how to be useful!’ A great teacher can change your life in thirty seconds.”

I was guilty of thinking this way when I was young – how do I become successful? It’s too vague and focuses on me.

Over time, I learned the principle that it is far better to give than to get. Getting happens through giving. And, it is a much more fulfilling life.

How much value can I give to the people in my life and the strangers I meet every day?

How can I be a person of increased value?

How can I contribute?

As I am speaking to young people who are launching their careers into adulthood, I have been sharing a few principles that work in this complex, distracting and overwhelming world. The goal is to be useful and contribute and here’s what I have learned:

  1. Love yourself. You have to take care of yourself every day. Treat yourself like a good friend as Jordan Peterson says in the 12 Rules for Life. Choose Yourself by James Altucher on practicing the daily habits of doing the work of giving yourself 1) mental, 2) physical, 3) emotional and 4) spiritual time and rituals. These set you up for helping others because you helped yourself first. Also, managing yourself is critical to being an entrepreneur and having freedom. You are your own boss and freedom has a cost.
  2. Love others. Because you love yourself first, you are ready to be useful to others. You have something to offer. Make friends and seek to help people lighten their loads. Life is hard and helping others with encouragement, real value and care is joy.

When life becomes overwhelming, I also recommend writing a list that focuses what you are going to do the night before. This takes all that overwhelm bouncing around in your head and identifying the priorities that matter.

The goal is to be useful. Success is a byproduct. And it takes work on a daily basis stacked consistently to bring forth this kind of outcome.

Published by Don Dalrymple

I partner with founders and entrepreneurs in startup businesses. I write and consult on strategy, systems, team building and growing revenue.

One thought on “How to Be Useful

  1. I get continually reminded that the more useful I am to people, the more money they pay me! Daily habits are so important, especially when working outside of a typical job.

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