If You Can’t Do Big Things for Yourself, Do Small Things for Others
Greatness is making others shine
Your latest article flopped. Your boss criticized you in public. Your income is 30% down from the last month. It hurts, doesn’t it? To give your all and still fail. It happens to the best of us.
In moments of intense frustration, the weeks when nothing seems to be working, it’s easy to see each missed swing as a third strike. Can you ever recover? How will you come back from this?
The truth is simple and undramatic: You have a good meal, go to bed early, and show up again tomorrow. Except death, there are no third strikes in life. You’ll never have to go to the bench. You swung the bat and missed the ball. That’s all that happened. Nothing more, nothing less.
Most of all — and this is one of the best lessons you can teach yourself — hardly anyone noticed. The world doesn’t need you to be great just yet. We’ll get through the day without your grand achievement — just like you.
This isn’t to say your mission isn’t important or that you shouldn’t keep up the fight, it’s simply a reminder that, yes, it’s okay to be successful tomorrow.
There’s a story about Larry Page and Sergey Brin that, in the early days of Google, they were happy about small user numbers. “Good. Our product will be better tomorrow. Let people find us then.”
In Twitter’s first office, there was a big, upside down sign. It read, “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.”
Of course, right now, you don’t want to think about mistakes. You don’t want to think about tomorrow. You want to wallow in your failure. You want to steep in it like a teabag, but we all know what happens to tea that sits too long: it gets cold, bitter, and devoid of the energy it’s supposed to bring.
So what else can you do? You can take a deep breath. You can remember the world doesn’t revolve around you. You can forget yourself for a while and do something for others.
Answer your friend’s voice message from five days ago. Hold the door for someone at the grocery store. Buy flowers on the way home. Or ice cream. Or frozen pizza. Whatever makes your partner, kids, or neighbor happy.
Scan your inbox for a simple question. Instead of a one-liner, write a five-sentence response. You’ll get a beaming “Thank you!” back. Donate to your friend’s fundraiser. Their cause can use ten bucks. Recommend a good show to a colleague. They might return the favor at lunch.
When you can’t do big things for yourself, do small things for others.
It’ll take your mind off the monumentality of your task. Like that first gulp of air after being underwater, it’ll put you at ease. Then, it slowly morphs into a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Most of all, it’ll remind you: That big thing you want to achieve for yourself? It was never about you in the first place. It’ll be the result of serving others.
We look at people who make others shine and call them ‘great.’ We most respect folks who elevate others. Who step aside, time after time, and pass on the credit. The more spotlights you point towards those around you, the more we’ll love you in return.
Steve Jobs didn’t give people a new phone — he made them into pioneers, photographers, and folks with good taste. That’s why we loved him. Not because he invented some device.
Long before he was “Steve Jobs,” he too had many bad days. The latest demo crashed. The board fired him from his own company. I’m sure that, more than once, he wanted to quit. “How can I come back from this?”
But then, eventually, Steve remembered there was one more thing to do. One more task to take care of. Why aren’t the fonts perfect yet? How can we make initial setup easier? Which click can we do without?
Steve Jobs obsessed over details because it allowed him to keep going where others would have quit. It was a brilliant coping mechanism. No matter what disaster had happened, if he could get this one thing right, he still had a chance to make someone’s day.
Steve was a visionary. His commitment to innovation was remarkable. His greatness, however, rests on a million acts of service. Tiny, near-inconceivable ways of elevating the users of his products. By pushing him towards those acts — if only as a distraction in the moment — his worst days contributed as much to his success as his best ones, if not more.
If, one day, we tell your story like we tell his today, we might say the same about you. For now, remember that it’s okay to be great tomorrow. You may have failed, but it’s never too late to get back in the game.
If you want to do something big, do something small for others. True greatness is about making others shine.