My mother died a few years ago, and since then I’ve stayed in touch with a close friend of hers. Sheila’s had a tough time getting old. She had to leave her beloved home for an assisted-living facility where she feels displaced and isolated. She went through two knee replacements and many of her friends have died.
Yet, rather than give in to sadness, Sheila is constantly working to create community in “the bin,” as she calls it. She started an active theater group, fought for a new art studio, and offers support to the other residents whenever possible.
Recently she told me that, at 82, she’s discovered the key to a meaningful life. Her secret is clichéd, but also profound.
Sheila’s physical therapist is a young guy from Brazil who’s still getting his license and so charges very little. During her last session with him she said, “You sit here all day listening to old people complain. You give so much of yourself, but no one gives to you. I’d like to show you something.”
She then directed his attention to the music in the room. “That’s Vivaldi,” she said. “They called him The Red Priest. He was interesting and important, and I’ll tell you why.”
By the end of the session, each of them had used their knowledge and experience to benefit the other, and both were the richer for it. “The secret to a meaningful life is to give,” Sheila told me, adding that she didn’t explain about Vivaldi in order to hear herself “blather on,” but because she truly thought it would help her therapist grow.
Since then, I’ve considered her words a great deal, and they apply in business as well as personally.
Sheila’s type of giving can take many forms. In the case of the therapist, the exchange meant that she gained a stronger body, while the man walked away with a stronger mind. For the remodeling industry, this involves paying attention to your employees and customers and being ready to give of your experience, not for a profit —at least not immediately—but for the other riches it provides. This sort of giving pays slow but steady dividends. It makes employees more satisfied and creates customers who not only appreciate your expertise but also count you as a friend. This sort giving can take many forms. It may be a best practice, a kind suggestion, or a repair that goes beyond the scope of the job you were contracted to do.
Whatever it is, if you give of yourself with a desire to help, you’ll find the benefits are profound, permanent, and immeasurably valuable.