The spirit of giving back is the very essence of a successful life. It is the heritage of our deepest dreams and desires to succeed to such a level that once one has risen to the top, the greatest of those successful people devote a portion of their life to giving back to those who helped then along the way. This epitomizes the very storyline of success; it’s Horatio Alger meets Gandhi. I have succeeded and now I am giving back.
Oftentimes it takes someone a lifetime of striving for and achieving success before they stop to consider giving back. It is only in the wake of their own success that they consider giving back to those who helped them succeed. But what happens if, instead of waiting until the end of our lives, we begin giving back today? True success begins the very second we begin giving back and not a moment sooner. Monetary and professional success does not become a complete banquet of a life well lived until every dish is served—giving back is the very foundation of a successful life. It is the appetizer that comes before the main course of living a life of our dreams.
Take, for example, improvisational comedy. As a performer in an improvisational comedy scene, it is our job to make our fellow performers look good. We treat each other as artists and poets, we honor the choices the people surrounding us are making, and then we build on those choices to make them better. When we do our jobs, we succeed as a group. And when we fall short of our intended goal, we all share in that, too.
This is called the group mind. There is an astute knowingness in understanding that we all have a limited perspective or lens. I have one, you have one and everyone who walks this earth has a limited perspective. And for a great many years, we as a collective have convinced ourselves that our differences are a hindrance, when in reality our differences are the very thing that makes each of us uniquely talented in ways other people are not. When we honor these differences and celebrate them for their uniqueness, we open up an entirely new kaleidoscope of possibilities we might not otherwise be able to see.
In improvisation, we “give gifts.” What does this mean? We do everything in our power to set our fellow improvisers up for success. A great improviser is never concerned about who gets individual credit for a scene as long as the group collective succeeds. A great improviser is one who will step back from the spotlight, allowing someone else to shine, knowing fully well that everyone will share in the success. We build an atmosphere of trust where credit is spread around equally. By doing this, everyone has a feeling of contributing and feeling valued. This is what every great organization and institution strives to become, because when people feel valued, their loyalty to the cause strengthens.
In the dog-eat-dog world of big corporate environments, this is contrary to the way most people live. Many of us only concern ourselves with making our star shine brightly while disregarding those around us. But there is a new dawn on our horizon and a new way of approaching life, personally and professionally. When we change our lens from taking to giving, an entire world opens up to us—one of pure creativity.
Given our rather hostile viewpoint of the world lately, it seems more and more people need to look within and become an improviser at heart. When we become receptive to others’ ideas, we are afforded a new viewpoint which allows us to see the complete horizon of success. The old adage, by giving we receive, is a fundamental law of the universe that has been abandoned for a do-it-alone mentality that closes us off to the magic of group collaboration.
When we come together in groups, the power of many minds completely overwhelms the power of a single mind. This philosophy allowed our comedy group, Four Day Weekend, to become the longest running show in the southwest for 20 years and counting. We were named small business of the year in Fort Worth, Texas; we were awarded the key to Fort Worth; and we delivered our “yes, and” keynote address to Congress with President Obama in attendance. We did it together because we saw the value in our differing perspectives and talents. We understood that we rise together and we fall together. We understood that by giving to others, we receive exponentially more—that we could nor would never receive had we ventured out alone.
Every person and organization has this capacity. We always say that if a small group of fellow improvisers from Hollywood or New York could eventually get the opportunity to speak before Congress, imagine the things Fortune 500 companies could do if they adopted a principle of celebrating and honoring everyone in the organization. If everyone asked, “How can I help?” as opposed to “What can I get?” we would start to see a much different world take shape around us.
The universe aligns its bounty for a generous heart. We must only take that first step toward serving the greater good. This is the greatest act of service we can offer. When we elevate one, we elevate all, and soon all of our common interests are met. Only then can we begin to transform the world. It is only then the better world we dream of becomes a reality.
It’s up to us to take that very first step. It’s up to us to offer a helping hand to those struggling to climb the ladder. We stand on each other’s shoulders to elevate us to our ultimate accomplishments. This is a testament to a new tomorrow. This is the legacy we can be proud to leave our children. We must clasp each other’s hands and take that first step together. It’s a step that every person, organization or institution can take together—if only we change our lens from competition to cooperation. From receiving to giving.
This is success. Success is celebrating those around you and cheering them on to become their very best selves. In return, you will soon hear the cacophonous cheers of those celebrating your journey. Only then is your banquet complete. Only then will you have a story worth sharing with the world.
David Ahearn is the co-founder of Four Day Weekend, a critically-acclaimed comedy group and the longest-running show in the Southwest. Voted Best Comedy, Four Day Weekend is a Fort Worth, Texas, institution.