A few weeks ago, I had the honor of representing everydayhero and Blackbaud as an attendee and speaker at the 2015 West Coast Social Innovation Summit. The twice-annual event asserts that it convenes the world’s most potent leaders, thinkers, and practitioners with an unwavering bias towards action and a push towards scale. It’s a big claim. And yet, after just a quick glance at the speaker line up, it is quite clear that truer words would be hard to craft.
The event assembled nearly a thousand individuals who represent projects, companies and organizations with a collective impact that equates to billions of world wide impact dollars being presently invested and trillions more that are just waiting for the right channel, partnership or opportunity (this is based on my assessment, not an official audit). In any case, it was indeed, quite the collection of change makers.
As I studied the speaker line up and attendee roster, and began to prepare my talk, I felt dwarfed in the presence of giants. Dean Kamen, the man who is most widely known for inventing the Segway and is also the Founder of DEKA Research & Development Corporation and FIRST, Sal Khan the Founder & CEO of Khan Academy, Nick Cannon… yeah, like the Nick Cannon, and about a dozen and a half other brilliant and successful social entrepreneurs and C level business men and women… And, me.
My inner critic started at once: “YOU?! What do you have to contribute?! Do you really think you have what it takes to provide something of value?”
It didn’t take much to understand that the daily actions of the individuals in attendance directly affect some of the most critical social issues of our time. These innovators are contributing to significant progress and new solutions to some of the leading problems our planet and humanity faces: ultra poverty and the present and future of refugees for example, as well as other (not so serious but just as important) questions like “Can teaching improv in the work place enhance success?” and “Can crickets save the world?”.
Once I had that understanding, I realized exactly what I had to contribute. And so I broke out my pompoms. Well okay, I didn’t actually bring pompoms on stage, but the first thing that came out of my mouth when I began my talk was “Growing up, I was a cheerleader.” Who says that?!
I did. And I was proud to say it. It had taken me several weeks of arguing with myself to come to a place where I felt good about disclosing such information to a group of this caliber—“Would they judge me? Am I going to discredit myself? They’ll never take me seriously if I tell them!”. After grappling with these and all my other doubts and questions, I decided to go for it. And so I explained to the crowd that being a cheerleader afforded me the opportunity to shout at the top of my lungs in front of people, dance ridiculously with a goofy grin on my face, and spend hours of my time rooting for other kids my age to run faster, work harder and do better. I went on to introduce myself and explain, “I’m an optimist by nature, a psychologist by practice, a marketer by profession, and a self proclaimed Practitioner of Awesome by design.” It’s all true. It may or may not have allowed me to establish enough credibility so that these folks would want to hear what I had to say, or save face after I had labeled myself as a cheerleader. But that’s the absolute truth. And that inner cheerleader still yearns to root for others to do better.
What greater gift could I give to these people than the gift of optimism?
Rapidly becoming one of psychology’s most transformative fields, positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable humans and organizations to flourish. Research from the field of positive psychology shows that living in a state of positivity improves our productivity, creativity, energy, ability to make decisions and ultimately every single business and personal outcome that can be measured. The research also shows that happiness can be cultivated and optimism can be learned and developed.
Neuroscientists can now show that the dopamine that floods your brain when you are happy also turns on all of your higher level executive functions—problem solving, task flexibility, reasoning, decision making, to name a few, as well as planning and execution.
It’s no wonder businesses leaders and corporations are investing so heavily in improving employee happiness levels in the work place. Creativity is the foundation of innovation, so priming a workforce that is 31% more productive with creativity levels that are 3x higher and a sales force that is 37% more effective than their negative, neutral and stressed-out competitors is exceptionally valuable. And while many of us are lucky to work for companies that have adopted programs, perks and benefits to help promote positivity, we each still have the responsibility to take our happiness and potential for success into our own hands.
So, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch the whole talk here, and use one or more of the three habits I explain to increase the levels of positivity in your own life. Our simple daily practices of positivity proliferate and result in short term and long term impact on those around us: our families, our social networks, organizations, businesses, communities and ultimately, our society at large.
As change makers and innovators, as people who have dedicated our lives to saving the world in one form or another, it is essential that we do so with ease, effectiveness, and enjoyment. Without these three things, we struggle, we cease to make an impact, and we get burnt out too soon to affect change.
What moved me most, and ever more important than the budgets or projects that fellow conference goers represented, was what I found when I entered the room. That is, the human capital, passion and promise that filled the space. As I reflect on the experience, I realize more than ever that it is no accident that I have the role that I have at Blackbaud. Every day, I am privileged to wake up and empower individuals around the world to connect with and support the causes they love. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve others in the capacity that I can—in particular, sharing my voice on behalf of everydayhero and Blackbaud to encourage and inspire change makers to do better for the causes they love.
So today, I raise my pompoms high and I challenge you: Join us. Cultivate good in your life. Because when you do, you change yourself, you impact the world around you, and you help us help good take over the world.
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