Today is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death. A lot has changed in 50 years. Like many others my age, I learned about JFK from history books, watching Kevin Costner directed by Oliver Stone, and Jerry Seinfeld mocking Kevin Costner directed by Oliver Stone.
Watching TV earlier this week, I saw footage of JFK traveling, addressing the nation, and spending time with his family. His inauguration speech struck me, particularly the line “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather, what you can do for your country!” He didn’t invent this concept, as the “do to others as you would have done to you” principle had been recorded nearly 2,000 years previously, but it was a call to change people to change their outlook on life and their view of the world.
In 2013, this message is just as relevant. Everyone needs to ask themselves “am I asking, or am I giving?” That’s the underlying theme JFK wanted people to think about. In fact, his life was a prime example of someone who gave more than he asked.
In her book, “40 Ways to Look at JFK”, Gretchin Rubin describes a situation that was previously unknown to me. In World War II, JFK was commander of a boat that was run down by a Japanese destroyer. 11 crew members survived the impact. Rather than adopt the “every man for himself” mentality, or even “in war there are causalities”, he personally took it upon himself to save every single crew member. He managed to get his crew to swim to a remote desert island, JFK with a ruptured spinal disk from the impact – pulling one badly burned man Pappy McNulty, 6 miles, by the man’s belt – using his teeth. Once his crew was safely on the island, JFK swam out into the ocean for the next two days to try to flag down passing boats to save the rest of his company. He eventually swam to another island with 2 natives, who did not speak English. He wrote a message on a coconut for the natives to bring to someone who spoke English. Eventually, all 11 of his crew members were saved, because of the actions of JFK.
In life, we can find excuses not to be loyal. “It’s just business”, we might say. Or “the company isn’t going to be loyal to me – why should I be loyal to them?” It’s true. 2008 taught us that the only loyalty companies have is to shareholders and Wall Street. But it’s time to change that.
We need to remind ourselves of the golden rule. We have to give more than we ask. Give, give, give – THEN ask. Give in the form of building relationships. Give in the form of value. Say thank you, or better yet, show your gratitude. Even gratitude given in a small way, if it’s personal and focused, is going to be appreciated and remembered.
For many, including myself, this is our busiest time of year. Everyone on my team is tired, stressed, and not open to any more requests for escalation, no matter how badly the client wants us to. But everyone continues to try to accommodate the added requests, even at a cost to themselves, sacrificing time with their family, adding additional stress, and increased frustration with our lack of resources.
Yesterday, I brought some drinks to the office, and, while I was on a conference call, Instant Messaged a few of my colleagues who I knew were working hard. “I have ice cold Coke, Diet Coke, or Snapple – want one?” A couple of them accepted the offer. One came by and we ended up restarting a discussion for a project that will help shape my company’s member engagement in 2014, and potentially change how young people view Healthcare. This was just the kind of interaction I needed to step out of my cube and get some perspective, but more importantly, it helped build a better relationship with my teammate.
So don’t ask yourself – what can others do for me? But rather, what can I do for others? Think about your friends, your colleagues, your manager, your company, even your gas station attendant. How could you find a small way to help them? You could write a thoughtful, in-depth recommendation on LinkedIn for your favorite teammates. You could find out which tasks your manager might not get to, and try to take one of them on, even if it’s only partially. You could think about what your company isn’t doing that it should be, and draft a one-pager of why it’s important and your plan to help get there.
If you continually look for ways to provide value to others and give of yourself – when you finally do need some help, people will be lining up to return the favor. Most importantly, you’ll be helping other people, which is exactly what JFK wanted.
This post originally appeared on Medium.com.