If Your Vision Is Only About Yourself, You Are Too Narrowly Focused


If your vision is only about yourself, you are too narrowly focused.

If you take only from your environment and contribute nothing in return, you are harming that which supports you. In fact, that’s the definition of a parasite. And ultimately you are harming yourself.

Your vision needs to include the larger context in which you exist – your community. Strengthening your community makes you stronger.

My friend and colleague Hank van der Merwe, author of the powerful new book Live on Purpose, reminded me of the importance of this principle. Hank lives is Johannesburg, 
South Africa where “only 500,000 of the 1.5 million children starting school will end up sitting for their final year exams. Of these, less than 70% will meet the minimum requirement. And only 20% will get access to higher education.”

Hank is concerned that the children in his community have little hope for their future. A professional speaker and expert on self-leadership, he volunteers his time speaking in schools with children about how they can take personal responsibility for their own lives. And he leaves them with a copy of  Yes I Can – a workbook he created for children that reinforces the concepts he talks about.

I was deeply touched when I saw his video.

Additionally, Hank challenges corporate leaders to join his “Pay It Forward” campaign.

We each need to find our own way to contribute, the one that works best for us. Hank’s approach is to save “one starfish at a time.” (Check out this short video if you’re not familiar with the moving story The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley that explains this concept.)

Some people seek to change systems that are not working, either from within or outside. Others, like Hank, choose to help individuals. Those of us who work within organizations can influence our companies to make contributing to the community more than a simple PR effort.

There are many ways to make a contribution. What’s important is to find the right fit for yourself.

Three things to consider if you want to expand your vision:

  1. Be aware of what the needs are in your own community. They may not be as drastic as they are in Johannesburg, but you can be certain your community needs you.
  2. Connect with your community using the skills you have. You don’t need to develop new skills. If you are a facilitator, help facilitate. If you are a speaker, speak. If you are a writer, write. If you are a leader, lead.
  3. See yourself acting in the context of a larger vision and integrate your actions as part of your regular life, not something extra you do on the side.

23 comments to If Your Vision Is Only About Yourself, You Are Too Narrowly Focused

  • Jesse,

    Thanks for the post and sharing the videos. I had never heard of Hank van der Merwe before, but he sure is an inspirational speaker! And it sounds like he is doing some incredible work.

    This post reminds me of the following tweet from Robin Sharma (@_robin_sharma) that I saw yesterday and retweeted:

    “The main mission of a business is to transform the world. Everything else just follows from this obsession. #leadership”

    While some really ambitious people may only do things for themselves, it seems like a large percentage of them are really motivated to change the world and make it a better place for others. I think only doing things for yourself can really limit how much you will be motivated. When what you do improves the lives of others, it gives it so much more meaning.

    While we are all individuals, I personally believe that we are all connected. Therefore, when you help other people, you are really helping yourself, too. And that’s why I think it feels so good.

    • Hi Greg, I’m glad you watched the video. Hank is inspiring, and it’s great to see how the kids respond to him. Thanks for sharing the quote from Robin Sharma. I agree with him, except I would like to add at the end of his sentence “to transform the world… for the better.” And I very much agree with your comment, “when what you do improves the lives of others, it gives it so much more meaning.” Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • Very inspiring, Jesse. Hank’s energy and passion are contagious and enlivening – he makes me want to give more to the causes I care deeply about. Appreciate your sharing this.

  • Awesome, Jesse Lyn.

    Leadership simply can’t be just about us. Leading–heck, living–happens in community. Not to use your own gifts is a travesty. Further still, we’ve got to do better finding those folks who we see are gifted in some way, but they don’t yet see it themselves. We need to help them see it and create a context for them to use and develp that gift.



    • Hi Matt, I appreciate your pointing out that the community includes the folks in the organization and how important it is to help them find, develop, and use their gifts. It’s about actualizing potential for the greater good, isn’t it? Thanks for furthering the discussion.

      • Right you are. There’s such power, such creativity, such beauty locked away inside so many folks we see every single day roaming the hallways at our respective workplaces. It’s a shame we don’t do a better job of seeing our organization as a blank canvas upon which we (us and our employees) can create something amazing.

  • Khalid


    Thanks for such an inspiring post.

    I’m currently volunteering in kids school teaching them how to deal with money! I’m teaching them how to save, share and wisely spend their money. Last session they really gave me hard time trying to explain that they should use their strengths to excel in life and they were. It taking me seriously so that put me down! But NOW thanks to your inspiring post YES I CAN make an impact into those kids life :)


  • Jesse, it is too bad that many managers think it is all about them, because they really want to look good to those they answer too.

    But as you say there is so much more that we can do to show more of who we are and really who and how we serve.

    Step outside of the box and look at the big picture, it is very refreshing and inspiring.

    Thank you for your post,


    • Hi Tina, You make an important point, contrasting the difference between managers who think it’s all about looking good and those who understand the importance of serving a greater good.

      An excellent example of a manager doing it right was described in an Op Ed piece in Friday’s New York Times, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Capitalism http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/17/opinion/nocera-the-good-bad-and-ugly-of-capitalism.html?_r=2 by Joe Nocera. He says, “Howard Schultz, the chairman and chief executive of Starbucks, will take the podium at his company’s annual meeting [on Wednesday] and talk about the importance of morality in business…Schultz has defined Starbucks’s mission even more broadly, creating programs that have nothing at all to do with selling coffee but are aimed at helping the country recover from the Great Recession. In the speech, Schultz plans to make a direct link between Starbucks’s record profits and this larger societal role the company has embraced..’The value of your company is driven by your company’s values,’ he plans to say.”

      In contrast, here’s an article posted on Thursday Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs by Greg Smith who says “I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.” And an article in Rolling Stone article written a year ago that describes Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.” This supports the point in my post – organisms that only take from their environment and don’t contribute to it are parasites. Eventually parasites kill their host and they move onto another one. But we don’t have another host. If we don’t take care of our communities and our planet, we will harm ourselves.

      The contrast between Starbucks and Goldman Sachs clearly illustrates the consequences of leaders who understand the importance of contributing to their environment and those who don’t.

  • I find that any individual who has chosen a path (in business or personal life) that is by formula rather than what moves or excites them, is not naturally likely to share or contribute meaningfully from that less than expansive space.

    Your friend Hank has obviously found a sweet spot of what expands him, and what he can contribute to others.

    I am aware that the simple intent to “share what one has” can send a signal to self, or in the case of a company, a reflective cultural signal that “I/we are abundant,” and “I/we are making a difference,” and this can affect the beginning of a new cycle—one of expansion.

    Still, ideally I like to see my clients (indeed, any individual) grow in self-awareness and alignment, to where their contribution springs naturally and joyfully from who they are, and is not contrived in any way, or done out of mere compliance to principle (even though, heaven knows, there are organizations who would appreciate any kind of help, whether out of compliance or contrivance, or not).

    I’m probably not alone in this: I place greater value on community acts that are from individuals and companies that walk-their-talk (like some of the examples you used), rather than those who appear to go through the motions, or contribute “what is expected,” or contribute to buy support of a particular demographic (it’s OK if a particular demographic benefits or is touched by philanthropy, I just find it distasteful if the direct intent behind the charity is a quid pro quo business outcome from a particular group).

    • Hi Mark, You took a deep dive into some important issues. I especially appreciate your clarifying the importance of authenticity and “allowing” which I believe you address in your description of what “springs naturally and joyfully” from who you are. Indeed you are not alone in your views.

  • Thanks for the post Jesse! I think that some of us in leadership get caught up in trying to make a big impact/big program and loose sight of the individual (starfish). Thanks for the reminder that it is really about individual change- one person as a time!

    • Hi Joe,
      I think big impact programs are important and wonderful, when done for the right reason. But I also agree that in the end, it’s about the starfish on your beach – how do you impact the people you come into contact with on a day-by-day basis, where do you put your body? I took a quick look at your web site and loved what you wrote about the day-to-day moments, “I know these moments have the power to make a real impact! And the crazy thing is that they are not spectacular things- they are often really small things. Saying: “I really appreciate your smile..” to a friendly clerk. Getting the door for the Fed Ex guy. Cleaning up your mess (ahead of your wife!). All minor items- but they can have a lasting impact as you touch the hearts of others in a very personal way and model behavior to others around you. This is true leadership. I have learned that leadership is not about being the boss with all the answers- it’s about serving others with respect and humility.”
      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Joe. I’m delighted that you appreciate my post.

  • Jesse, when I saw your post I thought of the term “enlightened self interest”. This is what happened when seven anonymous individuals in my community donated enough money to send every one of our graduating seniors (about 800 are eligible) to college for four years. No other requirements, and they’ve created a foundation so that – hopefully, it will last beyond the original 12 years it was guaranteed for. I think about that a lot when I consider that these people could have just let this mid-sized town – with a significant population of students who didn’t even graduate -fail.

    Sure, it’s been good for them and their businesses. But they were likely very wealthy to begin with. They saw the value in taking a “systems approach”, and its been good for everyone.

    • Thanks for sharing this beautiful example, Mary Jo. It’s so important to share these positive examples. Not only is it inspiring, but it also sparks the thinking of people with good intentions who haven’t thought about the possibilities. My town is embroiled in a batle to lower taxes by cutting the school budget. Many supporters are people whose own children are grown and are no longer personally invested in education, unfortunately missing the bigger picture that children are our future. You are blessed to live in a community that not only understands this, but also has acted on it.

  • Kenneth Maynard

    Dear Jesse:
    I just came across your posting and the final recommendation you gave suggested to me that even for those of us who have jobs that pay the bills are not fulfilled because we are not pursuing our purpose on this earth. We need to take a step back and figure out what is really important to us and to our communities and put our God-given talents to work there, full-time! Hank has done that and many of us need to follow in his foot-steps and according to your points for consideration.
    Thank you for making it so clear.

  • Scott Thompson

    Jesse, I believe your take on this topic is absolutely correct. For you. And others with your basic temperament.

    I’ll let this blog post I JUST finished reading before I read yours do the talking for me on my take:


    • Thanks for sharing this sensitive and beautifully written post, Scott. I hope I have not given a message that everyone needs to be a team player. We each need to find our own way to participate in the world, and there are many ways to make a contribution. Liu wants to make a difference. That is the point – not how she makes a difference. My post is directed to leaders who inadvertently have created organizations that could be considered narcissistic. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify this point, and much appreciation to you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

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