Four Selfless Things To Do Today

Posted: March 1, 2014

Most to-do lists detail tasks that need to be completed. By their nature, to-do lists are self-focused.

This is a different kind of list. Here are four things you should do today for other people:

1. Make another person feel they belong. Judgment is always in the eye of the beholder. No matter how welcoming and new employee friendly your company, recently-hired employees may feel they’re constantly being weighed and measured and found wanting.

Or take, say, a gym. The first time most people go to work out, they feel pretty insecure. And self-conscious. And like they don’t belong. And wish they were anywhere else.
Maybe it’s the guy in accounting who always eats lunch alone. Maybe it’s the guy from shipping who always stands at the edge of a group. It’s easy to spot people who feel hesitant and out of place. Pick one. Say hi. Say something nice. Say or do something that makes them feel a slightly bigger connection — to a company, to a group, or just to you.

Take it from someone shy and insecure: They may not show it, but they’ll definitely appreciate the gesture.

2. Make a person feel good about the job they do. Rarely does a restaurant delivery guy hope to make his career delivering food. Rarely does a sales clerk hope to forever remain a sales clerk. Rarely does the entry-level manual laborer hope to stay in that job forever.

High-level workers tend to attract high-level praise. Lower-level workers often feel invisible; an unseen, unnoticed, unappreciated cog in the machine. And that’s a shame, because every job — and every person — deserves to be treated with respect. Each job is important. Every employee is important.

So, pick someone at your company. Or pick someone outside your company. Doesn’t matter. Just don’t just offer a throwaway, “Thanks.” Say thanks and mean it. Or give a sincere compliment. Or ask a question that shows respect for what that person does.

For that moment, make sure the other person knows you see and appreciate them as a person, not just as an employee.

3. Offer a person hope. Have you ever met a person who didn’t dream of something better? We all have hopes. We all have dreams. But sometimes, it’s really hard to hold on to those hopes and dreams.

Sometimes, all we need is for another person to fan our flickering flames of hope.

Assign a small project to an employee you know hopes to be promoted; give her a chance, however small, to show her stuff. Ask a small supplier to provide a quote; give them a chance to earn your business. Place an employee in an informal leadership role; let them know you feel they have the potential to motivate and inspire others. Give kids more responsibility than they normally expect; give them a chance to prove you’re right for trusting you.

The best way to offer someone hope is to show you believe in them, even when — especially when — they don’t quite believe in themselves.

4. Give to a person in need. People, well-meaning people, often say not to make contact with big city beggars. “Once you make eye contact, they’re all over you,” I’ve been told. Country boy that I am, I took that to heart.

Yet, whenever my wife and I rode the subway, she always gave a little money to the people who walked through the car with hat or container in hand. And she always gave money to people sitting against buildings holding torn, faded cardboard signs declaring their need.

Finally, I asked her why. “If a person is desperate enough to look me in the eye and say, ‘Can you help me?’ how could I ever say no?” she said. “He’s asking me for help.”

She paused. “Plus, hopefully for a few moments they’ll feel a little less alone. Hopefully, they’ll feel like a few people really do care about them.”

Try it. Give directly. Give to a person who asks. Give a dollar here, or five dollars there. To you it may be little, but to a person in need it could be a lot. To a person in need your small gesture could make all the difference.

And it could make those people feel like someone is actually for them at a time when everything else seems to be against them.

Jeff Haden lives in Harrisonburg. He is a ghostwriter and a columnist for Inc. Magazine. He can be reached at

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