Making a Contribution

Greg Mortensen

One of the things that stood out to me when I first read Covey’s First Things First was the need to have balance in your life. His description of the compass and setting goals in each part of your life was revolutionary to me.

At the time, I was so focused on work that I was neglecting many other parts of my life. I loved the idea of setting goals and always applied that to work, but until then had never thought of applying goals to my personal life as well.

Part of the recommendations from the book were to set goals for making a contribution to the world. He emphasized that in life we should strive “To live, To love, To learn, To leave a legacy”. Giving back was one way that we could leave a legacy. That also jived with my Christian background which emphasized helping others and that there was more than just living for yourself.

I love building software systems for my day job, but it always felt that at the end of the day, I was really just working to make corporations more profitable. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but in my free time I wanted to try and give back in some way.

I’d long been fascinated by people that spent their lives contributing to others like:

  • Albert Schweitzer: Schweitzer spent his early years learning to play the piano then touring the world as a famous concert pianist. At the age of 30, he decided that he wanted to give back so he left it all and went back to school to become a doctor to the poor in Africa.
  • Paul Farmer: Farmer was a Harvard trained physician who spent his time walking from village to village in Haiti to give medical care to those who can’t afford it. His amazing story is chronicled in Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.
  • Greg Mortenson: Mortenson was a failed mountain climber who decided to build a school for a small mountain village in Pakistan that had no school building. He went to build schools all over Pakistan and Afghanistan making a real difference in the people’s lives. His story is chronicled in Three Cups of Tea.

As amazing as these stories are, they are also intimidating because you wonder how you could do anything close to what these folks have. But I think the key with all journeys is to start somewhere, and grow it from there.

I’ve tried to start with a few simple things:

  • Cub Scout Leadership: Wes had recently started cub scouts and I was really impressed by the vision that it had for helping shape young boys into men. When the Committee Chair for our pack had to step down, I was glad to step up and help out in that role.
  • World Vision Sponsorship: We have sponsored two kids through World Vision for many years and it seems like a simple way to make a difference in a poor child’s life.
  • Church Volunteer Opportunities: We are lucky to be part of thriving church that has multiple volunteer opportunities to serve the community. Every other month our church sends a group to prepare breakfast for around 200 homeless people living at Hessed House in Aurora. It’s a great way to tangibly help those around you and a real eye-opener to see what it means to be truly homeless.

All of this is not much, but at least it’s a start.  I’d love to hear how others are working to make a difference in their world.

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. — Mother Theresa