Three Life Changing Things (aka things that make you go “hmmm”) – Number two

Scavenging on rubbish tip

You know what he needs right now? That’s right, a bloody good steak and a glass of red wine.

A regular business lunch

In my last post I described the most recent of my three seemingly unrelated life-changing events: moving house. Well, this is the second instalment – the impact on my life of a regular “networking” lunch.

A few years ago I was helping a software development house with their go-to-market strategy – they had developed and successfully patented some really cool artificial intelligence technology. A friend suggested I come along to a small networking lunch of (mainly) businessmen to spruik about the opportunity. So off we went to the wonderful Stefan’s Charcoal Grill in Balwyn (http://stefanscharcoalgrill.yolasite.com).

As is often the case at these type of events, the newbies (that was me) are introduced and then you get to say a few things about what you do. I waxed lyrical about artificial intelligence, spread of activation cognitive theories and codeless programming.  Polite smiles greeted my efforts. No one understood a word … but no one really seemed to mind, overmuch.

Awkward IT geeky speech out of the way, we then all enjoyed a magnificent steak and a couple of drinks. And then a couple more. And then, er, well, you get the general picture.

It’s a raffle Jim, but not as we know it

Then, to my surprise, there was the ‘raffle’ and I’ll use the inverted commas as there wasn’t a single prize on the table, over-flowing with prizes, that you’d really want – unless you are into fake Mont Blanc pens that don’t write – but that, as it turned out, wasn’t the point. Or maybe it was. The point was to buy raffle tickets – and lots of them. The prizes were entirely incidental.

The raffle was drawn. I think everyone there won at least one prize and everyone laughed. A lot. It was then that the two guys organising the raffle turned round and announced “Hey guys, great result, today we’ve raised over $1,200 and we’ll be giving that straight to Bali Children Foundation”.

In due course I found out this group of gents was called The Wildebeests and they got together on the first Friday of every month to chow down on an enjoyable lunch, network and raise some money for different projects that have an important impact on people less fortunate than themselves.

At the end of lunch I realised two things: first, this was a group of successful guys who were passionate about helping those less fortunate than themselves; and second, despite patiently explaining yet further all through lunch to anyone who would listen, I could’ve been speaking Medieval Mongolian, they simply had no clue what I had been spruiking about! And I thought I had been talking perfect sense.

What I didn’t realise then was that these cheerful, polite people were going to fundamentally change my role in life.

A lifetime – okay about a decade – ago

Ferraris

I loved my babies, and part of me still does.  I love great cars, period.      I just found out that owning them wasn’t the be all and end all of life.

Quick flashback. There was a time in my life when I pursued what I thought was happiness.

I’ve had the waterfront home, the flybridge cruiser, a couple of Ferraris and countless other toys, bikes, holidays et al. God it was fun. And way cool, by the way.

During this phase of my life, a good mate asked me to come along to a four-day franchising seminar up on the Gold Coast.

As it turned out some self-proclaimed property investment ‘guru’ spoke about how to become a gazillionaire through his ‘secrets to business mastery’ or some such crap.

This guy told the crowd of several thousand people how to rip each other off through unethical, immoral and at times borderline illegal methods of extracting money from others.

Sadly, some people seemed to lap it up.

Apparently, it’s all about the money, stoopid

His motivator – his only motivator, apparently – was simply to have as much money as he could. He didn’t care how he amassed the money and he didn’t care if the people buying his products ever got what he promised. Indeed, many people suffered financial ruin following his advice.

As I sat there and heard of the millions of dollars he claimed to make I couldn’t help but think of how poor this man was actually destined to stay.

I looked – hard – at the wealth I had accumulated. According to the guru I should have been one of the happiest people on the planet. But somehow, it wasn’t working for me. This wasn’t my happy place. Something wasn’t right. It took several years, meeting my wife (who, as promised, will be the subject of a future post) and that business lunch to open my eyes to what was wrong.

Another lunch with the wild beasts

steak and red wine

I really only eat the steak and drink the wine to be polite. Honest I do.

OK, fast forward again to the beginning of this story. I went back to the next month’s lunch. Tried again to explain what we were doing in Artificial Intelligence but this time, instead of Mongolian, I think I spoke colloquial Latvian. People nodded and smiled politely, and I learned another lesson about plain English and its role in successful commerce. Anyway, the steaks were great again, the drinks flowed again – and again – and then it was time for another raffle.

But hang on: what was this? The same prizes were back on the table again. And I then realised that many were simply returned from last month, re-cycled if you will, to be won again this month and returned again the next.

The raffle was, as I learned, a mere crock, a ruse, an excuse to buy raffle tickets to win prizes you were just going to return next month to be won by someone else – hopefully. The whole point was to raise money for those less fortunate. The raffle was just a giggle, an excuse to donate some hard-earned. Now that was cool.

I was also able to spend a little more time with some of the blokes there. Each, to varying levels, was successful in their own right, but not all vastly wealthy. And each, to varying levels had realised that it wasn’t about what they had made, or could make, or their position in society, but rather, what they were giving.

They had reached a point in their lives where they could give back and make the world, or at least a part of it, a better place. And I realised I wanted to do my bit too. But I still needed to make sure I put food on the table, covered my mortgage, and paid the bills. As do we all. As I still do.

So how to give when you still need to get?

The answer is actually dead simple. Over the years, watching these guys winning the same dreadful raffle prizes over and over again, I realise that you simply give something, even if it’s a bit of a pinch at the time. Because what is essentially loose change for us makes a vast difference to people who haven’t been as lucky as us. Over time, I learned that these guys weren’t all hugely rich – but they all made a conscious effort to help – regularly.

Smiling child

Small change isn’t small change. It’s big change. We just have to make the effort.

Apart from having a bloody good time once a month, and often helping each other with a business problem or opportunity here and there, amazingly, the Wildebeests support orphanages in Bali and a bunch of other worthy causes that come up from time to time, both there, here and elsewhere. As regards the orphanages, every month, somewhere between twenty and forty of us chuff up enough money to feed literally hundreds of kids, house them, and pay for them to go to school, in decent clothing.

Any one of those kids could end up President of Indonesia one day, or a world-leading scientist, or writer, or artist, or teacher. Many of us also support an individual child with an annual contribution. Others travel to Bali and help out by delivering rice, painting walls, doing plumbing work … anything that needs doing.

I learned the most important lesson, and its one that attending the lunch has since reinforced in me again and again.

When we are intentional about giving back, we always manage to afford it somehow or other. And even a small effort here, in our vastly wealthy country, can make a stunning impact in either our own poorer areas, or in poorer countries overseas.

And if we really can’t afford to donate money, well, we can always afford to donate time, goods in kind, advice, or moral support. There is always something we can do. Making a real, tangible difference is not impossibly difficult, it’s actually, quite often, dead easy.

So the lesson I learned is “Just do it.” And “Keep on doing it.”

And no, emphatically, I don’t mean “make more money”. Funnily enough, my experience tells me that’s quite easy too, either by working hard and ethically, or simply by being ruthless. But however you accumulate the dosh, it simply doesn’t make you happy on its own. It’s interesting: people often quote the Bible verse that “Money is the root of all evil.” But you know what? Actually, that isn’t an accurate quote. The Bible verse actually reads “The love of Money is the root of all evil.”

I stopped loving money for its own sake, and became interested in what money can do to make the world a better place. This is a theme I will return to often.

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2 Comments

Filed under Business, Philanthropy

2 responses to “Three Life Changing Things (aka things that make you go “hmmm”) – Number two

  1. Craig Colin Lawton

    Great blog, Mark! Thank you

  2. A wonderful job. Super helpful intramofion.

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