While sitting in my office working on publications and grant proposals during my University assistant professor days, I was often tormented by the questions: What do I wish to contribute to this world? Will I be able to express my gifts fully if I stay in this job? Eventually one of the main reasons I left my academic career to become self-employed as a coach was my deep wish to help other people; to encourage them to be authentic, to live with balance and to fully express their creative potential. This was the contribution I wished to make. Though I was partly able to do this as a teacher and mentor at the University, I wanted to devote much more of my time and energy doing it, through my coaching practice and through my interactions with children at the tribal village school in India I volunteer at. My life seemed to be lacking in meaning unless I followed this calling. 

When I started to coach people, I began to notice a fascinating pattern. Even though people came to me for clarity on various topics, at some point they invariably brought up a deep, sometimes buried wish to make a positive contribution to something beyond themselves. Some expressed their committment to better parenting, some wished to use their talents to find sustainable solutions for the environment, some wished to serve others through teaching and leading, and still others wished to touch people’s hearts and minds through art, music or technology. Though people’s ideas about what they want to contribute varied a lot, they seemed to have one thing in common- contribution was more than a wish for them; it was a need without which they felt lost, sad or hollow.

I have also had many heart-to-heart conversations with some of the ‘poorest’ (in the economical sense) people in India, living in mud huts, tiny shacks or one-room homes, working as rickshaw-drivers, farmers, cooks or cleaners. Many of these people own so little, and yet have an incredible capacity to serve others and find great joy and satisfaction in contributing positively to their families and communities. In fact, in no other cross-section of society have I met people with such a strong wish to connect and contribute.

I have come to believe that contribution is as basic a need as food and water for us humans- it is not a ‘higher’ need, it is not the privilege of a select few and it is not something we can fulfill once in a while by donating money to a distant cause. Without the continual sense that we are part of the greater good, we feel spiritually starved and empty. In my conversations, I have also noticed three common myths that keep people from pursuing their dreams and visions to contribute. More importantly, these myths hinder people from feeling fulfilled from what they already contribute. I find myself plagued by these myths ever so often, so I’d like to share some insights that help me move beyond them.

Myth 1: My contribution is not worth it unless it is stands out. 
Insight: Even if I think I am doing exactly the same thing as someone else is doing or has done before, I am doing it in a way that only I can. Think of trees in a forest: if we were to cut down even one of them, many a creature would lose their home and the forest would change slightly but tangibly. My contribution doesn’t have to stand out to make a difference!

Myth 2: I need to sacrifice in order to contribute.
Insight: If I sacrifice an aspect of myself to contribute to the greater good, I leave a gaping hole that someone or something else has to fill! Instead, if I have fun, do the things I really love and take care of my mind and body, I’ll contribute simply from the over-flow! After all, it is in my human nature to do so.

Myth 3: The value of my contribution lies in the magnitude of what I do.
Insight: If my actions are driven by love and joy, I am making a worthy contribution, no matter how big or small in scale. If the same actions are accompanied by guilt, negativity or stress, I’m causing more harm than good. The value of my contribution lies in my state of mind.

Have you noticed these myths stopping you from following your callings and from contributing what you so deeply wish to? Are they keeping you from being fulfilled with what you already contribute? Do you have other reflections, insights or stories about contribution you’d like to share? I would love to hear from you.