Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of The Acumen Fund. She is one of the most innovative and interesting philanthropists in the world today. Her non profit has taken on the world’s poverty problem by directly investing capital in developing world businesses that have the potential to deliver critical goods and services like health, water, housing and energy.
More than anything, Jacqueline is a very likable person. She’s funny and light and her self deprecation is genuine. We had a great conversation and I gathered some great quality of life practices for my book and site.
One of the most interesting areas she went into was the enrichment and quality of life factor of being open to others.
Here is a 90 second excerpt in which Jacqueline discusses this perspective:
novogratz-open-to-others (MP3 download)
I think the first takeaway is simply that arrogance is anti-life. When we are shut off from people because we think we are better in some way, or we just don’t think they are worth our time, we miss out on all that life has to offer. When you realize that you are no better than anyone else (and of course the flip side that no one is better than you), a world of enriching experiences and opportunities opens up.
As Jacqueline put it, “Every person out there has a story.” And when you are open to others, life becomes richer. [Look, it goes without saying that there are nuances and exceptions with anything. And in this case one can still have boundaries in life while being “open to others.”]
I also like how Jacqueline mentions it’s not just about opening up to the man in the mud hut but also the king. Oftentimes, we become overly judgmental of those “above us”, whether leadership wise or socio economic wise. And she points out the folly in this mindset. That there is also a trove of learning experiences from these types if we open up.
It seems it’s not just about being open but also pro actively seeking to learn from the many people around us that have wisdom and experience to impart. I was getting my haircut a few weeks ago and was talking with my barber Bill. We were talking about having kids and he talked about his challenges in raising a teenage daughter. I remember my instinct, which was to relate it to me and say something in response. And then I had this thought… “Why don’t I just ask him open-endedly what he has learned on the parenting front.” When I did, he gave me a great wisdom bit that I was able to chew on. He said, “Now is the time to nip negative behaviors in the bud. If you have a four year old that has a complaining habit, do not think you can teach him out of it later. Now is the time to deal with it.”
Three weeks later over another haircut, Bill was telling me how he is divorced and now back in the dating scene. I asked him, “What is something you learned along the way with marriage?” Bill took a few seconds, then said, “A husband might think there is a better someone out there when the going gets tough. But if you have someone you love, and they love you, stick with it. Because I can tell you, I’ve been single for ten years and I haven’t found anyone close to measuring up to my ex-wife.”
Man, those were two pretty good life bites, no?
I guess the point is how much upside there is to taking advantage of learning opportunities out there, as well as the general enjoyment of hearing other people’s stories. And that a precursor for all of this is an understanding that while you might be good at something, or accomplished in some way, or have amassed some material gain — that does not make you better than anyone else, or is anyone else better than you.
It also seems clear from this interview the relation between openness to others and an ability to connect with people in general. When you have the qualities that Jacqueline is talking about, people notice the way you carry yourself, that look in your eyes. The two qualities go hand in hand it seems.
I guess the main point is that getting away from arrogance is an important step in getting the most that life has to offer.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Are there other ways we should look at this?
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