The Power of Sharing
I lost a grandparent, my grandpa on my mother's side, my last living grandparent, earlier this year. He was 92, mentally and physically very active until almost the very end.
If I think about the essence of his life, and had to try to summarize it in a single word, then that word would be: sharing.
He was always happy to share what he had, his time, his energy, his knowledge, even his modest pension with those in need. Up to his early nineties, he would regularly visit elderly people (often 10-15 years his junior) in the hospital, financially support a disabled neighbour, and volunteer for various tasks in his church community. He had a great sense of humour, and was full of jokes, preferring to laugh rather than complain in the face of adversity. Towards the end, when he was no longer able to get up from his bed, and we would ask him how he was feeling, his face would invariably break into a broad smile, and he would chuckle and say, barely audibly through his ever shortening breath, "Lousy!"
His life was much harder than ours. They were teenagers during the second world war, and had to build lives out of nothing. In Hungary, inflation was so high after the war that your monthly salary would only buy you an egg the next day. My grandma, a school teacher in a community of farmers at the time, was paid in bread, milk, and very rarely, the occasional, luxurious chicken. Still, they always found opportunities to help others, to share.
A community inspired by sharing
This September I am starting my seventh year at Wahl+Case. If I reflect on the main reason why I've stayed that long, despite the challenges along the way, I would say it's because Wahl+Case has always been a community inspired by sharing. Sharing recognition, sharing ideas, sharing trust, sharing challenges, sharing one's time even when there's very little of it, sharing the upsides from our future IPO, sharing knowledge in the communityhave always been at the heart of the culture at Wahl+Case. We have always been a group of people who go out of their way to share what they have, even if it's hard.
Sharing is hard
Because let's face it, sharing can be hard. After a long day at work, who has the time and energy to give more? And who isn't at times afraid to share their ideas, their opinions, their trust? To talk about the deepest, most challenging problems they are facing?
Sharing makes us vulnerable, and we're especially vulnerable when we share the things that are the most important to share, which tend to be the hardest things to share.
I know this first hand as--I'm proud to say!--the first openly gay employee at Wahl+Case. Sharing that piece of rather private information was difficult in the moment (literally on my first day, over my first game of ping pong), but it's perhaps contributed in some small way to an increased awareness of the importance of diversity at the company, which is now explicitly codified in our values.
I know this also because for a couple of years now, I've been struggling with something that's also difficult to face and share: the fact that my ability to work efficiently for long hours has declined. Previously, I had prided myself on being able to work 70-80-hour weeks without any decline in the quality or efficiency of my work. It was something that came to me naturally and became a crucial part of my identity over the years.
However, a couple of years ago, in the early, stressful days of Attuned, I began to experience panic attacks. These attacks aren't physically dangerous, but can often be quite scary and debilitating, and the only remedy I could find so far was to work less. Unlike in the past, I can no longer work as hard and efficiently as I want to, I have to watch my diet and make sure I get enough sleep, and build longer holidays and more time for exercise and hobbies into my schedule. I've had to accept that my output is no longer on a par with what it used to be, and to find meaning in my work even as I'm often frustrated by all the things I'm no longer able to accomplish.
Sharing is rewarding
One of the ways I was able to find such meaning is by--you guessed it--sharing. After 15+ years of work in places like Paris, Tokyo, and Berlin, I was suddenly quite surprised to find that people find some of my experiences helpful. So I started teaching on the side, in the HR Analytics and MBA programs of the International Business School in Budapest. Teaching is hard work, and it pays very badly even at this level, but sharing what I've come to understand about HR and management has been an extremely rewarding experience.
Having participated in the building of several startups, I've also begun working on a book about the organizational and people related challenges startups face in the various stages of their growth. The book will be based on 100+ interviews with founders and executives at startups around the world, including companies like Google, Uber, Lucidchart, Zalando, Blinkist--and of course, thanks to Casey, Wahl+Case! If you're interested, feel free to follow the book's social media pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, or to sign up for exclusive content at the book's website here.
Sharing to the next generation
Last but not least, I try to make a point of making time to meet with young first-time founders to bounce ideas off each other and see if I can be helpful to them in their growth, not in exchange for any fee or stake, simply because I know how hard and often lonely it can be to get something new off the ground. Later this year, I might share some information about one of them, a very cool and ambitious bunch of Hungarian high school students who set out to solve the problem of food waste with their app.
Do some of these things take up a bit more time and energy than I'd like? Of course! Do they sometimes add to my workload and stress and exacerbate my panic attacks? They do. But I find meaning in them, and in the worst case, if someone asks me how I feel, I can always do what my grandpa did: smile, chuckle, and say, "Lousy!"
Wishing you many opportunities to share what you have and to touch lives.