Last Friday, I went back to Los Angeles City Hall to help celebrate the 10-year anniversary of “Cash for College,” a program which connects students and their parents with the public funds to help them go to college.
Shown in this photo are some of the friends who have sustained the project over the years. I’m near the holding the certificate, and to my left in the red tie is my good friend, Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti. (Shown at right are my husband Dave and baby daughter Pip who came to City Hall to celebrate with us.)
Los Angeles is famous as a city of “beautiful people” – rich, good-looking people who live perfect lives in sunny weather — but the reality is that ours is a city of rich and poor. As Deputy Mayor, I was very much troubled by the intergenerational nature of the education gap in our city. Children of well-educated people have a strong chance of going to college and graduate school, while children whose parents have little education have a very low rate of college-going.
I started the Cash for College program to address this disparity. It grew from an idea into a statewide program signed into law by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. By now it’s helped over 100,000 Angelenos and nearly 200,000 Californians gain access to college. Many are the first in their families to go to college, so the legacy of our project will be felt by their siblings and their children and their communities. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me feel.
To have meaning in life, change the world
A Global Rencai reader once asked me: Should we be successful, or should we change the world?
This is a false dichotomy. We become successful through changing the world.
As human beings, we’re programmed to pursue meaning. Meaning does not come from money. Says London Business School professor Gary Hamel, “As an emotional catalyst, wealth maximization lacks the power to fully mobilize human energies.”
Meaning comes from doing work that matters. We need, as Steve Jobs urges, to “make a ding in the universe.” Truly successful people allocate their resources in service of something bigger than themselves.
To have fun and be happy, change the world
And changing the world is incredibly fun. It’s the most fun thing to do. As the Singaporean-Chinese-American Google engineer Chade-Meng (“Meng”) Tan said in his wonderful TED talk at the United Nations, “Compassion is not a chore. Compassion is something that creates happiness. Compassion is fun!”
In his talk, Meng tells us about the world’s happiest man, Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk and the son of a renown French philosopher. When neurologists measure happiness through brain activity, Matthieu Ricard scores by far as the happiest man in the world. Which leads one to wonder: what was he thinking about when he was being measured? Something naughty, perhaps? No, actually, he was thinking about compassion. It turns out that compassion is the happiest thing ever.
To grow your leadership skills and make lots of friends, change the world
What’s more, compassion creates highly effective business leaders. Compassion reduces our natural tendencies toward self-obsession because, in Meng’s words, “the cognitive and affective components of compassion are understanding people and empathizing with people.” Compassion builds our capacity for the number one leadership skill, empathy.
And changing the world will bring you the best of friends. Friends who share your values. Friends who believe in the same things you do.
They say that Americans always want to change the world while Chinese are only out for themselves. But I look around and see staggering evidence to the contrary. I am constantly moved by the beautiful voices of the writers and artists and others out there envisioning a better China. I see the disaster-relief, child-location, and other volunteer efforts popping up everywhere around China. I see how people naturally strain toward finding ways to leave their communities a little better than before.
To make the world a better place you don’t have to become poor. And you don’t have to wait until you first get rich and powerful.
When you approach life from a standpoint of abundance and of connection to others, you will have more success in all that you do. When you share of yourself with the world, you always will get back more.