My favorite example of this is of the Secretary General of Doctors Without Borders. Her name is Marine Buissonniere. When I first met her, this woman wowed me. She was bright, she was full of character and personality, she was extremely effective, and she was the fiercest and most passionate advocate I’ve ever met. We became friends, and after a little while, I had to ask the proverbial question, “How do you end up a secretary-general of Doctors Without Borders?” So she told me her story.
She said that, when she was young and living in France, she got a little restless, so she decided she would try something new. She traveled to China, she liked it, it was something different and fun, and eventually, she opened a small little pastry shop, where she would sell French pastries and breads to local people. She was happy living in this little community. She learned fluent Mandarin and was living a happy life.
One day, a young boy from a group of street youth came to speak to her. He asked her if she wouldn’t mind at the end of the day, if there were a couple of pieces of bread or pastries left, if some of the boys that were street youth could have them. Marine stopped. She knew that, if she said yes that day, she would have to give these boys what was left over everyday. But she did it.
At first, she started giving them what was left over at the end of the day, but within a few weeks, she decided she could maybe make a couple of extra sandwiches for them. She got to know them better, and one night she said, “I wouldn’t mind if you slept under the stoop of my store at night, because nobody is there anyways, it wouldn’t bother me.”
Then, within a few weeks, she decided they could sleep inside the store, because no one was using it at night. As she got to know them better, she realized they had never done anything wrong, they just had really difficult pasts and bad fortune. So what she wanted to do was get them some sort of small apartment that they could maybe stay in in the evenings. She went to all the local organizations in the community to see if she could get some funding. One of them was Doctors Without Borders.
Now, they didn’t have funds to give her, but they were so moved by her passion and her love for these kids, they thought they could find her something else. They happened to need someone who spoke fluent French and fluent Mandarin to help them with some of the emergency needs that they had in the community. Marine started working with them, and 12 years later when I met her, she was the Secretary General of Doctors Without Borders. She didn’t get there by potting her resume with all of these impressive achievements. She just did something small, and more importantly, she did something that she loved.
Contribute in your own way
That brings me to my second tip: contribute in your own way. Nobody else’s but yours. I am so saddened nowadays when I see that the way we’re training young people is to follow some calculated recipe that will lead to this inevitable and wonderful end goal. Somebody says they want to go to med school, we say, “Well, start tutoring or volunteer in your local hospital. Do whatever you can so they know you are really excited about doing it.” And I think these are all great things and they do end up getting you to that end goal, but sometimes I worry about that when you get to that end goal, you might find out it wasn’t what you really wanted in the first place.
Larry Smith, who will be speaking later and is one of my favorite professors at the University of Waterloo, said something to me that changed my life. He said, “You better love what you do, because I guarantee you cannot compete with the person beside you that reads about business trends, or health statistics, or human resources on their weekends in their leisure time for fun.”
A few years later, I am sitting with my best friend on the side of a lake. It is really quiet, we are on vacation. He is in Human Resources. He pulls out of his backpack this magazine and starts droning on and on to me about the wonders of e-recruiting. I literally couldn’t believe it. He was reading about his career in Human Resources on the weekend for fun.
So here is how you contribute in your own way: you find what you love doing, what you are good at, and you use that to contribute to your community. Here is another example I love. You have all heard about Doctors Without Borders, most of us know that organization. How many of you have heard about the organization Clowns Without Borders? I swear to you this exists. It is a group of people in North America that go to war-torn countries, into refugee camps, and literally serve as clowns. Having worked in these areas, when I first heard about this organization, I was baffled. All I could think was, “What these people need is food and shelter. They don’t need clowns traipsing into their community.”