This was originally posted to the "The Best Thing This Year" (TBTTY) list, but I wanted to share it more broadly, too. There's a nice write-up on the TBTTY project at Mother Jones (http://m.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2012/05/the-best-thing-this-year-dan-shapiro) and you can sign up for the list at http://membership.thebestthingthisyear.com.
Since being introduced to TBTTY by Dan Shapiro (through the Robot Turtles Kickstarter), I've wondered what I might use this virtual soapbox to talk about.
I thought about using it to promote the work done by my friend Brad Blauser, who provides pediatric wheelchairs for children in poor an war-torn regions. Brad was a finalist for the 2009 CNN Heroes program, and has provided wheelchairs for children in Iraq, Haiti*, and South America (http://kidChairs4Life.org).
I've also thought about using TBTTY to promote Mercy Project (http://mercyproject.net), a program started by my friend Chris Field to help rescue children from slavery in Ghana and help address the underlying economic problems that contribute to a culture of child slavery. Chris is a runner and started a marathon in my hometown to benefit Mercy Project. This proved pivotal I. My life because--while I am not naturally a runner--running for a cause has helped me learn discipline and improve my health. Chris is currently in the running (pun intended) to be featured on the cover of Runner's World and share the work of Mercy Project with the 3 million readers of the magazine (if you'd like to help, vote at http://covercontest.runnersworld.com/entry/1013/).
Instead of focusing on either friend (see what I did there?), I decided to talk about something they've both helped me to realize: true success and making a difference in the world depends on figuring out my unique set of interests and abilities, and focusing my time, energy, and resources in that space.
This advice comports with what I've heard from successful entrepreneurs so all stripes. Find what you love and pursue it.
The way I think about it is that we're each curators of the particular. We all have an overlapping set of interests and abilities that lend themselves
To a niche product. The trick is to become an expert in that niche and learn how to talk about it intelligibly to the rest of the world. And, it helps to remember that you don't have to catch everyone's interest. Roughly paraphrasing Derek Sivers, even if you only capture 1% of the population, that's still a huge number of people (http://sivers.org/proudly-exclude-most).
My own intersecting set of interests and abilities seems to deal with art, food, and education at human-scale. That is, supporting local artists, farmers and restauranteurs, and figuring out how best to engage learners' curiosity to ignite a life-long love of learning.
I'm not in the same league as the friends I mentioned, but I'm still working on curating my cause. If be interested I hearing about your cause. Hit me up on Twitter @jkotinek.
* My original post to TBTTY incorrectly listed Cuba instead of Haiti.