There are two things I often ask people, whether I’m working with them one-on-one or during presentations: What are you the only one of? And what would you do for free, if money weren’t an object and you could pursue your passion?
In a recent keynote that I gave, I challenged the audience to consider these questions as a way for them to evaluate their personal success and state of fulfillment. Then I shifted gears and asked them to think globally and put themselves in the mindset of four different people: the mayor of a small town, the governor of a state, the president of a country, and the leader of the planet (hypothetically, of course).
First, what are your goals as the mayor of a small town? Most likely, you’d aim for economic growth and job creation to attract more people — and grow your population.
How about as a state governor? Likewise, you’d probably work toward a thriving economy, for more and better-paying jobs, and to improve the amenities, services, and healthcare of the community. Again, you want your population to grow.
Now, imagine you’re the president of a country. The goals are similar: In addition to a strong economy, you also want fiscal independence, powerful armed forces that protect the population and the country’s assets, and prosperity for the people. In other words, incentives that draw people to your nation.
Before you put yourself in the shoes of the global leader, however, consider that the world population has more than doubled, from 3.6 billion to 7.7 billion, over the last 50 years. Take a moment to really reflect on this: In just half a century, the number of people on Earth has more than doubled.
There is little room left for other species, and where there is space, we’re most likely moving into it: If we’re not already living somewhere, we’re digging in it, taking resources out of it, or putting pipelines through it. We’re leaving footprints in any and all areas that we can access — and that’s already happening with 7.7 billion people.
If the population growth continues at this pace and doubles over the next 50 years, there will be more than 15 billion people on this planet. Will there be enough oxygen, fresh water, and other resources to support life as we know it here? Will there be room for creatures besides humans?
To date, there are no other habitable planets for us to relocate to. Within the enormous amount of space that scientists, physicists, and experts at NASA have studied so far, there’s nothing that resembles our beautiful little planet. Everything is either too hot, too cold, or otherwise just not right. We don’t have the luxury of going somewhere else.
Now pretend you’re the leader of the globe: Is population growth still your priority? Or is it doing all you can to protect and preserve the planet and all its natural resources, habitats, and creatures?
My point is that there’s a dichotomy between the first three perspectives and the global one. While we often talk about the bigger picture — about taking the 30,000-foot view versus a 3,000-foot one — the vast majority of our daily choices and actions are based on what’s closest or most immediate. We’re focused on what’s currently happening around us and the things that have a direct effect on our lives. This comes at a steep cost.
I’m not going to pretend that I know the solution to this. My perspective, however, is that we need to consider all of these mindsets and find opportunities for alignment that are good for everyone, now and in the future.
So, I think I’ll add a third question to those two I always ask: What are you the only one of? What would you do for free? And what happens when you consider the global perspective?
My hope is that we see the bigger picture and how our daily behaviors can benefit the greater good. We each play a role — and it’s up to us to make a difference where we can.