When you’re not sure what you have to offer

"What's in your hand?" I recently sat with a friend of mine to talk about his career. He’s well-educated, has deep knowledge of a complex business, and has done work with many African countries. He’s married, raising kids, and loves music. And he’s also smart, funny, and a good conversationalist.

And yet when I asked him about networking, he was uncertain about what he had to offer.

Why would someone with so much think they didn’t have enough to offer? Because, like many people, he was simply thinking  too narrowly about what he could contribute to others.

Most people have an incredible array of gifts. They just don’t know it. So, whether you’re trying to meet someone or just working out loud, here’s a different way to think about what you have to offer.

“What’s in your hand?”

I’m not a religious person, but in watching old TED talks I came across Pastor Rick Warren’s talk from 2006. And he asked some questions that stuck with me.

In his talk he tells the story of how Moses is depicted in “The Ten Commandments”. How, when Moses first meets God in the burning bush, God asks him:

“Moses, what’s in your hand?” 

Moses is holding a shepherd’s staff, a symbol of Moses’ identity and career, a symbol of his assets, and a a symbol of his influence. Throughout the movie, Moses uses the simple staff to work miracles as he leads his people from slavery. And as Rick Warren talks to various groups around the world, including the TED audience, he asks them:

“What’s in your hand?”

“What do you have that you’ve been given?”

“What are you doing with what you’ve been given?”

20 gifts you’re holding right now 

As I listened to that story I was struck by how most of our gifts are, indeed, right within our grasp. They’re things we take for granted because we feel everyone has them. And so we underestimate their value.

When Dale Carnegie wrote about the best approach to building relationships, he didn’t mention wealth or highly specialized skills. He talked about things that anyone could do.

“Give honest and sincere appreciation.”

Become genuinely interested in other people.”

“Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.”

“Be a good listener. Encourage other people to talk about themselves.”

“Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.”

So here are 20 things you hold in your hand right now. 20 valuable things you can do for others.

  1. Listen.
  2. Care.
  3. Show empathy.
  4. Be vulnerable (and thus allowing others to be vulnerable).
  5. Recognize others (pointing out their work, positive qualities, and other contributions).
  6. Appreciate others (e.g., with a public thank you, one of the most underused gifts).
  7. Offer your encouragement.
  8. Offer your support.
  9. Share entertainment you’ve enjoyed.
  10. Share resources - books, presentations, articles - you’ve found useful.
  11. Offer introductions to people you know.
  12. Ask questions (and thus allowing someone else to help).
  13. Answer questions.
  14. Offer your feedback.
  15. Share your ideas.
  16. Share what you’ve learned.
  17. Share your work experiences, especially mistakes.
  18. Share your life experiences, especially challenges (family, health, travel, education).
  19. Offer your skills.
  20. Offer your time.

“What are you doing with what you’ve been given?”

Notice how simple these are. Yet think of the last time someone really listened to you. Really paid attention. How did that make you feel? Or when someone let their guard down and was vulnerable. How often does that happen?

These 20 gifts are the kinds of things Keith Ferrazzi had in mind when he said “The currency of networking isn’t greed, it’s generosity.”

Don’t let a narrow view of what you have to offer stop you from giving. Think broadly and in a human way about all that you have in your hand. And share it.