“Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
When it comes to inspiration, there is no shortage of demand. Fortunately, kindness carries an innate synergy that spins upon itself until each gossamer strand is woven into a more complex and grander web. So it is that I first started this weekly series, to highlight individuals who in their own small ways are causing tremendous positive ripples across the globe. And two months ago, I featured one particular kindness crusader, Secret Agent L, a highly trained ninja of jubilation who has created a worldwide network of undercover operatives all engaged in top-secret missions to spread random acts of kindness. It was through Secret Agent L that I was then introduced to Nate St. Pierre and his incredible online community ItStartsWithUs.
The idea is very simple. Every week Nate sends out an email to the thousands of subscribers that form his global team. The email outlines a mission, should you choose to accept, with a specific positive-oriented goal. Past missions have been as specific as writing a letter to a terminally ill child, or as abstract as fix something that’s broken (a lightbulb, a relationship, etc…). Each assignment is geared to consume no more than 15 minutes out of every participants week. But when hundreds of random letters pour into a hospital, imagine the impact that combined community power can make in a person’s day/life.
“For some people, the smile you give them while talking may be the only measure of positive human emotion they had all day” –Nate St. Pierre
It all started for Nate a little under two years ago. He was a web developer, recently turned 30 with a loving wife and two kids. And yet, something felt absent from Nate’s wholesome picture. His whole life he’d been scolded by parents, teachers and peers to stop squandering his talents and live up to his potential. One day, while attending a leadership workshop for work, Nate found himself filling out a standardized form which asked questions such as “what are your strengths, passions, etc…”. He quickly plugged in his answers, without much thought. But then he hit the following question: “Next year I will…” and stopped. For twenty minutes he pondered this question before finally filling in the blank — “next year I will change the world.”
As lofty a goal as that may be, Nate determined to achieve just that, but tapping his un-mined potential, building on his strengths and starting small. In April of 2009, he launched his first blog post. He worked every night from 10 pm to 2 am, spending 30 plus hours a week on top of his fulltime job and the responsibilities of raising his family. The hard worked paid off. Within a year his site exploded, with well over 3500 people from over 100 countries signing up to participate in his weekly missions. And it keeps growing all the time.
“When we change lives, we change the world.” – Nate St.Pierre
One of my favorite offshoots of ItStartsWithUs, is dropalovebomb.com. Every thursday the LoveBomb team comes together to lift the spirits of someone struggling with hard times, by inundating their personal website/blog with hundreds of anonymous, uplifting comments. The effects are instant and astounding. One teenage girl wrote on her blog about contemplating suicide because she felt so alone and unloved. The next day she found over 400 comments filled with kind words of encouragement. It was more than enough to turn her whole outlook around.
Not only does ItStartsWithUs work as a means to promote individual outeach, Nate’s also found a way to apply his community model to better business practices. Major companies source Nate’s missions as ways to inspire their workers and positively engage their customers. For example if you’re Applebee’s and you have 100 stores participating in the mission for the week — “take one of your regulars and find a way to make them feel special”, suddenly you’ve made 100 people’s day. You’ve generated positive PR that builds through word-of-mouth, and each store has created it’s own way of making customers feel special, so now the company can source 100 different new ideas to better serve their clientele.
It’s such a terrifically simple concept, with such tremendous application that can be applied to most anything. Everyone can spare 15 minutes a week. It’s nothing, a drop in the bucket of our daily lives. But when you connect that to a web of community, that bucket overflows pretty quick. In more concrete terms: 15 minutes times 20,000 individuals is 5,000 hours of community service a week!!
And the personal joy it creates in knowing you’ve made a difference can’t be quantified in word. As Nate himself admits: “I’m a better person now, I know that. You can’t help but be when you start helping other and you see all the touch points that they have with other people and you start making conduits for people to use their own lives for good. It matters.”
I highly recommend all Superforesters check out Nate’s site,www.itstartswith.us, and sign up for the weekly missions and LoveBombs. It’s often easy to forget to pay our good fortune forward. But these weekly emails keep us honest while serving as gentle reminders to keep our eyes open to the good we can do as we walk through this life.