One of my all-time favorite stories is Loren Eiseley’s “The Star Thrower.” In the story, an old man walks on a beach covered with millions of starfish being washed up with the surf, each of them waiting to die as the sun begins to rise above the cliffs behind him. As he continues walking, he notices a little boy who picks up every single starfish he can find and tosses it back into the ocean. The story continues as follows:
“An old Earth man happened along and saw what the child was doing. He called out, ‘Boy, what are you doing?’ ‘Saving the starfish!’ replied the boy. ‘But your attempts are useless, child! Every time you save one, another one returns, often the same one! You can’t save them all, so why bother trying? Why does it matter, anyway?’ called the old man. The boy thought about this for a while, a starfish in his hand; he answered, ‘Well, it matters to this one.'”
The sentiment sums up one of the most splendid and human experiences one can have in life. It is the courage to defy the odds and make a difference, however small to someone in need. Over the years, this has become a guiding principle in my life. I can’t say that I am not occasionally discouraged by the sheer volume of injustice and inequity in the world, or the never ending tide of people in need of help. And yet, each one of those people is an opportunity to be a bit more human. Just the other day someone dear to me was expressing frustration at the tragic events in Charlottesville, VA. She said that she wanted to do something, but that she didn’t think it would make any real difference, and consequently felt powerless. Indeed, what can anyone do to make people feel safe, particularly when they are targets of extremists?
I think that the question is the wrong question to ask because there is no practical answer for any one person. And, if you change your question to “What can I do to make someone feel safe?” then you will find that the answer is actually “quite a bit.” If you keep at it, you will see that 1) you are not alone, as there are many other stubborn philanthropists out there, and 2) with everyone doing a small part, the beach starts to clean up and the starfish live another day.
So why am I, a career coach, writing about this topic?
Because at the end of the day, employers are not looking to simply hire the most competent candidates on paper. While competence is essential, it isn’t everything. If it were, there would be no need for interviews and networking would be far less useful. In reality, people, more than anything, want to hire people they like and believe they can work with. Most offers of employment are far less transactional and far more a negotiation of personalities, interests, and values. With this in mind, being a more “human” human being is not just good for your happiness, it’s instrumental in getting a job.
How then can you be a bit more human starting today?