If you can’t improve your day, improve someone else’s
Updated: Mar 5
Lightbulb moment: “I came to realise that rather than just focusing on yourself and trying to improve your own lot every day, there are about 7 billion other people whose lot you could focus on improving instead. And once you do that enough, you tend to improve your own day by proxy anyway. So I think it's a pretty perfect formula.”
— James Tennet, Managing Director, Revolutionise
James spent a lot of his young adulthood self-focused and ego-driven. But he wasn’t self-fulfilled. It took some time, some soul-searching and a famous quote to get him to stop gazing at his own belly button and get him thinking outside himself. It was a revelation and change of outlook that lead to a career change and more fulfilling life.
Here’s how James reached his lightbulb moment:
“I spent years trying to figure out why I wasn’t feeling positive, why I wasn’t feeling good, how I could be happier and how I could blah, blah, blah. Then after a long period of bad mental health, depression, anxiety and the like, I stumbled across a quote by Albert Einstein:
‘Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.’
“I remember reading that and thinking it’s not something you would expect from a famous physicist. It’s more of a humanistic perspective rather than a practical, scientific one. That quote really stuck with me, and after that revelation I did make a change. I started specifically looking for jobs where I felt like I was contributing to a greater cause or a wider mission, contributing to something where I could be improving other people's lives and not just my own.”
That’s when James started working for the Resource Alliance, a global non-profit that focuses on education for those in the charitable sector. And soon after, he co-founded the Nepal Earthquake Recovery Fund (NERF) in response to the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal. NERF carried out a range of humanitarian and empowerment projects in the country — particularly focused on marginalised communities.
Surrounding himself with charitable work supported the simple truth that came to him as he was fruitlessly seeking happiness by looking only at himself.
“Focusing on others rather than myself was a massive kind of shift that — surprise, surprise — actually fixed the problem I was trying to solve in the first place. You do make yourself feel better by focusing on somebody else instead.
“Obviously your own physical and mental health are important, but you can have a wider impact too – if you can’t improve your own universe on any given day, try and improve someone else’s instead. There are plenty of other people out there whose life you can improve, whose day you can improve. And, honestly, without fail, this will turn around and make your own day better as well.”
James talks about a particular moment in time when he was working in Nepal, as he watched a group of volunteers trudging up and down a hillside in their matching NERF T-shirts, building a water tank for a local village.
“I very clearly recall thinking, ‘I have to remember this moment’. Because - there we were, working with this community, building this well. And we did that, we did something much bigger than ourselves; we made a positive impact outside of ourselves.
“The truth of it is that focusing solely on yourself and trying to figure it all out internally gets complicated, and there’s a bit of fantasy involved too. But once you have that defining realisation, that lightbulb moment, you come down to the simple truth that it’s OK not to have it all figured out and the only way to really improve your life, increase your happiness and contentment, is to start focusing on other people, on things outside yourself, on things greater than yourself.”