I am honored to introduce to you, Lewis Harry Spence.
Harry, who I’ve known for a little over a year now, is a large part of the reason why this site exists. He was the first person I officially considered to be “living proof”. After every cup of coffee I had with Harry, and the more I learned about him, the more I wanted to share his story with people I knew would benefit from knowing him. And I am beside myself to be able to do that with this project.
For me, Harry is living proof that it’s not about what you do, it’s about how you approach what you do – the principles and values that you live by.
Some highlights that still speak to me:
“there’s sort of a notion that by 25 you’re grown up, and I deeply believe that is a terribly stilted notion about development. I hope I have grown dramatically over the course of my 30s and 40s and 50s. And I do believe I am a very different person that I was 25 or 30 years ago. That there is a continuous process of social learning that is profound and powerful.”
“it’s so easy to fool yourself. It’s so easy for your ego to fool you into believing you’re doing the righteous thing. When in fact it’s more about you than it’s about the task and about the needs of others.”
“I can now say, in many ways, my work is itself a spiritual discipline.”
“Even between 56 and 66, the sense of sustained equanimity keeps increasing. But it constantly requires lots of discipline and lots of learning.”
“It’s all about where my focus is. Is it on my well being or is it external – on trying to bring myself in support of the needs of the world? And if I can stay in that space…and it’s a struggle…if I can stay in that space, then that’s a space in within which great and immense satisfaction and sense of meaning arises.”
I hope you’ll take the time to watch the video. I assure you it will be worth your while.
No words suffice in expressing my gratitude to Harry for making his story so accessible to me, and now to you… and any one who has the pleasure of stumbling upon this video.
In this article, leadership and management guru Warren Bennis shares his experience on being a mentee and a mentor. He shares about how he tells his students to “stalk mentors!”. He speaks about mentoring within the context of his belief that there are 2 curricula in an MBA program, the formal one offered by the program, and an informal one which he refers to as the “invisible” curriculum. He argues that this “invisible curriculum”, which includes finding mentors, is equally important to the formal curriculum.
When I went back to get my masters, my “invisible curriculum” took place over 50 cups of coffee with classmates whose comments intrigued me. They would share their stories, warts and all. People from all walks of life – from teachers, peace corps graduates to generals, political figures, and CEOs. This invisible curriculum is one that I continued after I graduated, and one that sparked the idea behind this project. Of those I have had the honor of meeting, I have found a handful of mentors.
But the main reason why I wish to share this is to pass on wisdom that Bennis shares – to “stalk mentors!” Although I am not typically someone who is naturally inclined to bother my mentors for my own gain, I feel compelled to take Bennis’ advice. And I hope to be able to do the same for others in the future.
“If you tell me who your heroes are, I’ll tell you how you’re gonna turn out. It’s really important in life to have the right heroes. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve probably had a dozen or so major heroes. And none of them have ever let me down. You want to hang around with people that are better than you are. You will move in the direction of the crowd that you associate with.”
4. Develop healthy habits by studying people.
“Pick the person that has the right habits, that is cheerful, generous, gives other people credit for what they do. Look at all of the qualities that you admire in other people … and say to yourself, ‘Which of those qualities can’t I have myself?’ Because you determine whether you have them. And the truth is you can have all of them.”
These two align with the values behind this project. 1. Surround yourself with people who you know you can learn a great deal from and, 2. study their habits and slowly integrate those habits into your daily life.
I am grateful to be surrounded by some incredible people, Harry Spence being one of them. It’s nice to see that Buffett too has had help along the way and that studying others has gotten him to where he is.
Every single one of the 10 reasons David DiSalvo offers in this piece speak to all the things that have played a role in some way or another in holding me back. I’ve taken the liberty and transformed each into action steps:
1. Believe in yourself, and others will believe in you.
2. You are not what others say you are.
3. Rock the boat.
4. Life is short. Take risks.
5. Choose based on what you want to be remembered for.
6. You alone determine what role you let yourself play.
7. Accept that certainty is an illusion.
8. Don’t wait. Go after what your heart desires. Playing it safe doesn’t guarantee anything.
9. There’s always more to learn and ways to grow.
10. Learning to adapt and sit with uncertainty is imperative to living the life you seek to live.
The main takeaway: Nothing is certain. It’s more risky not to risk. That is, if you want to live a life worth remembering.
Last week, I took a leap. I quit my job. The courage to do so came from knowing I could no longer not live the life I was seeking to live. And it is taking every ounce of energy to not do all the things that DiSalvo lists. To even sit with the question, “what do I want?” has been an excruciating task. Why? Because as soon I name it, what’s next is owning it and taking responsibility for all that follows. Growing up is what some might call it. And as Harry Spence has shown me, growing up is what I hope I always do for as long as I have in this life.
So, I don’t know what it means for you, but for me the challenge I sit with at the moment: To listen. To listen to what my heart is telling me. To really listen. And to start to own what it is I hear in small ways to start. Then hopefully in larger ways. Quitting my job was hard as hell, but that was just step 1. Hopefully, starting with a bit of believing in myself, I’ll make it to step 2 and 3, and so on and so forth, without giving up.
This article is an interview with Harvard Developmental Psychologist, David Harris, about his book called Trusting What You’re Told (2012). The main message of his book is that children learn best from testimony of those around them whom they deem are reliable sources of information.
This book and Harris’ work intrigued me because it speaks I agree that whether we are conscious of it or not, what we know and how we engage with the world is largely shaped by the ideas (people) we are exposed to.
Part of what fuels this idea for the Living Proof Project is to gain access to stories and people who are sharing what they do just to give you a glimpse into how they think (and how their thinking has gotten them to where they are). The hope is that by having access to a library of different ways of thinking and engaging with the world, your world view will reflect such exposure.
However, this book only speaks to a piece of the value behind the LP Project. Tied into this project is my personal interest in systems and groups.
So much of our life is defined by the people we meet, the ideas we are exposed to, the community we grew up in, etc. Yet what connects us all below those differences are common underpinnings of human nature and the emotions we experience. While not everyone can relate to the details of a story, often, you’ll find that others will identify with parallel experiences in their own life and how it made them feel. The hope is to find stories that speak to you. And although you may never meet the people on this site in person, the hope is you will see a part of yourself in them. Let them be the teacher you never got to meet in school, the social system you may not have had exposure to growing up, and the fellow citizen who cares enough to let you into their stories to show you that you too can do the same.
Barefoot engineers and architects, primary school educated solar experts, a grandmother dentist who is illiterate, puppets as teachers – these are just some of the perspective shifting characteristics of “Barefoot College”. The women of the village have gone on to train other women in Africa and Afghanistan on solar engineering, using only body language to communicate. The result: the first solar powered village in Sierra Leone and Ghana.
For me, Barefoot College is living proof of the following concept that Roy speaks to at the end of the talk: What is possible when you look inside for solutions and listen to the people you are trying to “serve”. The college is a perfect example of proof of what is possible when you listen instead of thinking that you possess the answer to a problem you are trying to solve to “serve” others.
Meet James Ward. He went from being homeless and living in a mission, to attending Howard University. His story and the above Tumblr page created to raise funds to pay for his tuition, has gone viral.
It’s a moving story, and I could not be happier for James.
But what sticks out in this story is the role that Jessica Sutherland played. Although she does not take credit, and recognizes that James is the one that has done all the hard work, I cannot help but wonder how different his story would have been had he not met Jessica. Given his clear intelligence, I do not doubt he would have made something of himself somehow. But I do wonder…
I know that I do not know the whole story, and I do not know Jessica, but I do have to ask — was Jessica, James’ living proof? There’s something there. I know there is. And I plan to try to find out.
Earlier this year, a friend sent me a copy of the above article. And I am happy to now share it with you.
It’s about an Ophthalmologist in India whose story moves me every time I read it. He may have passed away in 2006, but he is very much living proof of a life that I trust will challenge your conventional notions of what it looks like to lead, to live, and to be successful.
At the age of 58, Dr. V. opened a network of eye hospitals that has since served 32 million people, the majority of whom cannot afford his services. Some facts taken from this article that give you an idea of why his model has been the focus of numerous case studies:
The free patients, whose medical services (including food and room) are covered entirely by the hospital, have a separate building. Paying customers are charged 50 rupees (about $1) per consultation and have their choice of accommodations: “A-class” rooms ($3 per day), which are private; “B-class” rooms ($1.50 per day), in which a toilet is shared; or “C-class” rooms ($1 per day), essentially a mat on the floor. Paying customers choose between surgery with stitches ($110) and surgery without stitches ($120).
There is no qualification for the free hospital.
Aravind’s surgeons are so productive that the hospital has a gross margin of 40%, despite the fact that 70% of the patients pay nothing or close to nothing, and that the hospital does not depend on donations. Dr. V. has done it by constantly cutting costs, increasing efficiency, and building his market.
It costs Aravind about $10 to conduct a cataract operation. It costs hospitals in the United States about $1,650 to perform the same operation. Aravind keeps costs minimal by putting two or more patients in an operating room at the same time. Hospitals in the United States don’t allow more than one patient at a time in a surgery, but Aravind hasn’t experienced any problems with infections. Aravind’s doctors have created equipment that allows a surgeon to perform one 10- to 20-minute operation, then swivel around to work on the next patient — who is already in the room, prepped, ready, and waiting. Post-op patients are wheeled out, and new patients are wheeled in
I could not be more grateful to Harriet for doing an excellent job of capturing why he is very much living proof. What he is living proof of for you, may not be the same for you, but my guess is our reasons won’t be so different. Here are some other highlights of the values and principles that were the drivers behind his tremendous success in realizing his vision:
“For Dr. V., leadership begins with the pursuit of self-knowledge and a vision bigger than any that can fit in the prospectus of a single corporation. All his life, Dr. V. has resisted smallness. Yet there is nothing egotistic about him. He asks himself, “How can my work make me a better human being and make a better world?” That question is at the heart of the mystery of leadership. And to answer it is to seek perfection.”
“He came to believe that man has not reached the highest level of evolution, but that evolution will continue for several more stages until a higher intelligence is created. ‘Even the body has to be more perfect so that a new creature will result,’ says Dr. V.”
“I ask Dr. V. a simple question designed to get him to talk about his unique vision: ‘What are your gifts?’ I ask him. Dr. V. replies, ‘People thank me for giving them sight.’ This is no error of translation, no slipup of English. Dr. V. considers his gifts to be the things that he has given others, not what he possesses.”
“Part of Aravind’s service package includes love, courage, and total care. ‘You identify with the people with whom or for whom you work,” says Dr. V. “It is not out of sympathy that you want to help. The sufferer is part of you.'”
“‘Consultants talk of ‘the poor,’ ‘ he says. ‘No one at Aravind does. ‘The poor’ is a vulgar term. Would you call Christ a poor man? To think of certain people as ‘the poor’ puts you in a superior position, blinds you to the ways in which you are poor — and in the West there are many such ways: emotionally and spiritually, for example. You have comforts in America, but you are afraid of each other.'”
The above New York Times articles speaks to one of the many drivers behind the Living Proof Project.
This site intends to become an educational resource to challenge the norms of education. Knowledge is merely potential power. It’s the first step. So then what does it take to be able to put that knowledge into action? What are the conditions needed for someone to be able to take their knowledge and have the courage to invent their own career path?
In this article, Thomas Friedman interviews Education specialist/author, Tony Wagner. His main message, we need to focus on teaching skills and instilling intrinsic motivation to learn. Here’s an excerpt:
“Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” he said. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”
So what should be the focus of education reform today?
“We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”
It is my hope to introduce you to stories of people who have invented their paths.