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Use the best of what you’ve got & who you are

I’m sure we’re shaped by the books we read early. One of mine, along with a billion other people, was The Hobbit. Bilbo, Gandalf, a dozen dwarves, spiders. A dragon.

(And my, what a dragon. Smaug. That name! That pitiless eye.)

In his Lonely Mountain lair, he lies on spilling piles of gold. Not a single coin to be spent, not a single golden cup to be removed (as Bilbo would uncomfortably discover).

We don’t have dragon blood running through our veins, but it’s still tempting to hoard some of our wealth. I’m not thinking of material goods so much, but rather the way we hold onto and hide some of the best of who we are: our skills and talents, our gifts and ideas.

I can think of two reasons why you’d want to offer these to the world. One’s obvious; the other, not so much.

1. Give more to the world than you take

If you’ve had a chance to read How to Begin, you’ll know I’m enamored by the words of Jacqueline Novogratz: “What if you could give more to the world than you take?”

Swallow back your idea or your offer, and we miss out. We miss you.

Of course, there are ways and means of sharing your gifts. (“Advice Monster” anyone?). But managing your Advice Monster doesn’t mean never sharing what you have to give. It means being deliberate about when and how.

But it’s the second, less obvious reason that I think can work a particular kind of magic.

2. Reveal what’s next for you

Learning to play cards, I was taught to value the face cards. The King, Queen, and Jack and the very best of them, the Ace. These, it was stressed to me, were what mattered. These were what would win you the game. Hold them. Keep them secret, keep them safe.

But then I had to unlearn that. The next lesson is that the Ace is, in the end, just a card that wins a trick. It’s a small part of the game. Using it matters more than saving it.

The writer George Saunders talks about our ideas in a similar way. For him, the value of using your very best idea – your high card –  is because, “Playing that ace is a way of forcing oneself into originality.”

When you use up your best idea, when you empty the cupboard, it brings you back to your talents and wit and ingenuity. It’s a forcing function for you to keep learning and growing.

Show us your best, play your high card, share that not-sure-of-it idea, test out your best strategy. It’s a choice that makes you vulnerable. There’s none of Smaug’s “armor like tenfold shields” here. No doubt, there’s stuff at risk.

But we unlock our greatness when we take on the hard things. And one way to do that is to use the best of what you’ve got and who you are.

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.