Is Generosity an Indicator of Success?

charlie_day_jimmy_fallonIn a recent episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld asks Lorne Michaels (7:20), “How did you see in Jimmy Fallon that there was a talk-show host in him?”

Michaels replies (I’m paraphrasing here), “He’s truly funny, and he’s incredibly talented, obviously, but he also is generous.

I’ve been thinking about that line ever since I heard it. I think it’s fairly universal that generosity is a good thing. But it’s fascinating to me that Michaels used generosity as an indicator of Fallon’s potential for being a successful late-night host.

Michaels goes on to say, “[Fallon] can let someone else talk.” That’s really interesting as well, because he’s not just talking about generosity in terms of gift-giving and compliments. He’s saying that Fallon is willing to give someone else the spotlight, to make someone else look good.

I wonder if this applies to other jobs as well. I certainly think it’s possible to be generous and also not be very good at your job. But is generosity usually an indicator that you will be more successful at your job than someone else?

It also worries me a bit, because I think I’m generous with some things but not others. I’m not particularly generous with time, and I can really tighten up when I feel like someone is taking advantage of my time (or money). I often find myself deflecting compliments and giving credit to others, but that might be more that I’m not comfortable with compliments.

I do genuinely want to make beautiful things that backers and customers will treasure, though, even if it eats into my company’s margins. I work 70-80 hours a week to make those things. And I make significant financial contributions (both personally and through my company) to charities. So there’s some generosity there, just nowhere close to Fallon level!

Where do you fall on the generosity spectrum?

2 thoughts on “Is Generosity an Indicator of Success?”

  1. It’s been said that “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Is there a similar worthy thought about generosity/selflessness? “Real generosity is to know the extent of one’s selfishness” doesn’t feel quite right.

    I believe none of us see ourselves as others see us. I feel like I’m a generous guy, but I don’t tip the kid who makes my sandwich at Jersey Mike’s. So he’d probably grade me fairly low. Those homemade tip jars always look classless to me. I feel like if I owned a sandwich place, I wouldn’t allow for one. So does that make me ungenerous? It certainly chips away a bit at my G.P. (Generosity Potential, haha).

    I suspect the best generosity comes from a humble heart. That special combination of giftedness paired with humbleness seems so rare at times. Imagine how hard it must be to be immensely talented and successful and yet humble. Particularly in a society where we heap such praise on successful people…. at least for a while, before we tear them down.

    So, in the end, I’d suggest that Jimmy Fallon has found a way to be talented, successful, and still humble. And that has allowed him to stay generous despite his popularity. And I’d also suggest he probably tips the kid who makes his sandwich.

    • Rob: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this (and that’s a keen observation about the tip jar! I do that sometimes, but more out of guilt or obligation than generosity).

      I really like the idea of the “humble heart.” I can see that in Fallon.


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