During this time of uncertainty and need, you may feel you want to do more to help. Or you may wish you were on the front lines as a doctor saving lives or as a scientist trying to find a vaccine. My wife is an anesthesiologist and is on the front lines each day, often pulling multiple overnight shifts a week at the hospital. Sometimes I wish I was a doctor so I could directly help save lives like she is. If you’re feeling the desire to do more and support others, that’s natural. And because times like these often bring out the best in people, I know many of you are probably feeling this way.
I joined the Army right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks because I wanted to serve and give back. As my time in the Army drew to a close, I struggled to figure out how I could find something that would give me as much purpose as the Army, and where I could continue to give back. My last day in the Army, I voiced some of these thoughts to a senior officer, and she left me with this advice, “Just remember Andrew, you don’t have to wear a uniform to serve your country and give back.”
Those words stuck with me, and it led me to work for non-profit supporting veterans with mental health issues after the Army. And ultimately, it’s what led me to Airbnb. Because here at Airbnb, I can serve and give back to the community and make a positive difference for others. I’ve been able to do this as an employee and as an Airbnb experience host.
If you feel you want to do more, first, I just want to encourage you and remind you you’re probably doing a lot already. So I hope everyone takes a moment to appreciate all you’ve done, all while taking care of yourself, your families, and adjusting to this new normal. And second, I want to encourage everyone and remind you that you don’t need a certain job title or profession during this time to serve and give back and make a difference. Just like I didn’t need to wear a uniform to serve all those years ago.
If you’re looking for some ways to get involved and give back, this article offers some ideas. Whether it’s checking in on friends, reaching out to text or call elderly relatives, making donations, or writing letters to hospitals, there are many small ways to get involved during this time. One friend I know started volunteering with Meals on Wheels and my brother-in-law organizes a family video call once or twice a week to keep us all connected and help lift spirits.
I’ll end things with a personal story. My dad taught my brothers and me a lot of things at an early age. And he also took us on a lot of adventures. Many of the most important life lessons I learned happened on these outings. I’ll never forget the first time my dad took us to go swimming out in the ocean. My brothers and I were all good swimmers in the pool, but we’d never ventured very far into the ocean to swim. We’d always stayed close to the beach and hadn’t gone out past the waves into the colder and deeper water. One day at the beach, my dad looked at us and said, “All right boys, we’re going to swim out a little way today.” I remember telling my dad I was afraid, and he looked at me and said, “Sometimes Andrew, you just have to face your fears head-on.”
“Follow me,” he said, and into the ocean we ran, towards the crashing waves. The water was cold, and the waves, which seemed huge to me at age 6, were intimidating for my brothers and me. There was a piece of driftwood about 30 meters off in the distance, and my Dad told us to swim with him out to it. As we started swimming, the wood began drifting further from us, and the waves made it difficult for my brothers and I to get there. Sensing our fear, my dad — swimming stroke for stroke with us — looked at us and said, “Don’t worry boys, you’re safe with me.” Moments later, we reached the driftwood and then swam safely back to the beach together. My dad just looked at us and smiled. And we all smiled back.
I’ve never forgotten that day, and it had a lasting impact on how I led during my time in the military and how I lead now in my family, in my community, and at work. As I reflect on that moment, I learned some important things that day from my dad. Leadership doesn’t require rank or titles — it’s about what you do to help others, and how you make people feel.
During these times of uncertainty, full of anxiety and fear and powerlessness, we all have opportunities to lead, whether in our families, in the community, or where we work. No matter who you are or what kind of work you do, let’s look at what we can do to help others, and what we can do to positively impact how people feel.
Stay healthy and strong everyone.
Previously Published on Medium