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The Noah Principle: Why Predicting Rain Doesn’t Count but Building Arks Does

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Libbey Davis

Knowing whom to blame for the current issues facing America or how to predict impending doom and downfall doesn’t help anyone. This was the stance taken by Jim Hayes, former publisher of Fortune Magazine and former CEO of Junior Achievement, who recently spoke to the current class of El Pomar Fellows. He urged us to change the dialogue.

Hayes likes to talk about the Noah Awards—“No more prizes for predicting rain, prizes only awarded for building arks.” And he challenged our class, and our generation, to embrace that same mantra.

So often there is a desire to help, to give back, to be a part of something bigger than oneself. But the questions remain—What can we do? How can we help?

Hayes had some pointed advice for becoming part of the solution. Here are a few main takeaways:

1. Stay Hungry. Stay Fearless. The late Steve Jobs told Stanford’s graduating seniors in 2005 to “stay hungry” and “stay foolish,” a quote he read on the back cover of the 1974 Whole Earth Catalog. Hayes agreed with the first phrase. To stay hungry—continually reading more, learning more, seeking more—is extremely important. He changed the second phrase, however, stating that the important part of foolishness is actually fearlessness. The ability to dismiss inhibitions and the oftentimes crippling fear of failure will enable members of our generation to courageously tackle the immense problems of today.

2. Actively become part of an increasingly globalized world. Learn a language. Take a trip. Work or volunteer abroad. There are many available options to participate in the increasingly connected global community. The only bad option is doing nothing. Americans have been notoriously behind in learning other languages and about other cultures. We can no longer afford to ignore the rest of the world and expect them to come to us. Take responsibility for the world, and take responsibility for learning about it.

3. Never stop looking for your passion. The phrase “find your passion” can be a misnomer. It implies that passions are singular and discovered in a glorious moment of epiphany and then enjoyed for the rest of a person’s life. Hayes acknowledged that for many, the search for a passion takes a lifetime. And in reality, most people’s lives are an amalgamation of several passions. These facts, however, do not leave us off the hook for continuing the search. We stand to accomplish the most in our lives if we work at what we love and at what we do best—two trajectories that so often converge.

Hayes summed up his overarching message with a final quote—“It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s what you do with it.” Our generation is preparing itself to inherit the world, and it’s time that we started doing something about it.