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The One Question That Fuels My Approach to Life: What Can I Do For You

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Through my three battles with cancer, I can’t even count how many times I received this question. And with three young children at home, what was I going to say? “Sure. Can you make sure my kids get fed? Can you do a load of laundry for me?”

I was blessed to have such giving, selfless people in my life, but the truth was that my priorities had changed. Cooking, cleaning and chores like them weren’t at the top of my to-do list anymore; I was in survival mode. So when people asked what they could do for me, I usually responded with, “I don’t know.”

One of the human spirit’s most enduring traits is a desire to be useful during times of crisis. The people around me needed to do something, and so did I. Even as I fought to maintain my own health, finding even the smallest way to help someone in need filled me with strength and purpose.

I want every step I take and every move I make to count, for myself and others who are in need. That mantra informs everything I do, be it personal or professional, and is all a product of receiving the kindness I didn’t know I needed when I needed it most.

Putting gratitude into all we do.

It amazes me, the strength we gain from the smallest things. During one of my cancer stints, I bought my then-husband glass-blowing lessons for his birthday, and one night, he brought home a votive he’d made.

After I dropped a tea light inside, the combination of light and color draped me in this feeling of warmth and comfort that I’d never experienced before or even realized I wanted. And I immediately knew I wanted to give others the same solace I felt at that time.

That was the impetus for glassybaby, where we sell glass votives and drinking glasses. We made these pieces in specific colors and attached origin stories to them to help buyers feel more connected with the glass vessels and with our story. While we hope to recreate that same feeling I felt the first time I dropped that light in, we don’t want the glow to end there.

Ten percent of our pretax revenue goes to charitable organizations focused on healing people, the planet and animals. Before we had any kind of business objective, we had the simple desire to help people, to give them comfort. That’s how sustainable giving has worked so well in our company. It’s not an add-on; it’s 100 percent part of our mission, our core and our bottom line. It’s the embodiment of success to me.

When giving actions come from everyday personal interactions rather than some sense of obligation, they can become authentic gestures that transcend the professional, personal and recreational silos we put up in our lives. We compartmentalize our lives so rigorously, but if we take down some of those walls, that’s where we find the opportunities to reach out and help — because it’s the things we care about that inspire the most passion.

Building generosity into those passions is the best way to ensure we’re giving to worthwhile causes. I didn’t come from a traditional business background. Instead, my vision for glassybaby was inspired by my time in the chemo room. It gave me an insight into what people needed and wanted during that critical time. I came to understand their unique problems — the mother who missed a chemo session because she couldn’t find childcare, the woman who was late because she couldn’t afford the bus.

Once we start understanding the problems and basic needs around us, we’ll be able to put that insight into your business plans and personal endeavors. Let our own personal structure and value sets organically tie to people’s needs, and a model of sustainable giving will follow.

“What can I do for you?” is one of the most fundamental human questions in times of need and has helped mold my personal and professional life approaches. Where will it take you?

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Lee Rhodes founded glassybaby in 2001 after a chance meeting between a tealight and a hand-blown glass vessel during her seven-year bout with cancer. Rhodes developed the idea for glassybaby’s one-of-a-kind votives and drinkers with the core mission of helping cancer patients she met during treatment afford basic needs such as bus fare, childcare, or groceries. Ten percent of the company’s entire revenue goes toward a charitable organization; to date, glassybaby has donated more than $7 million to 350-plus nonprofits since opening its doors.

          
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