You may have heard that there is no such thing as a free lunch. This is untrue on every level, and also a terrible lie.
Over and over throughout our short lives, all of us have been given something for nothing. We don’t deserve free lunch, yet it continues to arrive on a regular basis.
No charge, ma’am. This one’s on me, sir.
Those of us who are proud don’t like the idea of free lunch. “I pay my own way, you see.” But not so fast. We haven’t always paid our own way.
Think back—think way back, if necessary, to a time when someone gave you something you didn’t deserve. Was that fair? No. Were you in a position to refuse? No.
Life’s not fair! Of course it’s not. Most of the time, we don’t get what we deserve.
Free lunch first arrives through random acts of birth.
In my case, I could have been born in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Sierra Leone is a beautiful country, but I’m glad I was born in Virginia instead. In Sierra Leone, almost 20% of children die before the age of five.
Assuming I made it past my fifth birthday, the next big obstacle would be education. True, I dropped out of high school in the U.S. and never did learn algebra, but somehow I managed to hack my way through several college degrees. In Sierra Leone, my struggle would be going to elementary school, learning to read, and not being forced into an army of child soldiers.
Of course, if I had been born a girl instead of a boy, the odds would have been all the more daunting, and the obstacles even more severe. The point is: free lunch first came my way in the biological lottery, and I was born a boy in Virginia instead of a girl in Freetown.
Free lunch then extends beyond mere demographics.
I think back to people I knew years ago. We all had dreams of change and adventure, but many of them remain stuck, still living the same life and doing the same things they always did.
Are they bad people? I don’t think so. Could they have made different choices to avoid getting stuck? Sure, of course. I’m proud of the choices I’ve made that have led me to where I am now.
But I also know there’s more to it. In addition to the good choices, I’ve also made plenty of other choices I’m not so proud of. How do those choices factor in? How come I’m not living a life set in motion by the bad decisions I’ve made?
I enjoy stories about individuals overcoming adversity, “rising above it all,” going on to “win against the odds.” I value self-reliance; I believe in the relentless pursuit of a big dream.
But we have also been fortunate, many times over, through chance and the generosity of others. Sometimes, things come along at just the right moment to create a major change for the better. Do we deserve such a sudden appearance of fortuitousness? Probably not, but there it is. Free lunch.
My contention is that everyone who reads this blog has been given many free lunches, many times over. You and I have stood at the counter with our money in hand, only to have it turned away with a smile.
We’ve been taken inside the restaurant by someone who gave us something we didn’t deserve.
We jumped the queue and violated all the norms of justice—”It’s not fair! Look at everyone else who has to pay!”
We live in an age of few limits, with countless opportunities to become who we really are instead of following a set path dictated by others. We can craft the life of our dreams, we can live without borders, we can choose from more options than ever before in history.
These facts deserve frequent reflection, and better yet, they deserve acting upon.
And what does this world of opportunity require of us?
In short, we must live differently.
This choice, made continuously—to drop keys instead of building cages, to freely give and freely receive. The choice is deceptively simple: anyone can make it at any time.
Yet it is difficult because it requires a change of mindset from the prevailing norms. You don’t join the Free Lunch Movement by liking it on Facebook or posting a badge on your blog. There is no membership card or application process.
Instead, you must choose to show compassion.
Note that you do not need to choose compassion over ambition—most people who have changed the world have been fairly ambitious.
But you must look around you, aware of all the free lunches you’ve been given along the way, determined to pay them back in the form of free lunch dividends to other people.
You could even make this the focus of your whole existence. What should I do with my life? many of us wonder.
Here’s one answer: you can give out free lunch.
You don’t need a mentor or anyone else to tell you how to do this. If you think about it, you already know people who need your help. You know things you can do. (If not, start paying attention… it won’t take long.)
Free lunch, everyone! There really is such a thing. Are you in?
I hope to see you at the lunch counter.