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Pick Yourself


We grew up in a world where being chosen mattered (as in picked to go to Tufts, picked to get your first job, picked to be promoted). We are rapidly entering a world, though, where the only thing that matters is picking yourself. If you want to write, write. If you want to sing, sing. If you want to publish yourself, start a movement, make a ruckus, go right ahead—the Internet is your microphone, and it rewards those who decide to do something about it, whatever “it” is.

I had an opportunity to reflect on that late last year, when a former summer intern of mine, Amit Gupta, was diagnosed with leukemia. Less than a week after he got the news, feeling few symptoms, he was in a hospital in New Haven. If it could happen to him, an intelligent, healthy thirty-year-old entrepreneur, it could happen to anyone. Fortunately, leukemia is now treatable, even curable, with aggressive therapy. The problem Amit faced in the hospital was this: he needed a bone marrow transfusion from someone whose DNA was a match for his. The National Marrow Donor Program lists millions of people, but that’s only a tiny fraction of the people in the country with healthy marrow. Worse, Amit is of South Asian descent, making the likelihood of a match even more remote—people from the subcontinent are underrepresented in a database that’s already too small.

The digital world changes things. A decade ago, a match for Amit would have been a needle in a haystack. Today, there’s no technical reason why we can’t efficiently scan the DNA of every single person in the country, or on the planet for that matter, and find somebody whose DNA is a match.

Now, my question: even though hundreds of millions of people have heard of this program, have access to marrow.org, where they can sign up at no cost, and have the ability to swab their cheek with a Q-tip (which is all it takes to register), why have less than four percent of the people who are eligible signed up? Why haven’t you?

Donating marrow has no long-term impact on your health. It’s free. And you get a very direct sense of having done something that will change someone’s life. First, though, you must overcome the fear, inertia, busy-ness, uncertainty, and fear (fear is worth mentioning twice) that we as humans face. (And I’m not making a pitch about marrow in particular—I’m arguing about taking personal action, period.)

Here’s one way to think about it: somewhere, there might be someone out there—perhaps a twelve-year-old girl—who will die unless she gets a transfusion, and you (as in you, the person reading this right now) are the only match in the world. Would you want to know?

I would. I couldn’t sleep at night if I thought that there was a person I was a match for and they couldn’t find me.

I think it would be fabulous if every single visit to the hospital, even the day you’re born, led to DNA swabbing to fill out the National Marrow Donor Program’s registry (and if you want to be allowed to opt out, I’d settle for that). Until this happens, though, the registry at marrow.org is one more example of the impact we can make in the world if we’re just willing to choose action. It’s not given; we have to take it.

The secret of the Internet—the unheralded agent of change that will transform everything you do, from now on, forever—is simple: you can pick yourself. But you have to take advantage of that ability. You have to do something. That’s pretty much all that matters—not whether you blog or tweet or post anything on Facebook. All that really matters is what you do.

P.S. Against all odds and as the direct result of the action of tens of thousands of people online, Amit found a donor in early January.

SETH GODIN, E82, is a popular blogger and the author of many bestselling books, including Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable and All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. He is also the founder of Squidoo.com, one of the largest independent websites in the United States.

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