There’s an awkward thing that every first-world person experiences when they enter a developing nation: the flurry of requests for money. I say awkward because almost everyone feels awkward when asked. Your heart wants to help, but your brain knows you can’t help everyone.

I felt the same pressure the first couple of times I experienced this solicitation. Wherever you turn, someone spots the white on your skin and immediately has a media-drawn picture of what white people are. They run up and say something like, “Hey give me fifty kwacha!” (Currency in Malawi, where my nonprofit Tricord Global is active.)

But we are only experiencing half of this encounter. A Malawian cultural trainer walked me through the other half. To us, it feels personal. Guilt and responsibility tumble around in our brains. The trainer taught me that these people aren’t putting their hopes and dreams in me—a weight that we naturally assume. Instead, they are constantly on the lookout for ways to raise their status in the world—ways to feed the family, start a business, buy a goat. They see us as opportunities. In their mindset, why not go for it? Worst case, they get rejected. But just maybe they get cash for some cooking oil and plastic wrap to start a self-sustaining business (see my blog from July 23).

When I realized this, I was amazed. This shameless, take-chances mindset is remarkable to someone raised in a culture of protocol. Here I was, learning something valuable and insightful from a people group the world largely dismisses: the impoverished. Here’s what I take away.

  • Be Bold: In everything you do, walk in confidence. Something these Malawians innately have is a belief in their self-worth. They need it on a deeper level than we do, fighting for life and food. This inspires their boldness to ask. Similarly, we can learn to overthrow the battering of cultural ideals and find boldness.
  • Jump at Every Opportunity: No matter who you are or where you live, we all have dreams. But sometimes we don’t jump at the opportunities life brings. If you have dreams of opening a restaurant and happen to meet a possible investor, jump! If the time never seems right, and you keep putting off going back to school, then jump! Next year you’ll be older and failure is just a bump in the road.
  • Bounce Back: Rejection is the same no matter what world you live in. I’ve experienced it over and over, and so will you. The man asking you for cash at the local market hasn’t put all his eggs in your basket. He has a plan and options. He’s looking for work or already working and when he walks away, he’s moved on to the next plan. Adopt this attitude and you will find peace in your life. It’s easy to soak in a pool of rejection and self-pity. Instead have your options open and keep moving.

What’s an opportunity you wished you had taken?