I strongly believe that it’s important to give back when you have success. Now, I don’t mean give to charity - if you give to charity, you are likely giving a large chunk of your money towards the salaries of administrators rather than to the cause itself. Instead, I mean that you should give back directly to the people and things most important to you – in other words, the friends and family and institutions who have supported you and made it possible for you to succeed.
For example, in my family, whenever someone has a promotion or a new job, it is traditional for that person to take everyone out for a nice brunch or dinner. It’s great fun to head out and splurge! It is a way of showing appreciation and sharing your success with the people who are important to you. A lot of my success is thanks to the hard work of my parents when I was younger, and it makes me feel great to share my success with them now. I also make an effort of picking up things that I think they might enjoy – a nice loaf of bread from the farmers market or perhaps a new dish from the restaurants they like. It might be dinners out, it might be help selling things on Craigslist - whatever. I contrast that to some people I know who take their success and hold it close to them. I have family back east who are perpetually unwilling to help other relatives out – they go as far as to disdain and mock relatives who are not as well off. As a result, they are isolated from their own family and people tend to avoid them. But hey – you get what you give. My cousin of the same age is still unemployed – I know lots of people who might employ her, but there is no way in hell that I would consider helping them out.
As another example, I think it’s important to share opportunities. In the last year and a bit, I’ve introduced four people to job opportunities – all four are still working in those positions. I love being able to connect people with jobs because it’s a way of translating my success into more success. If my connections enable me to help other people find success, I need to make those connections – it’s the right thing to do. Later on, you might be the one on the receiving end of a job tip or opportunity! I got my first paid writing gig through a tip from a co-worker.
Think about how this is different from simply giving money to a charity. In the case of charity, you are handing over money and closing your eyes to what actually happens to that money. It is not an interaction, it is a transfer of responsibility: “Here’s my money, do something good with it”. Something good might come out of that money, but your connection to it is indirect. Now think about the case of celebrating successes with family or connecting people to jobs. Here, you are doing something interactive. You’re making connections to people and making a direct impact on people. That’s something worthwhile.
Now, if it were the case that I felt a strong connection to an institution or cause – then I would support it directly. Not with money, but with my time, commitment and passion. For example, I’ve volunteered in the past to facilitate educational outreach initiatives. Why? Because it’s important to me. I remember how as a student, outreach events often inspired me to do more or to do better. If I can give back to help others achieve the same success, then I should. Or suppose you were passionate about homelessness – always a big topic in Vancouver. Do you rage indignantly at political parties and donate money to advocacy groups? Or have you actually tried speaking with homeless people, connecting with them, and perhaps offering them small opportunities? My old dollar store manager did – he “employed” a homeless man to clean the store windows once a week. That guy faithfully appeared each and every week to clean our windows – a better effort than some of my former co-workers. I would argue that giving one homeless man a purpose and a job is more important than an infinite number of rallies and social media campaigns.
The point is – when we have success, we have the ability and the obligation to return some of that success back to the people and things that have supported us. By helping other people find success, we build the social connections that are just so important to friendships, families and communities. It’s different for each person. Some might find value in giving back to their families and friends while others might feel motivated to give back to their communities. But I really believe it’s important to give genuinely and freely. Don’t give to the “colleagues” who backstabbed you at work or the “friends” who used you or the “family” that was never there for you. But do give back to the people and institutions that you have always been able to count on.
Liking a status on Facebook, writing a cheque or dropping a few coins into a jar is easy. Giving your time and your effort to actually interact with people is harder, but ultimately, more rewarding.