“Don’t wait for old age to start giving back to society and thinking about social impact, start early, start now.” These simple words dressed in a sense of urgency were shared with me by my loving uncle, an octogenarian affluent in wisdom and a renowned surgeon who recently passed away. Gauging from the large turnout at his funeral and outpouring of emotion and respect including series of reminiscent anecdotes shared by dozens of attendees, it was evident a person of unique substance and greatness was with us no more.
What made him unique and great was not just that he lived past the average life expectancy but how he chose to live. Solely based on my interactions with him, especially over the last 3 years, I found him to be in relentless pursuit of service to others in his community, in every way as a doctor, teacher, family man and a standup citizen. This was his choice. He spent a large chunk of his retired life (25+ years) teaching students and treating patients for free and evangelized “giving” beyond just money and material. He did not come across as particularly religious in the strictest sense of the word, but as I interacted with him at a deeper level, I realized he was profoundly spiritual and a human being living beyond ethnic divides, religious doctrine, socioeconomic status and anything else that may prove to be a tool for divisiveness.
I have always been terribly impressed by people who can manage to live in such a state of balance between being deeply rooted in the real world while still being able to filter it out and stay connected with a higher cause — I suppose a definition of greatness. So when he urged me to start early he essentially asked me to immediately commit to a lifestyle that honored social service rather than being at the mercy of retirement years to initiate. I believe I was ready to absorb his guidance because I had recently gone through a series of life’s violent ups and downs, which in turn had largely exhausted my ego. This perhaps opened the door ever so slightly for some sage advice to reach me.
So couple of years back, as I was in my late 30s (now 40), I started carving out some time from my management consulting business and began teaching business courses at universities at a very nominal hourly rate. I also started conducting free seminars targeted at youth entailing topics such as entrepreneurship, personal development, skills acquisition, etc. Furthermore I also incorporated a weekly free mentorship window where anyone would be able to connect with me for professional and personal advice. What started as an experiment in giving and social service of sorts then turned into routine and now in its second year, a personal mandate.
Here is why the experiment turned into a personal mandate.
Capturing high potential developing minds in a classroom for 3 hours at a time and witnessing their development in real-time was immensely rewarding — felt like evolution at its finest and an experience that is still hard for me to eloquently express in words.
Having a subset of these students chase me into the parking lot for more in-depth and brainstorming discussions was an even more elevating experience — reaffirmation of an undeniable connection that spills from the classroom into real-world applications and discussions around life in general.
Watching nodding heads and raised hands eager to fire away pressing questions during motivational seminars ranging from a 5-student audience to more than 500, fueled my own motivation to keep evangelizing — as if my words actually mattered to someone and slightly shifted the tectonic plates of their hardened belief system including lack of self-belief.
Mentoring students and professionals on raw business ideas or helping them evaluate their “value proposition” to the world, would push me harder for higher quality feedback that would pass the relevant market test — a sense of ownership of the mentee’s future and a feeling of being a shareholder in “Your, Inc.”
By giving and being involved in the community in the above way, in my own small way, I have not only found disproportionately more gratitude in life and peace of mind but also made fantastic connections with people having tremendously inspiring backstories with similar life journeys. It has been a win-win and I have undoubtedly had a better life for having taken in the wisdom.
If I can promise you anything, its that by positively contributing to your community, by doing and not just talking about doing, by giving time and effort in addition to money, by actively listening to those who find your sincere ear, you will guarantee wellness in your life. It is abstract but highly potent. If you are struggling in life like most of us at some level, instead of seeking what you can get, just try seeking what you may give! This is counter-intuitive and to many may sound counterproductive but the real magic happens when wave upon wave of positive energy washes over you. You need this! Giving, even in its smallest form, has a mysterious way of giving up the large negatives in your life so you may bathe in the positive.
Greatness is relative. As I always tell those around me, a smile may lift a soul and a dollar may fill a bowl — sometimes small gestures may have greatness hidden in them. So don’t wait to be of service and unleash your greatness.