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The Lucky People Who Give Back: Life’s most important lesson for graduates

By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

“To those whom much is given, much is expected.” It’s a common theme that you may have read in the Bible or the famous John F. Kennedy speech, or quite possibly heard it in a commencement address. I heard it most recently in the Chief of Navy Chaplains, Captain Johnny W. Poole’s remarks to my nephew’s graduating class at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. It could easily be life’s most important lesson.

My son John also just graduated—into middle school from the 5th grade. These days kids start graduating from kindergarten and keep graduating every few years, marking their achievements along the way.

Since being present at these two graduation events I’ve been thinking a great deal about what meaning we can take from these experiences. As John progresses through our educational system, which is mostly about individual possibilities and accomplishments (and maybe necessarily so), I’ve decided my mission will be to make sure that he also learns how to give back. It’s the best gift I can give him, and that he can re-gift to the world.

It won’t be hard for my nephew to apply the principle of giving back because he’s graduating into a career of service, maybe even giving his life for our country. Most of the rest of us, though, pay attention to graduation messages and then tuck them safely away in the back of our minds. Along with the messages, we lose the inspiration and the commitment to act.

We need to devote top-of-mind awareness to the important graduation messages we hear, just like we do in top-of-mind brand marketing. When we’re aware of a particular brand, we seek it out and buy it. Imagine if that kind of action could be applied to life principles like giving back? How much better would the world be if those who can do it consistently give back, simply because it’s top of mind?

Many of us think of giving in terms of philanthropic donations or volunteer work, which are certainly important aspects of it. Giving back applies in other situations as well, including the workplace. Treating coworkers and clients with respect, kindness and understanding create more satisfying and productive work environments and relationships. And yet not many people describe their workplace as kind, or say they get even a brief thank you for going above and beyond.

Giving back, even in seemingly small ways, is so satisfying that we benefit personally as much or even more than the people we give back to. Giving back is good for your soul, your health and your career.

Most of us are lucky enough to fall into a certain category of people: those who have a responsibility to give back in order to create a better world. What does giving back look like in your life, in your work? And what long ago graduation messages should you resurrect and apply to your life?

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a unique recruitment firm that helps companies find exceptional talent to accelerate their growth. TalenTrust LLC is located in Golden, CO. Kathleen  recently completed a two-year term as president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at or 303-838-3334 x5.

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