Giving back isn’t always about money

When I got into Mount Carmel College back in 2004 for its prestigious Communicative English course, I must admit I was in for some shocks. 

The first shock was to understand who’s pretentious and who’s not. The next was how to handle competitive classmates. 

But the final shock was two comments my HOD had made. She said:

  • The maximum salary you can earn as a journalist is Rs. 10,000.
  • You need a sugar daddy to survive in this industry. 

I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself because there was no one in my family from this background. I could only think of my middle-class Dad. If I told him this was how much I’d earn, he’d question why I left a chance to do medicine for this. 

I still remember my Pastor encouraging me when I told him what my HOD had said. He said, “God will bring you the best in Bangalore.” Today, as I work for the Fortune No. 1, I couldn’t agree more, but back then, I had no way of knowing what was going to happen. The fact that I got my big break at Forbes India is something I truly give glory to God, and the fact that I inherited a work ethic from the Bible, which talks of a spirit of excellence: when you work, you should work as if you’re working for God and not man. In India, a lot of that messaging gets translated to one saying: Work is worship. 

I’m not perfect, I have made mistakes along the way, but mistakes that have taught me life lessons, and these lessons are the ones I believe in sharing. 

The two comments from my HOD and my experience thereafter made me convinced I had to do one thing: speak to kids like me. Folks who had no “sugar daddys”, folks who had only two hands and hard work to show for themselves, and that’s why I’m a firm believer that giving back isn’t only about money. 

It’s about your time, your ability to share the mistakes that taught you in the hope that one person will take it and learn. It gives me great joy when some of my juniors come up to me and say my classes helped them. 

While I have done classes for my juniors in their post-graduation, I have also taken time out to mentor some under graduation college kids when I had free time. 

It’s great to impart life skills and teach your craft, but with the millennials, I think it’s important to be there for them. To listen, learn, and understand where they’re at, and help them navigate their path. 

In truth, we all need people who become our inner circle, professionally. There were moments where I was told that if I had a kid, the person who was my manager directly said, “I’ll stop talking to you”. I remember feeling really conflicted about having a child because all the women around me were doing great but didn’t have children. Those that did have children weren’t doing great in their careers – or at least that’s the picture I was being shown. 

Today, I’m grateful, I left that toxic environment, and eventually joined workplaces that believed work-life balance was not an excuse for crappy work, but work-life balance meant what it says: you do work, you have a life, and you learn to balance them both without feeling guilty. 

Here’s where conversations with seniors helped me greatly. There were not many, just two to three, who always told me you could do both. I’m grateful they took time out to mentor me when there were really challenging times. 

The truth is, to me, this kind of mentorship is “giving back”. I know to folks who have the money, it is great they’re giving it, but to folks who don’t have wealth, this is liquid gold you can give back: real mentorship. 

I salute the men and women who’ve been there for me in my career, and during my formative years when I did five internships before working. Without this circle of professionals, it would be impossible to be where I am today. I am forever grateful, God bless you’ll.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nilofer DSouza
A former business journalist with Forbes India, Nilofer D'Souza, has, over the years, worked with leaders across IT, healthcare, and retail in the corporate sector. For over a decade, having won various awards, she's learned to deep dive into an organization's culture and drive effective communications.

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