Giving by nature
Over the last few weeks a few people have been asking me why I am involved in Rotary and in the past I have had the same questions about the Cork Choral Festival and the Cork City Sports and any other organisation I have been part of. I find it a difficult question to answer and yet I know when I do become involved in something I have to give it everything I have got or it’s not worth being part of, so I guess the answer is deep-rooted somewhere in my value system.
I do believe I was born with the intent to make a difference on a large scale. Equally I was brought up to give back to society. I remember debates in school where most people came up with things that were important to them in the short term and me dreaming up concepts like world peace and large scale improvements that would affect communities. Even when I was a small child, I remember receiving comments on how I would come up with the strangest concepts towards the greater good of the community or whatever other cause took my interest at the time from suicide prevention to protecting the environment, etc. etc…
In my direct family my grand mother was a great campaigner in looking after people less fortunate, my dad was involved in a number of organisations for disabled and then sports events and really early on he got me little gigs as a volunteer to various sports events, which I always loved and enjoyed. So to be honest I personally believe that some of us are just giving creatures by nature, over time we learn to channel it into areas and things that are important to us.I have always been very aware that if all we do is focus on ourselves then we aren’t really living life for any purpose other than our own and whether it’s the dreamer or naieve person in me I believe we all have a higher purpose than that.
Personally I feel strongly that I was always destined to help others, how I could help keeps changing and evolving. Sometimes it is one at a time, sometimes more, but often I bring it back to the tale of the young person throwing starfish back into the ocean after they got stranded on the beach and someone commenting that he couldn’t save them all and he simply replied well it made a difference to that one. I would like to think that whatever I do will at least impact someone and ideally in the most positive way. If you think about it, even my business is focussed on helping others achieving more than they originally thought was possible.
A couple of themes do recur in the kind of causes I support these days, one is young people and the other is achievement whether this comes in terms of athletic or musical performance or simply learning new skills. I totally believe that if we give young people support and encouragement to achieve their best potential in whatever walk of life they choose, that we can make a big difference. That doesn’t mean this is not important for adults, considering it’s my core business to work with adults on achievement. I do find that young people may not necessarily receive the best options for a number of reasons often beyond their control, which can be family or geographical circumstances or disabilities etc, so creating more chances and teaching them that more is possible, I find worthy of giving my time and effort to often free of charge.
The best experiences I have had often involved doing things for other people without necessarily looking for the return favour, but just giving for the sake of making someone else’s life better even marginally so. I remember the day we helped build the school in Peru and then commited to keep helping the village with their building projects for a school, hospital and other sustainable local economy projects and all the men in the village insisting on coming to thank us one by one… that is something I will never forget.
The same when we take 24 students on our Rotary Youth Leadership Winners week to Belfast/Dublin and Strassbourg with the aim of making them understand the various complex political and cultural issues on the island of Ireland as well as the larger context of the European Union, we can see the students grow and create bonds for life as well as live an experience they won’t forget in a hurry and for some it shapes their study and career choices. The fun and feedback I receive in addition to all the time and sometimes not so nice bits of feedback in the preparation process are often forgotten at the end of a usually exhausting week purely because I get a kick out of seeing people move forward and grow.
The funny thing is though most people like the fun and glory moments, but will not stick around to see them because of all the work, often inter-personal challenges, political nightmares etc. I guess it is at this level that people question me, when I sometimes have my own downtime moment of ranting or venting about the latest mishap in whatever organisation. If I think about the original question, the real question is why do you stick around because I am pretty sure people do understand my previous point of the satisfaction of actually simply helping others grow in whatever shape or form and I could just as easily only do this for profit only.
Hmm… part of me is very duty driven and if I have given a commitment to someone or an organisation I find it hard to go back on a promise and let them down, so sometimes I stick around and see things through because I simply gave my word that I would do something. On occassion I also see it as an opportunity to grow myself and gain new skills, which is the case with my Rotary district role I guess even if I may not have taken it with this intent originally. When I was asked to step into a leadership role my first evaluation was very much around what is the core role and because it is all youth opportunities related that was an immediate fit. I may never have children but I am determined to make a difference to young people the world over, so that was about the only role that would really interest me. Then I looked at the person asking and whether I could trust them and get on with them and from what I knew that worked out fine.
Since then I gained a few things that I hadn’t really bargained for and that is diplomatic care, leadership decisions are not always popular and that sometimes you have to drive forward even if the team is kicking and screaming. The challenge has been to remain sane and calm at times and keep a bigger picture view as opposed to resorting to small time politics in large organisations.
So the challenge of making something work and to pull off a good event or a a minor stroke of lucky genius, is another factor. The hurdle jumping that happens often away from the public domain, which are the anecdotes of the future for example with the Cork City Sports a shotputter getting into my car for his journey to the next event, but with only an hour to go to his flight informing us his shotput was still at the track, which on the eve of the event finishing closes and yet thanks to some phoning around and a team pulling together having the guy boarded his flight with his shotput. Or for the Cork Choral Festival making a up a gift for the Lord Mayor whilst the choir is rehearsing for their performance and hence nobody looking badly and from the outside making it look as if it always was perfect. I get a kick out of these things too.
I hesitated when taking the district position with Rotary and nearly 9 months in I have to admit it has definitely not been easy and often I have questioned whether it is worthwhile to continue, but I have gained insight into myself that I didn’t believe I had in me and may actually consider other public facing leadership position with a little more ease and a lot less naive view of people in organisations especially highly traditional and hierarchical ones.
Big organisations often get criticised for being about photo opportunities and personal glory and I guess if you are highly critical and take away any background work it would even be easy to say that about me too. The only response I have to that is from card my granny sent me years and years ago when I first moved to Ireland ‘Sometimes you have to be wiser than the others and say nothing’. I know how much organisation and time it took to complete and get an event working and it always takes a lot of work behind the scenes. I do enjoy praise and thanks for a finished job, but that is usually not the driving force that got it started.
The people you meet and the friendships that are created out of being part of different networks are absolutely invaluable. I have some great friends around the world purely from giving back freely mainly of my time and skills. When times turned in business, some of the best friends stepped up out of organisations that I had given time and skills to, purely to stand by me or fight my corner because of the respect they had and some did just give me non-judgemental companionship without knowing that this was vital for me at the time.
To come back to the original question, I think at some level I am just a giving person by nature, over time I have narrowed down my causes and reasons for doing things and every year I do re-evaluate whether something is worth sticking with for the year to come. I am not sure whether everything I do is completely self-less nor does it need to be, I help people for my own living and I sometimes choose roles to grow and evolve my skills, but ultimately if it contains fun, young people, an element of adventure or challenge and achievement to some extent I will be interested.
This is a long and philosophical and even abit self-reflective answer to a simple question, but when it comes to values and beliefs I suppose there is no easy short answer. By all means share your own ideas as well as be respectful of mine and others.