On Giving

Photo by J

I was an active member of a club during my time in university.

The club had been established for many years (probably even before I was born), and there was a tradition where the past alumni and seniors would come back to coach juniors.

That tradition touched me emotionally, as the alumni don't really gain anything in response from their coaching, and I appreciate their time and good will.

Until the time came when I had to coach juniors as a senior.

The juniors love to do things their way, while I was trying to coach them to do things the way I was taught. Apparently, from their eyes I was just being a controlling senior and insisting on do things the old way.

I felt unappreciated and miserable and sometimes even angry, to the point where my relationship with the juniors became tense.

After some time, I just gave up going to the club.


In retrospect, I was quite immature.

Everytime I was challenged on my suggestions, I liked to justify with "that's the tradition of our club" and often used the phrase "we must continue to do this for the community".

Funny thing is, who was the community I was referring to?

Was it the juniors I had been coaching? No, they obviously dislike what I asked them to do.

Was it the seniors and alumni like myself? No, the seniors were technically "retired" from the club, and how well the club does would not impact them.

Was it the future juniors? For them they don't really care about the club at all.

I don't really have good answers for those questions, and my frustrations with my juniors was just a manifestation of my confusions on those questions.


So what's the takeaway from this bitter experience?

If this is a self-help book, it would be "find the purpose".

But I'm not a self-help author.

My takeaway is don't do things for an imaginative group of people if you can't find a real person that you know who represents that group.

More importantly, never do things just because you want to help someone. For that purpose to be fulfilled, you need two things to happen:

  1. the thing that you're doing will help them significantly, which presumes you have the expertise
  2. the people whom you help would recognize your efforts and express their gratitude to you

Both things are out of your control.

Instead, do the thing that you enjoy doing just for its own sake. Helping people and getting appreciated for it is just a bonus.

As cliche as it sounds, look after yourself first.

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