More By This Author

Current Issue

Current Issue

Posted: July 27, 2012

The lucky people who give back

Life’s most important lesson for graduates

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 Golden-based TalenTrust, a Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) firm that helps companies accelerate their growth by hiring exceptional talent. Kathleen is president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at or 303-838-3334 x5.


Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

In the 1980's I was a senior executive working for one of the finest people in Denver - Bill Daniels. Here was a person who really knew how to give back. In fact even now, many years after his passing, many Coloradans still benefit from his beneficence via The Daniels Fund: He taught me many lessons and I hope I can be 1/10th as good as him. Bob By Bob Block on 2012 07 30
If you haven't make sure you read the Michael Lewis speech to the Princeton Graduates 2012 ! By Randy Robertson on 2012 07 27
There is no greater satisfaction than giving. It gives us a glimpse from God's viewpoint. Thank you Kathleen for raising the issue. By David Hardy on 2012 07 27
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

ColoradoBiz TV

Loading the player ...

Featured Video