A bunch of thoughts on non-profits, pride, and paying it forward

I purposely don’t talk too much about my job/career here. Working in accounting/finance/consulting, there’s a huge disparity between the very numbers-driven, quantitative aspects of my day job and my passions outside of work. There’s a certain element of protection in keeping my real-world job off this virtual-world web space…it’s nice to be private about things like what I do to earn my paychecks.

That said, it’s hard sometimes to know that what I’ve chosen to do for a living isn’t my passion. Don’t get me wrong, I am damn good at my job and have the title, resume and responsibility that reflects that. If a bystander were to ask me, however, who I am and what I’m about as a person, I would never say “Accounting, finance and operational consulting.” It’s what I do to enable me to enjoy the arts, the travel, the life I lead outside the office. Contrast that with, for example, my sister Emily, who has managed to translate her creative and artistic gift into a job that is truly a perfect reflection of who she is…a job that she’s excited to go to every day and fits completely with who she is as a person. Her career is a vocation – mine is, simply put, a job. A job that, frankly, I’ve been feeling pretty blah about lately.

What, then, is my vocation? Do I have one? Am I selling myself short in the name of stability and income? Am I selling out doing something I’m good at but don’t get fired up doing every day? Moreover, how do I gain that sense of having a vocation in my workday?

Even before I entered the workplace, I’ve had an intrinsic need to be involved in community service. I am self-aware enough to know that I have led a life of inimitable privilege. I’ve been surrounded with family, friends, teachers, and community mentors who believed in me, enough intelligence and ambition to take advantage of that support, and combinations of situational opportunity that have positioned me to succeed from an early age. Along the way, however, I’ve been endowed with the knowledge that not everyone is in the same boat, and have come to believe that the best way to show appreciation for all I’ve been given is to pay it forward.

From the point when I started at EY up through my current role at my company, I’ve done my best to use my professional career as a jumping-off point for philanthropic roles. At my current company, I was asked to take on a leadership role on their employee giving campaign before I had even experienced one. I’m now in my third year as, effectively, second-in-command on the campaign, and have seen campus participation and pledges skyrocket by over 25% in those three years. I additionally have a spot partnering with our company’s foundation, a huge honor and privilege this early in my career. Through that engagement, I’ve gained a seat on the board of the St. Paul Public Schools’ Academy of Finance, helping administer and support a business-focused curriculum for over 300 high-schoolers in the St. Paul school system. I worked with our EDGE intern program all summer, which provides scholarships and internship experience for college students from a traditionally disadvantaged background. Finally, I’ve been serving as the United Way’s Young Ambassador representative this year, working more closely than ever with an organization I love and respect deeply. Long story short, I’ve managed to build a robust and thriving portfolio of community engagement opportunities into my workdays, and it’s paying off in spades.

Yesterday my company kicked off our employee giving campaign with a new event for campus leadership, bringing more than 250 executives together for an hour-long presentation on this year’s campaign goals. We brought in Sarah Caruso, the CEO of the Greater Twin Cities United Way, along with a few venerated leaders from within our company, to speak on why giving matters and how we can give most efficaciously. I put in weeks of work behind the scenes with our committee to help make it happen, including hours outside the workday, and seeing it come together truly flawlessly was gratifying beyond measure.

We’re also working on an event for our Academy of Finance kids onsite at my company, to bring them together and run sessions on interview preparedness, professional resumes and cover letters, and email etiquette, which will take place in October. I’ve been able to connect executives within my company with the teachers at the schools involved, and am so excited to see the event unfold. Additionally, I facilitated a major donation of the furniture left over from our recent building move to one of our partner schools – a coup that will enable the refurbishment of multiple classrooms at the school.

All of this sounds really braggy, and I’m gagging on it a little bit because I’m not (always) one to talk my professional achievements up. But I’m really, really proud of what I’ve done in the last few weeks. It’s been hard to keep this all in perspective when I’ve been running around like an insane person, never really able to see the forest for the trees, and feeling like I’m burning everyend of every candle I’ve got without anyone really noticing or caring. A little positive feedback goes a long way, though, and I’ve gotten that payback in spades from people I respect deeply in the last couple days.

Bringing it all home…as part of our session with leadership yesterday, each member of our employee giving committee had to pick three words that summed up why he or she cared about volunteering. Many committee members have personal stories of impact gained over their lives, or of situations in which they’ve received a helping hand. I had a really hard time thinking of something equivalent in a life that has contained very little hardship, but ultimately came back to “paying it forward.” I’m immensely gratified and galvanized by the way I’ve been able to pay my own good fortune forward through philanthropy, and look forward to being able to continue to grow that involvement as I go forward in my career. So there you have it, I guess…a long, meandering essay about why, although crunching numbers may be my job, I still feel like I’ve somehow found a vocation in the corporate world.