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Shoe Prints in the Snow
Reflections on Giving
Sara, a tiny Indian woman around 70 years old, wrapped in a black saree, is escorted by her son to the podium at my aunt’s funeral. She shared a story with all of us.
Back in the 1980’s, after a blizzard had hit Detroit, my aunt and Sara embarked on their walk to work.
There’s no such thing as a snow day in Michigan, particularly for two nurses who were needed at the hospital.
Sara already had quite a journey while immigrating to the United States from India. Initially, she landed alone in New York. She wrote a letter to my aunt expressing her fears and challenges on the East Coast. My aunt insisted Sara move to Michigan.
Sara moved and my aunt found Sara a job at her hospital.
This was Sara’s first winter in Detroit and her first snowstorm. Her single pair of shoes were inadequate for the piles of snow.
My aunt hatched a plan.
“Follow me, walk in my footsteps.”
My aunt walked in front of Sara, leaving snowy shoe prints behind her.
Sara stepped into each one, saving her feet from freezing in snow soaked shoes.
Off they went, one pair of snowy shoe prints marking a trail to the hospital.
Sara dabbed a tissue to her teary brown eyes three decades later, reflecting on the impact my aunt’s generosity had on her and her family those first few years in Detroit.
Reflecting on Giving
I’ve been reflecting on this story as I notice a shift in my own attitude towards giving.
I’ll never be as kind as my aunt, who is arguably a saint. Maybe though, like the curls in my hair or the dangerous love of sugar, I’ve also inherited some of this generous spirit from my dad’s side.
I first noticed a shift in myself when I left my last sales job. I was committed to avoiding the corporate world for a year and was hesitant to exchange my time for money. However, I never minded helping a friend.
One of my good friends from college launched his own recycling startup, and asked if he and his cofounder could pick my brain about sales.
I was happy to help out and met with them a handful of times as they pursued their first client.
Another friend working at a small cybersecurity startup asked for my advice when he was trying to figure out how to find clients for his company's new product.
We chatted a couple times and I showed him how I would approach reaching out to potential clients.
As a thank you, he sent me a cheese box.
Because I was technically unemployed, well intentioned friends and family members suggested I charge my friends or start some kind of sales consulting business.
Surprisingly though, I felt more joy in giving without the expectation of getting paid. An added benefit, I could keep sharpening my sales skills during my time off.
I’m not against making money though.
Looking back, I see I needed to deprogram myself from the world of manufactured reciprocity that existed at my last job.
Giving in Sales
The company I worked for was known for being strategic. In terms of sales strategy, it was a great learning experience.
However, my manager would encourage every “kind” act that helped me attain my quota but would push back if I spent too much time helping a client with a small budget.
I get it. My time is limited and sales organizations are driven by how much money they can bring in every quarter. It makes sense to prioritize big opportunities over smaller ones.
Then COVID hit and shut down businesses all over the world. My biggest clients were software companies who supported retail and restaurants. Overnight, their own profits were eviscerated.
As a result, I was putting in requests to extend contracts and unpaid invoices that had to be approved by the CFO. Empathetic, I was happy to support my clients during a hard time.
I also felt the tension between helping them and hurting myself.
When I left my job and took some time off, I didn’t mind leaving this world behind. I started to appreciate the joys of giving with no expectation.
Helping my friends with parts of their businesses, simply because I wanted to, felt amazing in comparison.
Giving as a Creator
As I explored new interests like writing, I’ve been pleased to see how kind and supportive the creator community is. There seems to be a culture of genuine giving and reciprocity.
I stumbled upon this accidentally. In Write of Passage, my writing class, I was excited to be a part of a community with so many cool, interesting people. As I got comfortable, I left feedback on as many essays as I could, tried to subscribe to all my new friend’s newsletters and unabashedly liked every article and tweet that caught my eye.
I can be a bit enthusiastic and a few times I wondered if I was doing too much. I’d been offline for a while and didn’t know the etiquette of the internet.
As the weeks went by though, I realized the little things do mean even more than I realize.
Someone remembered that I was their first newsletter subscriber. A few people told me how much they appreciated my feedback. My overzealous twitter likes and comments turned into private DMs and budding friendships.
The beautiful part though, is that the creator community also has a generous spirit.
So many people sent me sweet messages about essays I wrote, encouraging me when I doubted myself. Others one step ahead of me reached out to offer their own advice and expertise. Even this essay is the product of so many people taking the time to read it and shape it into something worthwhile.
The reciprocity in this environment never feels manufactured to me.
There’s something beautiful about giving without expectation, and realizing everyone else is too.
We’re all creating our own snowy shoe prints for others to follow.
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