While this column often tries to emphasize the importance of charitable work not only to help your community but your career as a young professional, this week I want to talk about the value of anonymity. I learned this important lesson from my mother. When I was growing up she would always pay twice as much for me to attend every school field trip. When I was old enough to ask her about it, she explained that sometimes there are children whose families cannot afford the cost of the field trip and she didn’t want those children to be excluded. She never asked who it was used for, and didn’t seem to have another child in mind, but she didn’t want that child or family to have to ask someone else for help, she just wanted it to be available for them.
We live in a time now where people’s financial situation is often not what it seems. Young professionals are often saddled with debt, especially if they did not have parents who could support them through expensive graduate schools. People who are well educated and accomplished can often struggle with financial insecurity to the extent that writing that $25 check for a field trip or even nominal expenses requested from co-workers could put them in an uncomfortable financial position. They face a complicated situation because most people assume that is not the case. They assume that people with certain jobs and levels of education are financially stable. This makes it harder for people in need to come forward and ask for help.
There is something profoundly important about anonymous help. It allows a person who is struggling to receive assistance without the burden of indebtedness. It also forces you to really think about what someone might need without them having to ask. It forces you to contemplate your actions in a professional setting, understanding what is and isn’t fair to ask of your colleagues. Consider a contribution of “whatever you can afford” rather than a set amount for office celebrations or an affordable lunch location if it is going to be an event where attendance is expected. Think about contributing a little more to the retirement gift or baby shower in case someone has to contribute a little less.
Our generation of young professionals has unique financial challenges and would benefit immensely from an effort to look out for one another without being asked. My mother is all the things I aspire to be as a professional who gives back to her community through board participation, charitable contributions and service. However, I think her anonymous efforts are where she has truly helped me to be a better person. Through thinking about people that haven’t even asked for help, hopefully more of us will quietly, yet powerfully, look out for each other.