Why Wait for Retirement to Give Back?

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
— Theodore Roosevelt

My last semester of college, in 2010, I was lucky to have a paid internship secured before I even graduated. I knew there was a chance at getting a salaried position with this company after a successful website rebuild project. When the offer came I happily accepted, as would have any 22 year old right out of college. I was lucky. The 2008 recession left most graduates jobless with mounds of student debt.

Heather (far right) graduation day from JMU

Heather (far right) graduation day from JMU

I was content with the reliable paychecks for a few years, but the actual work I was doing started to drag. Business analysis and user experience architecture for a Navy software project. It was a mission critical system, but my heart wasn’t really in it after two and a half years. There was no creativity or freedom in the work. Only an endless list of government mandated requirements for the product.

A craving to do good

Beyond that I didn’t feel as though the money I was earning was coming from a place of good. My personal values conflicted with the work I was doing, and I really wanted to see the fruit of my efforts. I yearned to be using my time, and earning my money, wisely and for good. To alleviate this cognitive dissonance I started to volunteer for an afterschool program where I helped kids learn about coding and web design. It was a fantastic semester-long volunteering experience, and it left me craving more.

After moving to a new city, and volunteering with various non-profits focused on social and environmental causes, I knew I needed a change. Much of what I was doing with these groups applied the skill set I built throughout college and my current job. After quite a lot of encouragement, and some coaching, I made the leap to start my freelance consulting business and call it a wrap on the nine-to-five life.

The traditional giving back model

So many of my peers, and young people coming out of college today, follow the old pattern of work, save, retire and then give back generously to society. Maybe a little here or there in the years between, but by far it is the older, retired population that gives back most generously with their time and money.

I hope to see this model change, and I think there is a slowly growing movement of altruistic minded entrepreneurs. Other young people who think like me, and want to give back their time, rather than take their time to giving back.

A choice to give back now

I made a decision to do work where I can see the benefits I’m providing to improve the lives of others. That helps me rest assured my money is coming from good. The rest of the time I can do meaningful nonprofit work that I love and can see the positive outcome without worrying about the money. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to give back as I go along, but it’s also a conscious choice I made.

I don’t have a fancy car or a nice house. Heck, I don’t even have a house. I live a nomadic life, which allows me to travel and see the world, and still do good things wherever I go. From organizing a vegetarian festival in Charlottesville, Virginia to coordinating marketing and promotion for an education nonprofit in Granada, Nicaragua, it’s important for me to help others.

Heather (far right) lead organizer for Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival 2016

Heather (far right) lead organizer for Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival 2016

Living a frugal life and carefully tracking my money got me to the point where this is my reality. It wasn’t always an option to live this freely and give so much of my time away. Now that I’m here I can say life is much more fulfilling when I’m doing work that’s worth doing, even if I’m not getting paid for it.

-Heather P.

*Heather is a member of the Tiller team and also manages her own digital strategy consulting business.