Two Sides to Every Millennial: Totally Self-Centered, Yet Truly Socially Conscious

Two Sides to Every Millennial: Totally Self-Centered, Yet Truly Socially Conscious

by Sheila Manokaran

Friends know me for my deep involvement in social work, but also for my strong interest in starting businesses. It may seem contradictory, but I derive great joy both from making money and from giving back to society.

Unlike some friends, though, who have set up social enterprises (e.g. Richardo Chua’s Adrenalin, Society Staples co-founded by Debra Lam), I could never combine the two sides of my personality in a single venture.

SIDE A: Sheila the Entrepreneur

A burgeoning businesswoman

The first business I ran – in Primary 6 – was at the playground, selling corn that I bought from Mustafa Centre and boiled at home. My mum was super supportive of my efforts. My dad, however, got furious because he felt it implied that we didn’t have enough money.

When I was in ITE, I worked at a bazaar stall selling mobile accessories. Eventually, I obtained my own supplies and started stall after stall. I made a lot of money, but there was one pesky problem. Since phone models constantly evolve, their accessories also become obsolete.

Next, I set up a canned drinks stall at the Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar. This time, I got my parents and their friends to invest.

Even though I was the one running the business and making profits, my parents wanted control over the operations and revenue. This definitely put a strain on our relationships. But I took away the priceless lesson that doing business with family may not be the best idea for me.

#LetsTalkMillennials millennial dilemma - Sheila Manokaran

Seeking sound advice

To be honest, I’m not sure what enterprise I will start after completing my business degree.

But I connect with and seek advice from other entrepreneurs like Aaron Rylan Keder, a self-made millionaire who has taught me to think bigger and more long-term.

When Aaron mentioned Singapore’s rapidly ageing population, a possible business opportunity came to mind. Back in ITE, I was the president of the Care & Repair Club. We visited one-room flats and installed bedframes and handlebars funded by STEP.

Perhaps, in the future, I could turn a profit by supplying those components and meeting the growing demand.

SIDE B: Sheila the Volunteer

The purpose-driven generation

The Singaporean mindset is to focus on money and a good future. Ultimately, though, I believe life is hollow without purpose. Many millennials feel the same. I know someone who gave up a well-paying engineering job in search for more meaning and is now working at MINDS.

I have friends who consider the opportunity cost of volunteering. They choose to spend those hours making money which they can donate.

Not everybody has the motivation or resources to volunteer, so I’m inspired by friends like Owen Tan – a fellow Youth Corps leader – who can juggle volunteering with a full-time job.

On the other hand, I have friends who consider the opportunity cost of volunteering. They choose to spend those hours making money which they can donate.

#LetsTalkMillennials millennial dilemma - Sheila Manokaran

Seasons of volunteering

Personally, I volunteer in seasons, in the sense that I focus on a particular cause only for a period of time before moving on to another.

I’ve worked with all age groups: promoting literacy among disadvantaged children, mentoring and developing youth leaders, improving the living conditions of seniors. I also joined the SAF Volunteer Corps as a bridge watchkeeper, keeping a lookout for passing vessels

Recently I’m drawn to causes that affect people I care about.

I was motivated to lead a contingent for The Purple Parade, making props and costumes for children with intellectual disabilities, because my cousin’s daughter is in MINDS. After learning that a close friend has breast cancer and a childhood neighbour suffers from leukaemia, I made a pledge and shaved my head at Hair for Hope.

Volunteering is as simple as being there for someone who needs you.

Simpler than you think

People think volunteering means signing up for a regular, time-consuming commitment with an organisation. But this is a misconception.

Volunteering is as simple as being there for someone who needs you.

Very often a friend or cousin or neighbour who is feeling down contacts me. All they need is my company or a listening ear, so that’s what I offer. At times I do feel my home is like some kind of counselling centre.

What I’ve discovered is: The best way to lift your own spirits is not to stay home and mope – but to go out and bring joy to someone else.

For more millennial stories, visit the #LetsTalkMillennials page.

#LetsTalkMillennials millennial dilemma - Sheila Manokaran

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