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Don’t Be A Selfless Giver

I’m a thief – an excellent one – but still, a thief.  I have no new ideas.  Everything I know, everything I teach, coach and write about, I’ve gained by being fully present to others’ wisdom.  I used to think that I need to come up with novel ideas, talks, and teachings, but in the […]

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I’m a thief – an excellent one – but still, a thief.  I have no new ideas.  Everything I know, everything I teach, coach and write about, I’ve gained by being fully present to others’ wisdom.  I used to think that I need to come up with novel ideas, talks, and teachings, but in the last decade, I’ve changed my mind.

Why should I torture myself to create a new idea or judge myself as “not creative” if I’m not the inventor of a concept, when so much valuable knowledge, information and wisdom already exists?  Those of you who are in my coaching community have heard me repeat often, that knowing and doing are not related.  We know this through scientific evidence, but also by looking at our own lives. 

I was terrific at gaining knowledge for the first 5 decades of my life, but it wasn’t until I gained the understanding of how to use that knowledge to transform my day to day life, that I began to live a more conscious, purposeful, and relaxed life.  So let’s go back to why I’m a thief.  

I am still a knowledge freak, and in regards to certain teachers, I might even be called a “groupie”.  However, I am constantly alert to what I can take away and bring to my and my clients’ lives, in every single conversation throughout my day.  Whether it’s a quick chat with Dakota, my wise barista, or a passing conversation with my 18 year old son, or a deep conversation with a long time ultra-running friend, you better believe, I’m stealing.

This week, I was stealing words, and all 3 of the folks I mention contributed to my stash.  I was considering writing  about givers because I’m surrounded by them, and they make our world an exponentially more wonderful place to live.  Adam Grant in his book, “Give and Take”, explains that we all have the tendency to fall into one of 3 categories: Givers, Takers, and Matchers.  Because I work with many professionals and high level executives, I was naturally curious to understand the evidence for how our success at work is influenced by our “giving style”.

Evidence supports what has always been my gut instinct. As written in an article I’ve attached from Positive Psychology, “‘givers’ enjoy more career success. At work, givers are the supportive people who enjoy sharing their expertise and helping the careers of others. They share their networks and business contacts, and give their time to mentoring people. Studies by Adam Grant have shown the higher we look up the corporate ladder, the more givers we find.

Giving brings with it one significant risk. While more givers are found at the top of the corporate ladder, a lot of givers also end up at the bottom of the ladder. 

Why?!

Because there are two very distinct kinds of givers.  The Selfless Giver, gives without regard for her own self.  This is the kind who comes to me exhausted from life and resentful of her loved ones.  She gives and gives, until she falls off the cliff, like the Roadrunner in the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons, all the while screaming, “Who’s taking care of me?!”  The selfless giver does not do well at work because the general perception of her by colleagues is that at best, she’s not “strong enough”, and at worst, she’s a doormat.  So many people can relate to this kind of giving and sooner or later, they get tired of it and question whether they should just become matchers and takers.

That’s certainly an option.  But it’s hard to change our long time habits and tendencies, and why would we do that if there’s another option that has us showing up as givers and winners?

The first time I heard the perfect description of this kind of giver was in conversation with Kelly, my ultra-running buddy and client.  She called it being a Fierce Giver.  “Wow, she nailed it!”, I thought.  Being an honorable thief, I let her know that I was going to steal those words from her.  It wasn’t a request, it was a kind of loving “Heads up!”.  Then my son, who is the fiercest giver I know, said to me, “I’m not interested in a bigger piece of pie for myself, I want to help create a much bigger pie for everyone.”  

If you’re a giver, my suggestion is that you don’t change to a matcher or taker.  You’d be doing yourself and the rest of us a disservice.  Instead, do everything you can to transform into a Fierce Giver.  Here’s a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Explore the science of giving, and begin the practice of grounding yourself in the belief that Fierce Givers finish last. If it’s easier for you to think a new thought and create a new belief when supported by scientific evidence, then read Adam Grant’s book, “Give and Take”. However, I bet if you just look around, you will notice that the people who are experiencing more life satisfaction across many areas of their lives, are the Fierce (what Adam Grant calls, “Otherish”) Givers, and not the Matchers and Takers. 
  2. Identify (only) one area of your life – work, parenting, marriage, social relationships – where you are willing to experiment with showing up as a Fierce Giver.
  3. Begin with small steps.  Your toolbox for this transformation will include identifying your life buckets, honoring your calendar, eliminating people pleasing, practicing kindness through clarity, communicating productively, and so much more.

I didn’t say it was easy or fast.  But there is a system and a process that has you honoring the giver that you are, and showing up with more joy, ease and power in your everyday life.  This, of course, assumes you are already a giver.  If you identify as a matcher or taker, you might want to engage in a different exploration.

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