On the giving and receiving spectrum, you probably fall somewhere between believing everyone owes you something and feeling that you are undeserving of even the most basic help. One of the most striking experiences I had as a young photographer was having people ask me to do things for them for free – they often claimed to be broke, or to have very little money, etc. Since my experience of being broke was to have to borrow money to buy groceries, I always felt it was my duty to help others when they said they were broke, only to discover their idea of having little was going on vacation abroad “only” a couple of times a year, or needing to save a little more money for a down payment on a house in San Francisco. In other words, I realized there is a world of difference in what people feel they are entitled to have and I also noticed how much I felt like I had to give even when it was a really big burden on me, because of a misplaced sense of guilt or overly developed sense of responsibility.
Nowhere this disparity in giving and receiving is more visible than at work: whether as a freelancer, business owner, or employee, your relationship to giving and receiving directly informs your career. Maybe you are underpaid and know what it is like to be treated as “less than”. Or maybe as you read this, you start to realize how your fear of survival and anxiety over financial ruin has led you to take advantage of others, or to pursue an ever increasing need for money at the expense of family and personal fulfillment. Between having negative experiences and being bombarded by societal messages that distort giving and receiving, it’s no wonder that most of us have a dysfunctional relationship to giving and receiving.
If you are stuck financially or in your career, one of the most important things you can do to move forward is healing your relationship to giving and receiving. But traditional career advice might not be that helpful, as it usually furthers the us vs. them dichotomy…Here’s what helped me shift my relationship to giving and receiving, and what you too can do to heal.
1. Act your truth
If you want to heal your relationship to giving and receiving, you have to look at yourself in the mirror: did you just say Yes to doing something for a friend or for your boss when you would have rather said No? Are you growing resentful about it? And did you take advantage of your junior employee – who is terrible at negotiating a fair salary – when you offered to pay her well below what her work is truly worth? Really look. There is no healing when we lie to ourselves, and there cannot be any honesty with others when we are not honest with ourselves first. Here are some questions to help you get clear about your actions and thoughts around giving and receiving:
- Do you value your needs as much as you do those of others? Or do you often feel you have to give to be worthy of affection or that you are never given enough?
- Do you lie about your income and financial means to avoid asking for what you need or to avoid being asked to share?
- Do you judge yourself and other people’s worth by how much money is in the bank? How does that affect your relationship to yourself and others?
- Are you acting out of fear, guilt, a sense of duty when giving or receiving rather than freedom and choice? What would you do differently if you acted out of choice instead?
- And are you open to receiving or do you have such distrust that you are suspicious of or judge negatively people’s generosity?
We experience inner peace when our thoughts, words and actions are in alignment. Where do you need to clean up your act and start acting your truth?
2. Start giving now
It is common advice to first take care of yourself, and then give to others: just like on a plane they tell you to put on your oxygen mask before helping others in case of a disaster, so it is often said that you should first have enough for yourself before sharing. Don’t listen to this! Unless you are on a plane with falling oxygen levels and no mask, giving is not going to kill you. Giving is one of the most powerful healing acts you can perform and you always have something to give. We often think of giving as being about money, but we can give our time, our kindness, our listening, our words, our love. Giving reconnects us to our sense of abundance: you can offer an orange or an apple to the friend who invites you over for dinner – try it and see how just a simple and inexpensive gift can pull you out of your sense of scarcity and into a more positive state. Giving can also be a powerful antidepressant: if you feel stuck in your career, unworthy, discouraged, lonely, or disconnected from others, start by giving – freely and by choice.
When I quit my job I went through a dark time of questioning everything. I had a deep desire to help others with my skills, especially in the areas of marketing and changing careers. I had no plans on how to make money yet, and was living off some savings. But I determined that I was going to start contributing right away, and not just once I could get paid for it; nor was I going to give only as a marketing strategy to drum up business. I was determined to break the hold this misguided sense of giving and receiving had on me. The first thing I did was to walk up and down the main street in my neighborhood; although there are stores and offices on this main road, most people don’t walk on it. I walked its half mile back and forth and introduced myself to everyone who had a business on it, without a plan and for no other reason than to actually meet others who lived and worked in my neighborhood. I wanted to reclaim the humanity we so often lose when we put money before actual human relationships: why should I have a “reason” to meet people? Wasn’t connecting as human beings enough?
One of the places I stopped at was a small non profit – I discovered they had a wonderful mission but no funds for marketing. I offered to help with the amount of work I felt eager and comfortable to contribute for free. I had no expectations of doing business with them later or to use the experience to generate business. I wanted to give freely and by my own choice.
If you feel stuck in a system that forces you to choose between money and doing what you love, or you hunger for deeper meaning, or have been unemployed for a while, give without any expectations of getting something back – not even gratitude or appreciation. You will find you are more free and powerful than you think. In fact, the more discouraged, down and worthless you feel in your career, the faster you should start giving. Remember, it can just be an act of kindness, like telling the postal worker who delivers your mail how you appreciate their service. Just remember to add the most important ingredient: freedom. To truly give, you have to choose to give freely, free from expectations of getting anything back, free from coercion, and free from feeling obligated or guilty. Have you ever given that way? Have you ever been given that way? Try it. Choose to give something just because you want to give it. No strings attached.
As you do that, you will find that you (re)connect with what you like, with love, with other human beings, with your own sense of self. As I acted counter to all advice and started giving before I had taken care of myself and without expectations, I not only grew out of a really dark time, I felt beyond the shadow of a doubt that each one of us, me and you included, are worthy of love, compassion, kindness and support just because we exist, not because of the size of our bank account or the success of our career.
3. Open yourself up to receiving
Have you ever truly experienced receiving freely, with no strings attached? I started to heal my relationship to giving and receiving when I realized how I had never really felt the experience of receiving freely. This was due in part to the fact that many times I was given to with the expectation of having to give something back, but mostly because I did not actually recognize when I was truly given to selflessly.
Do you feel bad when you are given to and cannot reciprocate? Or maybe you think that there is no such thing as “a free meal” and are suspicious of anyone offering something to you as a gift. When I started to meditate I joined a group that meets every week to chant together. It is completely free and we always meet at the same person’s house. Every week she prepares some food for us which we share after the meditation. When I first started to attend I had a reaction common to many visitors: I asked whether I should bring something to share, felt guilty I didn’t contribute either financially or with food, expected to find out there was some sort of catch to the whole thing, etc. It took me probably a whole year (!!!) to finally relax and realize that I was simply being asked to receive. Our host freely chooses to give and all I have to do is receive as selflessly as she gives. WOW. I can safely say I had never before let myself have such an experience and this has probably been one of the most healing and transformative experiences of my life.
You probably already have someone who is giving selflessly to you or who wants to. Start by writing down all you are being given to that doesn’t require you to give back: this can be money, material goods, nourishment, services, a place to gather, friendship, advice, or random acts of kindness. Is there someone or something you have not been open to receiving from?
Just by spending some time writing this blog post, I am so aware of the many, many people who gave to me during the years: from kind friends listening to me when I needed someone to confide to, to the two people years ago who gave me the gift of a round trip to Italy to see my family and friends, to my neighbor who shares some of the best dishes she cooks, my experience with meditation opened up my awareness of all the times I did not let myself fully be present to the generosity of others.
But don’t worry, if no one comes to mind when you think of who gave to you without expecting anything back, just start by giving. As you do, you will find that receiving opens up soon after.
Now I don’t look at giving and receiving as having to flow between the same parties, I instead recognize that we are all interconnected: nothing in nature exists without needing something else and without being needed. But does each exchange happen in a reciprocal and equal fashion? Of course not: the universe doesn’t keep score, it keeps itself in balance because of the entirety of its relations. We as human beings are as much a part of nature as birds and trees and stars, with an added plus: we have some freedom to choose. Choose now and choose freely to give and receive without expectations: you will find that when you embark in your career- changing journey with a healed relationship, you will be much more open to receiving wonderful opportunities to contribute when they show up.