We all love to give – to our children, our community, or the latest charity.
And why not, giving is great – it helps, it supports, it makes us feel good.
But giving can also deplete. I have worked with a lot of exhausted parents who give too much, or workaholics who never feel like they are doing enough, or volunteers who spread themselves too thin because they want to help everyone (and I know people who attempt to do all three!).
I have seen how giving can hack away at energy, sanity, or any feeling of contentment or joy.
Not only I have seen it, I have experienced it personally.
I am not suggesting we stop giving, but that we begin to use a different word to describe our desire to help – a word that has the potential to create a completely different kind of experience.
And although I would love to take credit for this word, it was offered to me by a shaman that I met in Santa Fe while I was on a trip with my girlfriends.
We were talking about keeping our energy “up” so we could make a difference in the world, and when I mentioned how much I enjoy giving, he immediately stopped me.
“That’s your problem,” he said. “You have to change that.”
Confused, I asked, “Change what? I shouldn’t like giving?”
“No,” he said. “You shouldn’t be giving – that means you are giving away what you need to help. You should be sharing what you have and keeping some for yourself so you can continue to help others.”
Saying that this was a light bulb moment is an understatement. I have preached self care the majority of my adult life, but this gave it a clarity I have never experienced before.
If you really want to be there for your children, your job, and for the world, you have to be healthy and whole to do it. You don’t just need to be near the top of the list, you need to be #1 on the list if you really plan to make a difference.
Giving is good, but it also has the potential to breed resentment; that feeling of being taken advantage of or not being recognized for all your efforts.
But really, it is your responsibility to monitor what you give rather than get annoyed at the people who willingly accept what you offer.
So the tricky part is that to be a good “sharer,” you may need to say no – to your friend, your child, or maybe even your work, so you can begin to say yes to yourself.
You may also need to ask for help which can be especially hard for givers (myself included). We don’t want to take from anybody or make anyone else uncomfortable.
But if we want to share of ourselves we need to learn some new skills.
We need to open up some space in our lives for choice and flexibility, and we have to realize that nobody changes the world alone. If we really want to make a difference, we need support.
So we can start by realizing our boundaries and respecting the signals from our body to slow down or pull back.
And we can begin to look at this as a gift rather than a roadblock – that our body already carries innate wisdom about what self love means.
By making ourselves a priority we may be able to avoid the time-consuming pitfalls of illness, exhaustion, and overall negativity that manifest because we turn away from our own needs.
And as we begin to practice this behavior of sharing, we fully experience how good it feels to genuinely offer ourselves to the people and causes that we love.
While simultaneously role modeling for the next generation what it means to give back in a responsible and self-loving way.