“What if I don’t have as much to give as everyone else?”
I’m in a zoom meeting with a group of fellow business owners and we’re discussing the merits of how a giving economy can help us to turn our own successes into the successes of others when a colleague asks this question, “What if I don'[t have as much to give as everyone else?”. She is sincere and genuinely concerned that she cannot afford to give the way others can – neither from a financial nor time perspective – and she’s worried that she is limited in just how much she has to offer. The irony of this particular person asking this particular question is that she happens to be one of the most generous and caring people I know. To say that she has a heart of gold would be to undersell the amount of time and effort that she puts into helping others. I know this is true because I’ve watched her give freely and without expectation of anything in return for years. As the question travels from her computer’s microphone to my connected AirPods, I cannot help but smile at her humility. The world needs more people like her.
The graciousness of my colleague’s question isn’t unusual. I have had the pleasure of working with many “givers” over the last few years and this type of modesty is one of their trademark characteristics. It’s pretty rare that a person with a true Givers Gain® mentality stands on a self-constructed pedestal to extol the virtues of their day to day activity. In fact, many of these folks aren’t even aware of the impact that they have on the lives of others because it is simply their nature to help when and where they can without needing any kind of recognition or payment.
Last year I wrote an article on LinkedIn about Givers Gain® and what it means to me so if you’d like to understand a bit more about this philosophy (especially in regards to business) please take some time to read it and check out the resources at the end of this post. The moment I heard the question above from my colleague, I knew I wanted to write more about the generosity of others but this time I wanted to share some personal stories about giving. These are stories that are etched into the folds of my gray matter as moments that have shaped who I am and how I see the world. They might be some of the most important moments of my life and none of them involved a large financial investment nor did they require someone to go completely out of their way to create an impact. I’d like to show you how the smallest things people do can create a huge impact.
When I was 25 I bought my first house. My boyfriend at the time and I were both new parents as well as new inductees into the world of official adulting. We had good jobs but we fell on the bottom rung of the ladder at our respective companies and so neither of us earned salaries exceeding $30,000 a year. It was 2006, the Edmonton housing market was booming and we were afraid if we waited too long, home prices would sky rocket far out of our range of affordability. So, with some borrowed RRSPs and a little help from our families, we managed to buy a very modest 3 bedroom, bi-level home built in the early 1980s. Sometime after having moved in and adjusted to our new fiscal responsibilities I was chatting with a co-worker and she asked me how I was enjoying home ownership.
“It’s good.” I said. “Things are a little tight but we have enough money for our necessities. There just isn’t anything left over for a little gravy, you know?”
She chuckled and acknowledged her shared sentiment of having been there too.
Several weeks later, in the dead of winter, I was driving home after picking up my son at his day home. The roads were slick and a steady fall of heavy, wet, snow was complicating the now covered patches of black ice. While navigating the approach to a traffic circle I misjudged the grip of my tires and slid into the car in front of me. I wasn’t going fast enough for anyone to get hurt but I did manage to break the tail light of the other vehicle and rip the side view mirror off my own car. There was no drama in the exchange that followed. The other driver and I shared information and we agreed to follow up later that week once we had conducted the necessary ground work for reparation. Despite the benign nature of the incident, I was still shaken. A long day at work coupled with the fact that I had just been in an accident with my infant son in the car, amplified by the weather, an empty stomach, and the underlying pressures of barely making ends meet, ultimately led to me sitting in my one-mirrored-car on the roadside, sobbing and utterly distraught.
Anyone who has ever driven in a blizzard during rush hour traffic in Alberta can relate to what the following hour looked like for me so I won’t bore you with the details but eventually I arrived home safe but completely depleted. Loaded with my purse, the bucket seat with baby, and the weight of the day, I unlocked my front door. As I pushed through the threshold of my house I slipped my hand into the mailbox and recovered a small decorative envelop which I eyed curiously as I unloaded my cargo. The envelop was addressed to me. There was no return address or postage and it was clear that whoever had sent it had personally delivered it to my door. I opened the envelop and removed the enclosed contents to find a handmade card, out of which fell a gift certificate for a spa. Upon opening the unsigned card, I saw the following inscription:
“Everyone needs a little gravy from time to time.”
I Just Called To Say…
In 2014 I was diagnosed with and treated for stage 3 colorectal cancer (you can read more about this in my blog You Bet Your Ass). My treatment regimen involved chemotherapy, radiation, surgery to remove my rectum and part of my colon, an ileostomy device (aka poop bag), more chemotherapy and a surgery to put my guts back together (aka removal of poop bag). From start to finish, the entire process took just a few weeks less than one year and I can honestly say it was the hardest year of my life.
Upon hearing my story people will often comment to me that because I am such a positive person I must have really used that to get me through that difficult time. People are 100% wrong. I spent that entire year convinced I was going to die and I was fucking terrified ALL THE TIME. I did my best to smile and put on a good face but the reality of it was that I was mostly depressed, sad, and afraid. People would come over to bring food or well wishes and I would hide in my bedroom and leave my husband to talk to them in hushed tones at the kitchen table. I hated what cancer had turned me into, I loathed the ostomy bag and I was ashamed of my inability to “just be positive” (on a side note, if someone you care about is ever diagnosed with cancer, please, for the the love of God, don’t tell them to “be positive”. Worst. Advice. Ever).
“…if someone you care about is ever diagnosed with cancer, please, for the love of God, don’t tell them to “be positive”. Worst. Advice. Ever.”
One particular morning I crawled out of bed, poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down on a chair in my living room to contemplate my misery. This daily ritual involved me battling my own negative self talk and berating myself for whatever it was that was plaguing me in that moment while trying to choke down the metallic chemo flavoured coffee that I refused to give up (no coffee + chemo = migraine AND nausea and I only had the resolve to survive one). Just as I decided to give up for another day and return to bed, the rivulets of tears tracing the patterns on my cheeks from the mornings before, my phone rang. The caller ID revealed a woman that I had once worked with in the past (not the same woman from the “Gravy” story). She had been my boss at the YMCA, where I was once the program director, but I hadn’t spoken to her since I had left that position two years earlier. As an introvert and a person wallowing deep in self-pity my initial instinct was to ignore the call.
My brain: “How can I possibly talk to someone in the state that I’m in? What am I going to say? Do I tell the truth about how awful I feel when the inevitable “how are you doing?” question is asked? I don’t have the energy to pretend today. Just let it go to voicemail. She’d probably rather leave a message than talk to you anyway.”
My heart: “Answer the damn phone. You’re hurting but the worst thing you can do is isolate yourself. Talk to her. She is trying to connect with you and she cares about you. You can be honest with her about how you’re feeling.”
My heart won the argument and I answered the phone. “Hello?” I greeted her timidly.
“Hi Janice. I’m not sure why I’m calling but I was thinking about you this morning and just felt like I needed to talk to you. We can talk about whatever you’d like but I just wanted to hear your voice and know that you’re okay.”
(P.S. This is exactly what you say to someone you care about who is going through a difficult time.)
When I See You Smile
When I was in university one of my roommates studied kinesiology. As a part of her program she had to spend time working in a research lab, which often required her to recruit subjects for various experimental studies. On one particular occasion I had agreed to meet one of her fellow researchers in a laboratory to ride a bike, under water, while attached to machines designed to measure lung capacity and oxygen intake. I woke up on the morning of the test in a foul mood. I honestly have no idea why but I distinctly remember being in tears and completely caught up in a spiral of self-loathing. For no particular reason at all, I hated my hair, my clothes, and my life in general and that morning I got dressed in my very best suit of self-pity and I planned to wear it all day.
Hoping the pleasant weather would help to improve my disposition I decided to walk the 15 or so blocks from my house to the kinesiology lab on campus. The route gave me the option to take a short cut through the University hospital, which I decided to take. As I approached the east entrance of the building I was no less miserable than I was when I left my house 20 minutes before and I recall wanting nothing more than to turn around, go back home, crawl under the covers and stay there for eternity. I was literally choking back tears and silently chastising myself for “being so fucking stupid” when I saw her sitting in a wheelchair outside the revolving glass doors.
She was a small girl of about 8 or 9 years old. Her face, arms, and hands were wrapped in bandages and the exposed parts of her skin showed what were the most severe burns I had ever seen on a human being. I will never, in my whole life, forget what happened next. As I advanced closer, my mind reeling with all kinds of negative thoughts, she looked up from a book she was holding in her hands, locked eyes with me and she smiled. The was not the half-hearted grin of someone clearly in an extremely dire situation but trying to put on a brave face. This was a genuine, whole-hearted smile that revealed a row of shiny, white teeth and lit up her eyes like the sun. It was a gesture of pure, unadulterated joy and it was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.
My own self-pity melted like icicles on eaves on a warm spring morning, the despair dripping onto the road and running down the storm drain. Despite experiencing what I can only imagine would be incredible pain and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, this beautiful human being chose to give me a gift. You might say this was random and that I’m reading into a completely coincidental event but it didn’t feel that way to me. I still remember it so very clearly. Her smile was knowing, purposeful. It was meant for me. It was like she could see the depression burned deep in my flesh and like her own doctor may have done that morning, she applied a cooling salve to ease my pain. She did all of this with a simple, genuine smile. At that moment a breaker tripped in my brain, initiating an entirely new circuitry of wiring with a spark so powerful that I have thought about it almost every single day for over 20 years.
Give A Little Bit
Each of the moments I have described forever changed who I am and how I look at the world. The first required a small financial gift (I think it was $50-$100); the second, the investment of a few moments of time; and the third, nothing more than the movement of 43 small facial muscles, the effort of which required little more than that of a reflex. These small, almost seemingly insignificant gestures have left me still marvelling at their impact years and years after they occurred. I think about these three occasions ALL the time and how those gifts of kindness have informed my own decisions in how I choose to (1) speak to myself and (2) interact with others. I know that not a single one of those gift givers has any idea how their charity changed my life but I’m willing to bet that each one of them continues to humbly impact the people around them by giving just a little bit each and every day.
I’m not quite sure what my colleague had in mind when she questioned the value of her contributions as a giver but I know she is not alone in her assumption that only grand sweeping actions can raise the tide enough to lift all ships. There will always be someone who has more time, more money and more resources to give but that does not mean their gifts are more valuable than anyone else’s. A simple phone call, a smile, an acknowledgement that you see and hear those around you also have the power to create waves that will move the shoreline for those who need it. Don’t doubt the value of the small things you do each and every day for the people you cross paths with. Hold fast and keep giving when and where you can with what you can afford. You never know who is telling a story right now about the time you did something for them and how you changed their life, without you even knowing it.
Giving isn’t just good for the receiver, it’s good for the giver too. This is a fact that has been extensively researched and written about. You might also be surprised to learn that not only is being a Giver tied to a person’s general happiness, but there are benefits that can affect one’s physical well being and overall success in life. If you’re curious about this topic and want to learn more, here are some resources to get you started. Believe me, this is a rabbit hole you’re going to want to fall into.
What Giver’s Gain® Means To Me – Janice Baskin
5 Ways Giving is Good for You – Greater Good Magazine
The Go Giver – Bob Burg & John David Mann
Give and Take – Adam Grant
Why Good Things Happen to Good People – Stephen Post
Infinite Giving – Ivan Misner, Greg Davies, Julian Lewis
Applying Givers Gain® in Business – Dr. Ivan Misner
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