Give and Take

Are you exhausted from giving? Inspiration from Give and Take by Adam Grant Do you ever feel exhausted from giving so much to others without considering yourself enough in the equation? If so, you are not alone and this post is really for you.   It contains good news!   It doesn’t have to be an “either […]

Give and Take

Are you exhausted from giving? Inspiration from Give and Take by Adam Grant

Do you ever feel exhausted from giving so much to others without considering yourself enough in the equation?

If so, you are not alone and this post is really for you.   It contains good news!   It doesn’t have to be an “either or” thing – give to others or give to yourself.   In fact, a hybrid of both works best for increasing your success, the success of others and your well being too.

This Fall I slowly worked my way through a book called Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, by Adam Grant.  It is a game-changer kind of book, for many reasons – it has taken the business world by storm.  The ideas in the book are the polar opposite of the old credo “Greed is good”.  I wanted you to know about it, especially if you happen to be a high achieving woman who is exhausted from giving so much to everyone else, at work and at home and in the community, without enough consideration for your own well being. This exhaustion just gets worse at holiday time with all the giving and receiving going on. At the end of this post, I have some practical suggestions for you which are inspired by the book.

This book review made me read the Give and Take.  There are plenty of excellent articles you can read about the book too, such as this one from Forbes Magazine.   So, I am not going to repeat their content.  I want to focus on a couple of points that I think will be most helpful to you right now in this super crazy season of giving and receiving, and beyond.

Give and Take made me reflect a lot.  I learned many new things and also found some validation for some beliefs I hold for myself and for my clients.  The most important belief to mention here is: it is imperative to look after ourselves so that we have more energy and willingness to give to others, to make our best contribution to the world. Give and Take not only validates that belief but explains why it works and is true and introduces a new label for this way of being: “otherishness” (as opposed to “selflessness” which leads to burnout, and “selfishness” which leads to other problems).

I have talked to a lot of women about giving to themselves, women who have accomplished so much and are, by their own admission, exhausted.  They are yearning for more joy and positive energy in their lives. These are some of the words I have heard them use to describe giving to themselves: it’s a “luxury”, an “indulgence”…it’s “selfish”.   I will boldly say: believing that giving to ourselves is a luxury, an indulgence, and selfish is driving our exhaustion and limiting our joy.     We can’t feel much joy when we are exhausted from giving so much to others without considering ourselves in the equation.   If you have children, do your children benefit from all of your giving, if at the end of the day, you are exhausted and depleted and likely irritable with them?  Do your partners benefit?  What about the other people in your life? Do they benefit?  I really think this is worth reflecting on.   It doesn’t mean you will end up giving them less, but you may start giving differently, and they may actually benefit more along with you.

In his research, Adam Grant found that, at work most people develop a primary reciprocity style:

  • Takers – like to get more than they give; they tilt reciprocity in their favour; they are self focused
  • Givers – a relatively rare breed in the workplace – they like to give more than they get; they are other focused; the giving does not require extraordinary acts of sacrifice; most people act like givers in close relationships
  • Matchers – this is what most of us are in the workplace; striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting

Grant’s evidence also shows that the least successful and the most successful people are Givers. He also states that at home, most people are Givers.

I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that, if you answered  “Yes” to my initial question, you are definitely a Giver at home and perhaps also at work and in your community.   So then, let’s see how we can make sure you are among the givers who are also successful (i.e. not exhausted, or worse, really burned out).

Grant sets out in the book to persuade us that we underestimate the success of givers. He says that successful givers are every bit as ambitious as takers and matchers but they simply have a different way of pursuing their goals. Something special happens when givers achieve success: it spreads and cascades. When takers win, there‘s usually someone else who loses. Givers tend to be willing to give without concern with what they will receive in return.

And this next part is really interesting.  It points to a trap many of us fall into: thinking that if we are self-interested we cannot also be other-interested.  Grant quotes Bill Gates and states that self-interest and other-interest are completely independent motivations.  You can have both of them at the same time….people are successful when they are driven by a “hybrid engine” of the two – they integrate the two motivations.  They care about benefiting others but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests. (p.157)

Being otherish means being willing to give more than you receive, but still keeping your own interests in sight, using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how, and to whom you give.  ….As you’ll see, when concern for others is coupled with a healthy dose of concern for the self, givers are less prone to burning out and getting burned – and they’re better positioned to flourish. (p. 158)

I just love this!!!  When we are otherish, we feel better and are more successful, and so are those around us – the spreading and cascading part, also known as a ripple effect.    Give and Take  cites many examples of this effect  in the workplace.  I can also think of many examples of where this might be true at home.    So how can we be more ”otherish” over this crazy busy holiday season and beyond? I have some specific suggestions for you, but first here are the general otherish strategies in Give and Take:

  1. chunking, not sprinkling –  for instance, volunteer work once a week for two hours is more satisfying and energizing than spreading over a week.  Someone who is constantly being interrupted by others’ requests will be able to give more in a more satisfying way if they set aside time for giving and time for their own work.   I think we can extend this to home: for example, if they are old enough, tell your kids you will be with them for a specific time period and then it will be time for you to focus on something else for a while.
  2. getting feedback – feeling your sense of positive impact on others is really motivating.  I know this might be hard to get at home, and maybe at work too.   I invite you to think of ways of finding some positive feedback for yourself (…see #2 below re journaling).
  3. cultivating a sense of purpose –  research has shown that giving has an energizing effect only if it’s an enjoyable, meaningful choice rather than undertaken out of duty and obligation.    Giving for these reasons conferred a greater sense of autonomy, mastery and connection to others, and it boosted energy for those in the study.    When you give in a way that connects with your core values you will feel more positive energy.   This is completely in line with the ideas I have explored in the past around managing your energy not your time – in this case you would be managing your spiritual energy. See this post for more on that: More Than Just A Plum Pudding.  Core values are not  something we are usually taught to be aware of and it is one of the first things we look at in coaching – such an important conversation to have.

Here are some suggestions for you to take action on immediately – just pick one and go for it:

  1. If you are on the brink of burnout, being an “otherish” giver would mean you would ask for help.  Seek help at work, at home and wherever else you are.  Not seeking help is psychologically and physically costly and we don’t want you to pay that price!   Give someone else the opportunity to give to you.  Delegate at work and at home!  If you are a mother get more childcare or housekeeping help, not just the bare minimum, and/or  ask your kids to help. It will make them feel good – there will be a “spreading and cascading”  effect.  See this post for more – The Freedom of Being in Service.
  2. Take a few minutes to yourself every day starting now and over the holidays and just be – breathe, meditate, journal, read something inspiring.   Ask yourself:  “When is it that I feel energized by giving?”, and then look for ways to do more of that.   Try for at least 10 minutes, and work up to 20 minutes and/or 10 pages of your book.  See the Cherokee Song of the Sacred Pipe below for something to meditate on.   Notice how you feel more positive, calm energy and more focus.  And then notice what effect this has on your family and friends….what’s the spreading and cascading effect here? (And, guess what, I have a wonderful place for you to do some of this reflecting: sign yourself up for a free secure journal here and join me in journaling and making room for you.)
  3. I know that since you are a giver, you will naturally want to be giving a lot right now, so how about this:   challenge yourself to perform 5 acts of kindness in one day.   See how much positive energy this gives you for other things – and then see what the spreading and cascading effect of that is.  This advice is in Give and Take.  Evidence shows that performing acts of kindness like this in a chunk improves happiness levels.  (The advice is based on Sonja Lyubomirky’s research – see her book The How of Happiness  and also this  blog post of mine.)
  4. Read Give and Take, even if you read just chapter 6,  The Art of Motivation Maintenance.   I have given you only a tiny taste of what this book has to offer.  It really is a game-changer!  (Maybe this will be the book you begin reading for #2 above.)
  5. See all the other strategies in Actions for Impact in Give and Take.

What action will you take today to become a more Otherish Giver?  I encourage you to experiment a little and reflect on what works for you and what doesn’t.  As always I welcome your comments.

I wish you a holiday season full of joy and positive energy!  Milisa

PS  When my husband and I were away recently together in Santa Fe, we met Elizabeth Harris who shared this Cherokee Song of the Sacred Pipe with us.  I was deeply moved by this piece and saw how it related to my work, so I asked Elizabeth if I might receive a copy of it and share it.  She generously sent it to me and here it is.   As a start for giving to yourself and considering your own well being, I invite you to consider reading this and reflecting or meditating on it for inspiration.  I hope you find it helpful. (I love accessing ancient wisdom to help us with our modern challenges.)

The Cherokee Song of the Sacred Pipe
as taught to Elizabeth Harris

I open to the East, the place of the Visionary, of clarity and perception.

I ask this fine morning to be filled with clarity and perception.

I open to the South, the place of the Healer, of energy and innocence.

I ask this fine morning to be filled with energy and innocence.

I open to the West, the place of the Teacher, of wisdom and understanding.

I ask this fine morning to be filled with wisdom and understanding.

I open to the North, the place of the Warrior, of courage and perseverance.

I ask this fine morning to be filled with courage and perseverance.

May the Great Father Sky fill my heart with the songs of rainbows.

May the Great Mother Earth fill my veins with her rich red energy.

May everything I am be given away.

May I be refilled each day that I may be given away.

May all my gifts be taken from me.

Author: Milisa Burns

Milisa Burns is a certified professional coach, former lawyer and married mother of three, with her own website:

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