“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
- Winston Churchill.
I wholeheartedly agree with what Winston Churchill said but I would add, “we make a life by what we give to ourselves.”
Most people know that giving back is the “right” thing to do, but it comes at a cost if you fail to discover why you do it.
Many years ago, I was introduced to “The Shift” movie by Wayne Dyer. I had seen “The Secret” of which both are life changing experiences and had brought a “shift” within my own cognitive thinking. The film illustrates how and why to make the move from ambition to meaning. Such a shift eliminates our feelings of separateness, illuminates our spiritual connectedness, and involves moving from the ego to a life where everything is primarily influenced by purpose.
I believe as humans we will always be discovering who we are; it is a continuous process and when framed in this way suggests we potentially spend far too much time constantly judging others when we could achieve so much more in life if we identified this and focussed our efforts on own development to become a better person each and every day.
So when people talk about self development and it being something they want to do at some point but it’s not a priority over sales, business or meditation, it suggests a lack of belief in their ability to truly want a life of meaning, success and happiness both personally and professionally.
In 2018, I was curious about volunteering. I didn’t know what but trusted that the right thing would become apparent in my life. I call this paying attention without any intention. I explored different charities and eventually saw the work of Shout Crisis. I am forever being told to “switch off” but lockdown opened my eyes as it did for many of us to question the meaning of life.
Paying attention paid off and I volunteered for two years at Shout. Unbeknown at the time I found the entire experience to be life changing in the way I viewed the world.
Research shows that volunteering helps strengthen participants connection in social networks of which I definitely found to be true. Professionally, I was curiously curious in what were some of the core skills and qualities in truly inspirational leaders and empathy was residing high up there. I had not always considered myself to be empathetic in my professional approach to so I became invested in this idea of giving back and got addicted to the helpers high. This is the buzz you get from helping someone else and something I felt with volunteering.
Most interestingly, one of the most important skills volunteering required was mastering the art of listening. A skill I was also familiar with as a professional coach. Being a great listener requires us to be conscious of ourselves and others and provides the foundation to building rapport and trust with another. We often listen to respond when we should listen to understand and often those who confidently tell the world they are great listeners are often in need of further establishing and refining this skill.
The part about giving back being the right thing to do being life changing came at a cost.
I hit depression.
I had created this world around me where I hated the toxic work environment I was engulfed in for fifty eight hours a week by the idea that I was helping others so I should be grateful. I was lucky in this corporate career to have my “job” and if I sought a new one well I must be crazy to look outside of the box.
All I was doing was using this idea of helping others as a form of self sabotage. I felt good and I was desperate for more of it at the expensive of my own wellbeing and when I recognised this I quit my job.
To be able to serve others you must serve yourself first.
I went all in on my own business and discovered something about what giving back to others actually meant.
We make a life by giving to ourselves so we can give to others.
1. Your emotions mean something - follow your heart.
One key element our educational and social expectations fails to encompass is how to manage yourself and understand your emotions. Imagine a world where we felt comfortable talking to others about how they made us feel with the intent to help that person become a better human oppose to being seen as an insult?
Our hearts are said to have around 40000 neurons which is the same as our brain. That’s right, your heart has it’s own nervous system so following your heart actually means something!
2. You must be empathetic to yourself.
Cliches are cliches for a reason. Putting your own oxygen mask on first is not a selfish act. It is selfish to do anything but this. You can only truly serve others when you are kind, caring and focussed on being the best you can be. You will then have the capacity to genuinely be able to help others. When you are poorly, it is your body signalling to you to listen and change something.
3. Don’t break the cycle.
When you can understand how to take from others, you reach a higher state of awareness.
Giving is a cycle. If you fail to take from others, you fail to allow them to give.
The same for empathy. If you are empathetic to yourself, you will be more empathetic to others.
Keep the cycle open.
4. The best investment you can make is in yourself, or something along those lines as Warren Buffett shared.
Book stores have it all wrong!?
I recently came across a statement that book stores missed a section out: “Help Others.”
Imagine if it was not about being right or wrong but a change in the way we see things. I personally don’t believe two sections are required but both should complement one another. Something like “help yourself to help others.”
I wonder what that would change in the way society sees the investment in to becoming the best version of yourself?
5. What ever you do, do it well. (Yes another quote. This one by Walt Disney.)
Do everything you love to the best of your ability. Find the job you love that gets you out of bed each morning and makes your heart sing. Get those neurons firing and sending the messages from your heart to your brain.
Give value to others through the passion and energy you have because you’ve tapped into your ikigai. Research suggests that the number one regret people have on their final days is that they failed to live a life true to them.
I bet those who genuinely do live a life true to themselves are the most giving people in the world.