If you’re like me, you want to be generous to others, and give help in an abundant, loving way to those who need it. You also want to feel like you’re making a difference, that you aren’t stingy with your heart, time and knowledge. But if you’re like me, working in a helping profession or support capacity as your livelihood, that can be really difficult at times.
I hear from hundreds of people each month who are deeply longing for assistance with their lives, work and businesses, and I can find myself frustrated and exhausted, feeling disappointed that, as one person, I’m just not enough. And sometimes, I stretch myself too thin, and then feel resentful.
Every year, I’ll have a period of time where this conflict – feeling generous vs. feeling used – comes up for me in a new way that makes me stop in my tracks. This month, I had an experience once again that prompted me to rethink the issue once more.
After reading the powerful book The Diamond Cutter, by Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally (a powerful, thought-provoking book – check it out!), I was led to recognize once again just how potent our thoughts are, and how they impact our reality. The book helped me see that, while I long to be generous with others, and give the help they need and want, without an appropriate boundary and a more positive mindset that I must continually nurture, people will cross into the realm of being extremely needy, demanding and grasping. Or that’s how I perceive it, anyway.
I’ve found that thinking through these three powerful questions helps me feel more generous and helpful in my life and work. They prompt me to give more freely, while at the same time preserving and protecting my life energy, time and well-being.
Perhaps these three questions will help you too:
1. What does “generous” and “giving” really mean to you?
It’s critical to think about how you personally define “generosity” and “giving” and to assess if your personal definition is working for you in your life.
So, when you think of being “generous,” does it mean you are obligated to say “yes” to every request that comes to you? Does it mean that you have to catch every single ball that’s thrown at you? Which requests make your heart sing to fulfill, and which make you cringe? Do you put parameters on the types of people you are happy to help, versus those you may need to walk away from?
I’ve found that when I think a bit more deeply about how I want to be generous in the world, and dimensionalize that more clearly with specifics that make sense in my life, the road becomes smoother in terms of my giving in ways that fill me up rather than deplete me. And once I become clearer about the types of help I want to give, and those I don’t, I begin to experience less of what is undesirable in my life.
2. Is your inability to say “no” – your lack of boundaries — making you feel resentful when you help?
To me, being generous doesn’t mean that you can’t say “no” to anyone. It also doesn’t mean that, if your work involves offering a helping service, that you can’t ask for payment for what you do. If you are besieged with endless requests for free help, think about how you feel about asking for money and charging appropriately for the help you’re giving. If you can’t do it, or if you feel reluctant, ashamed or confused about when and how to ask for money, there’s a critical issue you have to work out.
For me, I’ll stop, breathe, and ask myself, “What feels right here to do?” And I’ll go with my gut and my heart. If I’m simply unable to offer any kind of help, I will do my best to point them in a direction that will be of assistance. I’ve also found that having a range of high-quality free and low-cost programs, support, and materials is a wonderful way to offer help to the thousands of people who may not be able to afford working with me directly. Or directing them to another high-quality source of help, or another individual who might have the resources they need, is a great form of support.
Opening just one door for another is generosity in action. Help doesn’t have to take hours and hours, and drain you to the point of exhaustion.
The key is to look at what is underneath your resentment and conflict around offering help. If it’s a reluctance to charge enough money or be fairly compensated for the service you’re offering, heal that reluctance (here’s more about changing your wealth programming.) If it’s about not having any other way to help people than to charge them, brainstorm some new ways to be helpful. And finally, if it’s about your needing some help yourself, go out and ask for it today.
3. Are your negative thoughts about receiving requests for help coloring everything?
Finally, take a look at your chronic pattern of thought when it comes to people asking for help. When they come to you, do you immediately go to the negative place, thinking “Oh, no – not this again!” or “Can’t she just help herself for once?,” or “How dare he keep asking for help when I just gave it.” Perhaps as a child you were influenced by how your parents thought about people who asked for help. Or maybe you were taught that asking for help means you’re weak and lazy. Examine how your negative thoughts about these requests may in fact be coloring your entire work-life experience.
Every time a request for help comes in, stop, breathe, and consciously make a decision about how you want to feel about it, and address it. Our thoughts shape what happens in our lives, and how we experience our work, so it’s important to gain awareness of them, and choose to think and feel the way we want to.
I’ve found that when we engage in this simple process – stop, breathe, and choose — not only do we feel better in the process of giving, but we set up the conditions to receive more respect, appreciation and gratitude for what we’re doing in the world. We lose the resentment and the struggle, and that’s critical if we want more success and happiness. If you’re angry and resentful about people reaching out to you, then you’ll push away the positive as well as the negative. Once we decide to consciously choose our reactions instead, life changes for the better. That, in turn, fills us up to be of greater help in ways that nourish and enliven us all along the way.
Are you feeling beleaguered by constant requests for free help?