I think a lot about how to help people (including myself!) cultivate authentic generosity in their lives and businesses. From my perspective, this skill is the key to easeful relationships, effective teams, and personal happiness. However, the word “generosity” often gets associated with self-sacrifice and burnout — which is not good for our happiness or relationships. This week’s blog post is from my friend Julia, whose thoughts about “generosity without burnout” I was interested in. I hope you find her perspective valuable!
Generosity sounds like an amazing thing. Almost every person you ask will tell you they want to be generous “someday,” when they can afford the time, money, effort, etc. But could we start practicing generosity right now, without waiting? My answer is... perhaps.
When I consider being generous, I usually ask myself a pretty simple question: What distinguishes an act of care or kindness towards someone from an act that is generous? I personally consider something or someone generous when they are willing to give something that they value without being reimbursed in equal measure. For example, we don’t think of stores that sell their goods for a fair price as particularly generous; we think of them as getting a fair exchange. Even in business, when someone offers a free introduction or a free promotional item, it still doesn’t feel generous – at least not to me - as this is a calculated marketing strategy and isn’t necessarily indicative of the spirit of giving.
So to me, generosity is really about going beyond self-benefit and genuinely caring about something that may or may not bring immediate benefits through an exchange.
There is, however, a very real and beautiful benefit that does happen as a result of being generous, and it is hard to measure: it is the benefit of feeling like you are a good person. It is sort of a way to pat yourself on the back and say, “Today you did well in life, be proud of yourself.” And that feeling, in my experience, generates more of itself by attracting good things to an already “good vibration.” Simple: If I walk around smiling, there is a better chance someone will smile back. However, if I walk around looking somber and cranky, the possibility of getting a friendly, “Hey, I see you, here is a smile for you” goes down exponentially.
The problem with practicing generosity for its benefit is a pretty strange one – I find that generosity is a bit addicting, and sometimes I can get into the spirit of it and not notice the burnout.
My solution to the generosity burnout question is pretty straightforward: Generosity needs to be inclusive. Put simply: Don’t forget to include yourself! When we try to be generous with others, but forget to be generous with ourselves, the burnout is inevitable. So I suggest a simple, but powerful shift of perspective: Give yourself the feeling most people get from being generous ahead of time. Generously assign yourself the label of a great person, pat yourself on the back, and ask yourself what it is that you want and decide that you deserve it. And once that preliminary step is done, go ahead and have fun being generous. You won’t need the benefits, since you already took care of them! I call it “generosity planning.” The fastest way to become generous is to honestly assess your own needs and take care of them. Once that is done, generosity is really a natural human trait. Happy, self-satisfied and loving people can’t help themselves – they are just naturally generous!
So before you get on the self-sacrificial train of inauthentic generosity, make sure to create trust in yourself and do whatever you need to do to make sure you know what makes you happy! And then... generously share!
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