There I was, complaining about a particular conference we were planning – because the whole thing was going to end up being too costly. I wanted the price lower.
So we were fighting because the rest of our planning team thought the price was fine.
But I wasn’t really upset about that. Not really. No, instead, I was actually upset because for three years, every time I had wanted to go to the previous versions of the conference, I’d had to ask for some financial support.
And while I’d like to say I was standing up for others in my position, that’s not what was happening. Instead, I was just bristling against the idea that I had had to accept help.
And I hated having to admit I needed it. And so here I was fighting about a conference (and implying that we should change months – and years – of previous work), all because I was uncomfortable being a recipient of someone else’s generosity.
Have you ever studied Aikido?
A number of my friends studied it in college, so maybe you did too? Or you knew someone who did? Or maybe you remember Steven Seagal in the movies?
The funny thing about this particular martial art is that the first lesson is learning how to fall.
You can imagine some of my friends who didn’t last in the class very long! They thought they were going to learn some amazing way to do damage and their first lessons were about falling.
But if you don’t learn to fall (correctly), then you can’t really participate in any further lessons (safely).
Generosity’s First Lesson
The same is true with generosity. The first lesson is learning about generosity has nothing to do with giving. It has everything to do with receiving.
Because if you’re uncomfortable with receiving, especially without obligation, then it will impact how you give (with obligation expectations).
Going for his wallet
I had a friend who struggled with receiving anything. Every time someone bought him lunch, he’d track it and know that he then owed that person a burger or a taco.
He was constantly doing mental math. Until he had a great conversation with someone – I have no idea who. But that person gave him a strategy.
I discovered this all when I took him out to dinner. The bill came and he went for his wallet. I told him not to worry about it, because I was going to take care of the check. But he kept moving for his wallet.
Then, instead of grabbing cash from it, he pulled out a card. This had been the strategy told to him by someone – and I loved it.
The card read: “Say thank you.”
So he looked at me and thanked me. And stopped doing the mental math of what he owed.
He learned to be a recipient of generosity – simply by learning to say thank you and accept something he hadn’t earned and didn’t have to worry about paying back.
How well do you receive?
My friends and I play a game where we try to see who can pick up the check for lunch (or dinner). I win a lot, mostly because I have better tricks than they do.
But we’re having fun. Because all of us enjoy being generous with each other, and because we all like competition.
So even when any of us lose, we’re not losing. And I can tell you, for sure, that my friends are good at receiving. Because, like I said (and I’m not publicly shaming Karim and Steve), they lose a lot.
But I’ve had lunch with folks that have almost had a fit when I’ve picked up a tab. And I’m not talking about a $200 tab. I’m talking about a $20 one – for two of us.
If you can’t receive $10, can you really give $10 (without assuming someone has to reciprocate)?
So today’s suggestion is one I’m stealing from whoever suggested it to my friend. Find yourself a small piece of paper – the size of a business card. On it write these simple words:
“Say thank you.”
And start learning generosity’s first lesson.
And if you like this post, and series, would you do me the honor of sharing it. Feel free to quote parts on Twitter too.