You did what?
You've been there – just like I have. No idea that you're about to become the recipient of someone's generosity. The shock that hits when the gifting starts can be immense. So much so that you're not even sure how to react. And the first question in my mind is often – why?
I ask it because I want to know what I've done to deserve such generosity, but here's the truth – often what makes generosity generous is the fact that you've done nothing to deserve it. It's not like paying a debt.
And that's why I think it's important to talk about at least one aspect of where generosity comes from.
If you're just getting here for the first time, you might want to check out some of my earlier posts in this series:
- The opposite of generosity is disinterest.
- Give with the expectation to get back (just not from the recipient of your generosity).
- The first lesson is learning how to receive (not give).
- The first discipline is to ask “How can I be part of the solution?”
- Start by giving out of your own abundance – it’s easier.
- The second discipline is all about networking.
The Beginnings of Perspective
I don't know about you but I remember those days of eating way too much mac n cheese (maybe it was Top Ramen for you) when I was in college. I also remember when I had so little in my bank account that I couldn't get it out. Did you ever have to ask to borrow $10 from a friend, so you could deposit it, to get your $20 bucks out of an ATM, only to have to give $10 of them back to your friend? Oh, was that just me?
But that was college. I remember times long before that – back on the playground in elementary school. Children can be harsh. My parents were immigrants, so sometimes our clothing reflected the fact that they didn't understand how important fashion was to a 7 year old (not that it should be!).
So yes, I went to school once (or several times) with peach-colored jeans. And I remember one of those days vividly, because that year my only request of Santa was a pair of Lee jeans – so I could fit in.
It doesn't matter if your parents were immigrants or if you grew up struggling to match what everyone had. My point isn't to tell you a sob story about my childhood and clothing, or the lean college years. My point is that those moments shaped me.
Initially you might think they shaped me with a vengeance – to earn enough to never have to eat Mac n Cheese again, or to ensure that my children never wear anything like peach jeans. That's where many of us go – at least initially.
But I also grew up picky when it came to food. And so when I would go to friends homes – in elementary, in high school and even in college – I would fret about what I could or couldn't eat. And the net result was a lot of stress – the same kind of stress as wearing the wrong jeans to school.
And all of that stress leads to a kind of perspective that you can leverage.
The Power of Perspective
If you're like me, your default reaction to the painful moments of your past is that you try to run from them, hide from them, or simply shove them somewhere you never have to look. But you could use them in an alternative way.
You can choose to leverage them to develop a kind of perspective that opens you up, rather than closing you down.
You can choose to let those moments open your eyes from the other direction – to give you a compassion or insight that may have been missing when you were living in the scenario.
That's the power of perspective. It's a choice you make.
And so when I host a meal for a small group of people, you know what I do? I make sure there's every kind of food there – even food I don't personally like. Because I remember the years when I showed up somewhere and no one had thought about me and my picky self.
We've all been dealt with Generously
Here's the reality – we've all had someone, somewhere, at some time be generous with us. We struggled to receive it. We worried about if we earned it. But we were looking at it all wrong.
Instead, when you recall those moments, let them develop in you the perspective of what it felt like to be the recipient of a surprise gift.
Look back on your life and the moments where you might have experienced stress and choose to be a stress-reliever for others.
I play this game where I watch my Twitter feed and when I see someone mention that they'd like something, I go look to see if it's something I can afford, and if it is, I send it to them.
Oh they're shocked. They're a bit stressed. They don't know how to deal with it. And they wonder what they've done to deserve it. But if they ask, I simply tell them to enjoy it and pay it forward.
Because I remember times when I wanted something so bad I couldn't stop thinking of it. And it never arrived. And I've used that to develop a new perspective on leveraging surprise in my generosity.