Give and Take

Confession No. 3: I am not very good at asking for help.

Does anyone else ever feel this way? I have a feeling I am not alone.

In his recent book, Give and Take, bestselling author Adam Grant shares that there are three kinds of people in the world: givers, takers and matchers. We all show up in different ways in the world, falling at different points along the spectrum in different areas and at different points in our life. Our tendencies can change, but we tend to have a default setting we return to time and time again, evident in the way we approach our relationships and interactions every day.

The names for these categories are somewhat self-explanatory. Takers go through life with the goal of accumulating more than everyone else, winning at the expense of someone else. They have no issues putting their needs before someone else’s. Givers do just the opposite – they habitually put the needs of others before their own. Givers give without the expectation of getting anything in return, sometimes without a thought of their own well-being and oftentimes at their own expense.

Matchers are the most common among us, falling somewhere in between. This is the way many people go through life, simply following others’ lead. When matchers are surrounded by givers, they too will become givers. When they are surrounded by takers, they will match that level of stinginess and look out for themselves, because who else will? Matchers operate on a kind of transactional basis, looking to get out of a relationship exactly what they put in – nothing more, nothing less.

For most of my life, I have tended to lean towards the giver end of the spectrum, but like anyone else, my relationship with give and take has been a complicated one.

In elementary school, I remember cycling through a few best friends, never really secure in my social status in the hierarchy that we all know exists, even at that age. I was never like the other kids – I lived a life that was very much foreign to my peers, and they could never understand me for it. Even as a child, I lived a life of discipline. Training and spending time with my family were the most important things, and I often spent my free time writing. I was fairly gifted at a number of different things, but I also worked hard to achieve a level of skill with intention. Both creative and mathematically inclined, my education continued beyond the walls of the classroom. My dad and I would practice numbers in our basement, and I loved to do research on the topics that interested me.

My grades were always good and the teachers liked me, the quintessential “teacher’s pet.” I think this caused some jealousy and insecurity among my peers, who never seemed to stick around. One day I would look up, and the girl who I thought was my best friend had ditched me for someone else, leaving me alone once again.

There was never any explanation for this abandonment, and so I never really understood why they’d left. What had I done wrong? I thought I’d only been generous with my time and my energy and this was how they chose to respond?

As it turns out, many people don’t know what to do with this level of generosity. Receiving makes them uncomfortable when they don’t know what to give in return.

Things improved a little in high school. I still found myself in a number of friendships that didn’t work out, ones that would be there in the times that served them but chose to leave in the times that didn’t. For some friends, they found it easy to be around me when I was hurting but disappeared in the times I was going strong. Others turned to me when they needed a listening ear and left as soon as they’d figured everything out.

People will come and go as you go through life – only a few will really stick around. These are the true friends (I’m looking at you, Natasha!) who you can really count on, the ones you know have your back. But even within these friendships, I have always struggled to ask for help. I am much more comfortable being the helper than the one in need, much better at giving advice or holding space for someone to share their thoughts than I am receiving it. I don’t want to be a burden. I’ve always struggled to believe I deserve this love when in reality, we don’t have to do anything to deserve it. We all do, just the way we are.

In some ways, I find it much easier to be vulnerable with people I barely know. Once I reach a level of closeness with a person, I find it nearly impossible to keep anything from them and yet I fear what they may say when I do share my thoughts. I am terrified of what they may think of me, that they may judge me for my fears or insecurities rather than support me as I know I would them.

We are all our own worst critics. What we don’t realize is that the closer we get to another person, the more we blur the lines of seperation between how we treat them and how we treat ourselves.

Susan Piver describes the phenomenon in this podcast and in her book, The Four Nobel Truths of Love. The easiest example can be found in romantic relationships. Once we have been in a relationship for a while and have surpassed the infatuation stage, discomfort and conflict can and will arise. We grow frustrated with our partner for the little things we do, and it becomes easy to focus on every little thing that annoys us. In the moments we find ourselves angry or irritated, the natural course of action is to lash out. In reality, we should do just the opposite: take a step back and observe the problem from a distance. A relationship a mirror that reflects back to us what is going on inside. If we cannot be accepting and gracious with ourselves, how can we expect to be understanding of others?

In this way, the biggest thing we can do to improve how we show up in the world is improve our relationship with our self. Where do you need healing? Where do you need help? Learn to view yourself through a lens of understanding: sometimes you are strong and awesome, sometimes you are in pain or tired or weak. Sometimes you are a pain in the ass and other times you are not – this is the way it should be.

We could all learn to be a little more understanding of ourselves and the people around us, especially givers. With their willingness to put the needs of others above their own, givers often end up suffering at work and in their personal lives. They are at an increased risk of developing depression and eating disorders and even take lower salaries at work.

On the contrary, givers who can learn to fill their own cup and give from a place of plenty, these are some of the most successful people in the world. They thrive in the midst of fulfilling lives because they are willing to give so much of themselves in a way takers and matchers do not. People may feel slighted when takers succeed but they celebrate the success of givers. The attitude of abundance is contagious – and the world needs it now more than ever.

I am learning that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather the acknowledgement that you can’t do everything on your own, which you can’t – trust me, I’ve tried. Being vulnerable enough to ask for help shows the people in your life you trust them. Relationships are a balance of give-and-take that, like all things, takes time to learn.

Each day when you go out into the world, you have a decision to make. You can operate from a place of scarcity – where there is never enough to go around – or you can operate from a place of abundance. What do you choose?

To fear or to trust?

On Healing

Healing is hard work.

Our bodies are truly incredible machines, but we so rarely stop to admire all they do for us. If we break a bone, we set it straight, place it in a cast to so we don’t use it for a while, and let our body do the rest. It regenerates the cells, literally knitting the bone and surrounding tissue back together until we are whole once again. Your conscious brain doesn’t have to do a thing. We don’t have to learn or teach our bodies how to heal themselves – they just do, all on their own.

Just imagine if we have to tell our bodies to fix themselves every time we sustained an injury, however minor or major the damage might be. Cuts and scrapes, burns and fractured limbs. How much brain power would that take? Your body may break down over the course of a lifetime, but it is so much more adaptable than we give it credit for.

Beyond major injuries and small daily pains, our cells regenerate every seven years. Your body is able to shape and recreate itself until your physical self is something brand new. Sure, we’ve learned to aid our bodies in the healing process over the years, but the majority of the work done doesn’t need our help. If we take care of our bodies in the most basic way, our bodies take care of us.

If only our emotional lives could be so simple.

When we don’t have to make a conscious effort to do something, it is so easy to take it for granted. Take breathing, for example. Without oxygen, you will die. We breathe thousands of times per day without giving it a second thought, our lungs expanding and contracting like accordions while our veins and arteries circulate blood to all parts of our bodies. It knows to take care of the most vital organs first – the brain and the heart – while we slack on our end of the deal, easily forgetting to take care of those same priorities. We compromise sleep and family time for our careers. We forget to challenge our brains in new ways in lieu of money.

If we don’t take care of our bodies, we receive a series of letters in warning before we get a slap in the face. If we don’t take care of our bodies, they break down. We can’t argue, we can’t deny the evidence any longer when it comes flying at us and we know it’s true. When it comes to our hearts, however, the story is a little different.

When it comes to what we feel inside, we can lie to ourselves a lot longer. We can wear masks and pretend to be someone else, pretend we’re not hurting inside and everything is okay.

Because we can’t physically see the decay, it’s easy to deny when we’re falling apart inside. We can reach a literal breaking point and still force ourselves to keep going, keep smiling and keep moving forward with complete disregard for what is going on inside. In reality, this is no way to live a life. People can smell inauthenticity from a mile away – they can see when you’re not being honest with yourself better than you can. We like to look in our side mirrors and ignore the sign, “objects may be closer than they appear” like we left a pending explosion behind miles ago when really we’re driving with the dynamite in the back of our truck and it’s only a matter of time.

Sometimes I wonder, why is it so hard for us to be real with one another? It must take a whole lot of energy to put on a persona every day. In some ways, our culture is becoming increasingly less tolerant of inauthenticity in comparison with the last few generations. There is a movement towards sharing the struggles we all have in everyday life, towards accepting all body types and bringing awareness to mental health. Yet still, we struggle. Why is this?

Healing of any kind is hard work, but healing the heart is the hardest work of all.

We’ve all been hurt at one point or another in our life. We all have baggage we’re dragging around from past relationships, childhood fears, and the insecurities of growing up. But sometimes we forget what is in these bags we carry with us wherever we go. Sometimes we find ourselves holding onto suitcases of regret and anger and pain we should’ve jettisoned long ago. It begins to weigh us down. If we’re not careful, we can begin to lean on this baggage as part of our identity: the boy who was never seen, the girl who was never good enough. We go into new situations and relationships and find ourselves repeating the same patterns, over and over and over again, because we never dealt with the issues that grew long ago; we haven’t taken time to heal the issues that were there from the start.

Sometimes we just have to open up those suitcases to see if what’s inside is really worth holding on to, or if it’s time to make peace with that piece of your story and leave that bag under a tree by the side of the road. Dealing with the past can be incredibly painful – if you’ve walked down especially dark paths, it is not something you should explore on your own. Healing your heart takes a conscious effort, but it’s worth it.

In his TED talk on emotional pain, psychologist Guy Winch speaks about how we know now that in order to stay healthy, we need to practice first aid and hygiene. When we get a cut, we clean it and cover it with a band-aid. We fail to do the same, however, for emotional scrapes and bruises: things like loneliness, loss and heartache. Winch explains we need to learn to practice “emotional first aid” with the same diligence we do for physical wounds, in order that we may live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Be willing to feel all the feels. Tears are not something to be feared.

It is not your job to unload your baggage on to every person you meet, but I think we can all stand to be a little more honest with each other. Acting is exhausting – I’ve been there myself. I’ve watched others do the same, and it hurts my heart. Above all, we need to learn to be a little more understanding of each other’s stories so that it doesn’t seem so daunting to let our masks fall off when we encounter other people. No one is as shallow as they appear on the surface. If we can remember this, maybe we will remember to see each other as human. Maybe we’ll remember everyone has their own struggles, hopes and dreams; that no one person’s experience is any less or more valuable for the difference in intensity.

Maybe we can learn to let each other in so we can help each other heal, to make the workload a little lighter and make the road seem a little less long.

WANTED: Hope

Hope? What is hope? How do some people maintain hope in the face of terrible circumstances, while others lose it and seem to never find it again?

Hope defies all the odds. In fact, Hope can be so elusive it leaves us speechless. I find it funny that, for something I am so passionate about, I am having a terribly hard time finding the words for what I want to say. When I look over to where Hope is sitting in the corner of my kitchen and ask her opinion on the matter, she just shrugs, turning her head to gaze out the window. The sky is this gorgeous, breathtaking blue today – there’s not a cloud in sight. I suppose the beauty of this day is far more interesting to her than my struggles to put words on a page. And maybe she’s right. Figures.

Our world can be such a loud place sometimes, it’s easy to forget about the gentler things in life. We’re force fed a stream of bad news all day long until there is little room left over for simple joys. We’re tricked into believing Hope has disappeared when really, she’s been walking beside us all along, hoping over cracks in the sidewalk while we have our eyes glued to our phones. Hope is unassuming and subtle – she doesn’t like to shove herself into places she isn’t wanted. But she’s always there, somewhere, waiting for us to look up for a second and take a breath of fresh air. You see, we all have something to live for, but this is something we tend to forget. Hope lives in that thing; it’s where she’s made her home and she ain’t leaving any time soon.

Is it foolish to have hope? That depends on what you believe.

There is a point when hope can become blind optimism and faith in the wrong thing, but that is a far cry from believing we have a reason to live. In the last few years, I’ve learned there are two fundamentally different ways to go through life: one looks at the world and says there is a reason I am here, and the other says this is meaningless. It is a difference in mentality that can lead a person to take their own life, or find a way to crawl themselves out of that black hole, whether with help or alone. It is a difference in what you believe resides at the core of every human being – are we broken, or are we whole? Meaningless, or meaningful?

Everyone struggles sometimes. Life can be unpredictable. Life can be hard. We do not choose much of what happens to us in life, but we do choose how we respond. We can choose to be a victim of the challenges we face, or collaborate with life to seek out solutions. I am not here to diminish your pain. There are some who have dealt with struggles I cannot begin to understand; the dark depths of the mind some wander into are undoubtably terrifying. We find Depression enters most of our lives at one point or another, whether in the form of a loved one, a colleague, or in ourselves. It has become a leading cause of disability and will continue to expand its domain, unless we do something about it. Depression stems from the belief that tomorrow will be no different from today, when we forget we have something to live for and tell Hope to go bother someone else, we’ve already pitched a tent and we’d rather be left alone with our suffering, please and thank you. In reality, this is the last thing we should do.

Under the threat of Depression’s oppressive reign, it’s our job to remind each other life is beautiful, and no one is ever alone – Hope is sitting right over there and there are plenty of people around.

Hope continues to baffle me. I’ve met privileged adolescents who are caught in the throws of Depression, and I’ve met people who’ve been through Hell and still see Hope exists. One of the most powerful examples I’ve encountered is the story of how circus changed the lives of people in two vastly different communities, one in the far north of Canada, the other in the heart of West Africa. The story began with two circus artists who met during their performing career. They found they shared the dream of making a difference in the community that had raised them, and quickly became friends.

Guillaume Saladin had spent his childhood divided between three places: a town in France, the lively city of Montreal, and the bitterly cold Igloolik in the far north of Canada. He had a love and appreciation for all three places and their people, but he had seen the sorrow of the North and longed to do something to help. In the summer of 1998, the town was struck by the suicides of two young people. It was not the first time, and it was a pattern that needed to stop. Guillaume returned to assist in a project aiming to give the youth an outlet for their emotions in order to prevent further suicides, and this led to the creation of Artcirq.

Yamoussa Bangoura had grown up in Guinea, West Africa, a country plagued by poverty. He was fortunate enough to have found circus at a young age, and the passion and drive with which he pursued the art enabled him opportunities far beyond the norm. He was able to travel the world, performing, while supporting himself and his family back home. Some time later, Yamoussa returned to teach circus to his siblings and community, later building a grassroots school to continue the initiative. In 2007, he created Kalabante with a few of his highest performing students. Some were related by blood, and some were not, but they became a family.

The two friends decided to do an exchange: the African-based circus would visit Igloolik, and Artcirq would visit Guinea. Circus Without Borders was born. (You can watch the film here or here.) The differences were shocking, but so were the similarities. Both communities embraced the other with warm, welcoming arms. Both had faced struggles of their own, but the ways in which they approached these struggles was astonishing. Yamoussa spoke of the culture he grew up in: you deal with struggles, maybe you deal with feelings of depression, but suicide is never an option because you are working to find a way to support yourself and your family. You see everything your family gave you and you want to give back, so you work until you can. Life is hard but there are things to live for, people to live for, joy to be felt and love to give.

Life is hard but it’s also worth it – that’s something we should never forget.

These days, Hope tags along wherever I go, and I’m glad. Things are a whole lot brighter with her around. Why should we keep Hope around? Because even in darkness, there is light to be found.