I was having a chat with my fiancé one night recently, and burst into tears. I was bitter, sad, and angry. Why doesn’t anyone help me in return, I asked. Why is it when I am good to people and it feels like the kindness and generosity isn’t reciprocated? My fiance, with one eyebrow lifted, looked at me tenderly and said, “Perhaps because you aren’t really giving?”
I’ve always thought of myself as a kind person. When I moved from city to city with my expatriate job, I hosted many friends from Hong Kong, where I grew up, to visit. After all, who doesn’t want a free place to stay in when in Paris, Tokyo, London… ? So I would be more than happy to put them up while they traveled.
However, when these people come and board in my guest room, do I realize that they have other friends in the same city. And so, in the five days they stay with me, I see them perhaps only one night for dinner – and they don’t even attempt pay for dinner to thank me for letting them stay at my home.
The other four nights they were out with their other friends. Why did they not invite me to join them? Why did they not offer to introduce us sooner when I first arrived in the new city, a stranger to the land, so that I could make some new friends? I tried asking them, they just shrug and smile.
I did not understand why it wasn’t reflex for them, for every time I hear that someone is going somewhere I offer to connect them with people I know in that city in case they need some support. I got upset that no one seems to care about my plight.
Then I got angry. I am generous with my contacts. Even over a coffee chat and I learn about your latest venture, immediately I will skim through my address book in my head, and offer to introduce you to people whom I think could help you with your endeavors.
Yet hardly has that happened to me in reverse. Sometimes I even have to ask others whether they could introduce someone to me.
So I am bitter that the favors aren’t returned. That despite all my giving, helping, supporting every friend and acquaintance I can, it seems that no one gives back to me in return.
Almost timely. After that little episode with my fiance, I was simply bouncing from website to website, and searching for ebooks on the Internet to read. I came across Eckhart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth.” Rummaging through the free pages, I came to this line: “Whatever you think the world is withholding from you,” writes Tolle, “you are withholding from the world.”
Suddenly, the ripples cleared up and I saw a pristine reflection of the reality.
Every time I had given before, was actually not genuine giving. At the back of my mind, I was keeping an invisible tally of favors and acts of kindness I had bestowed on others, making a mental note that some day, I’d cash it back.
I didn’t give, I invested.
As with investments, I expected something in return. And with every investment there’s a risk of gain or loss. Therefore, when I didn’t receive something back, let alone something in addition, I counted it as loss. That was why I became resentful and sour.
My intentions were therefore, not pure. I was subconsciously calculating, expecting, scheming. I put myself on a high horse, as if I was doing them a good deed, and that made me a better person.
As Tolle wrote so powerfully, I lamented others for withholding from me. Yet, it was I in the first place who reserved from others, not giving fully and wholeheartedly with the best of intentions.
In the end, who became the most upset? I did.
I’m slowly changing that mindset. There is no miraculous way or 10 steps to follow.
Simply, just decide to give without expecting anything in return.
I now invite people to dinner because I enjoy their company and want to get to know them better, not because down the line I want to be invited back. When I find out that my friends decide to spend only 5 hours with me on my wedding weekend, but flit around town to see several other groups of friends – whom they’ve never introduced – those few days, I am grateful they will fly all the way for my wedding. Let it be. I’ve done what I can.
But this is just one part of it. Tolle finished the paragraph with, “You are withholding it because deep down you think you are small and that you have nothing to give.”
Indeed, it was also my insecurity with myself that I wasn’t able to let it all go, and just share my knowledge and resources. I had to make it sound like I was trying really hard to find a contact, or that they might not appreciate it. Consequently, I discounted what I had and rocked my own self-confidence.
It’s a paradox, but very real one. The more we are unsure of ourselves, the more we try to hold on to what we have, thinking we can’t lose it or let others benefit from our knowledge. So we withhold always a little for ourselves, and yet blame others and the universe for not giving to us without reservations.
Believe in who you are and what you have. Help others and give your all.
You will feel happier. Trust me on this one.
Give, don’t invest.
Raised in Hong Kong and Australia, Noch Noch was a young, overachieving executive for an international corporation, working and living in the world’s most premier cities. After seven years of living the life she dreamt of, or so she thought, she suffered a serious episode of stress-related depression that turned her life upside down. As she battles with depression, Noch Noch is on a quest to be the wake up call for others in similar plights. She strives to be true to herself, jotting down her reflections on living with depression and self-awareness at “Be Me. Be Natural.” (http://nochnoch.com).