By Carolyn Mahboubi
My blog, “Don’t Be a Selfless Giver”, elicited more questions than answers from my readers. Every day, I receive more emails asking me to dig deeper into the distinctions I identified. The questions run the gamut from, “How do I know if I’m a Matcher or a Giver?”, to “How can I be sure that I’m a Fierce, and not a Selfless Giver?”.
If you’re someone who loves scientific data and evidence, pick up Adam Grant’s brilliant book, “Give and Take”, where he masterfully parses the qualities inherent to each tendency. My clients and readers generally look to me as the person who takes in all the information and distills it into a form that is (I hope) useful to them. I invite you to keep that in mind as you continue to read.
I was born with a superpower; I was naturally a Fierce Giver. My earliest childhood memories are those of playing all out. I held nothing back, whether as a 4-year-old playing games of imagination with my little buddy Kamyar, who also happens to be my uncle, or as a second grader with my best friend, Shadi. As I grew older, I brought the same passion to everything I put my mind to. But as it happens to all of us, life begins to “should” all over us. “You should be studying instead of walking in the woods.”, “You should be more helpful to your mother.”, “You should be a nice girl and start a family” …the list goes on, and to be clear, much of it was my own interpretation of what others expected of me, and not necessarily the truth. But that doesn’t matter because what I made it mean, and what I now know for sure so many other people do as well is this, “If I do what I really want to do, then I’m a selfish person.”
The word, selfish, is Kryptonite for Givers. It’s also code for many other labels we understandably don’t want to be attributed to us. Calling someone selfish means something is wrong with them, that they’re broken or they’re bad. The word has little effect on Takers, and it’s a tuning fork for Matchers, but being told we are selfish is the biggest producer of shame and guilt (the 2 horsemen of the emotional apocalypse) for any true Giver.
Givers are always focused on others. This is the fundamental difference between Givers and the other 2 tendencies. However, Fierce Givers, slow down and consider themselves in the equation of giving. Selfless Givers, take action without any consideration for themselves. These are not personality traits etched in stone. They are ways of thinking, acting and being, that has us showing up to the world in ways that over time, create our personal reality (per Dr. Joe Dispenza’s elegant description). A Giver can shift to being a Matcher or even a Taker, in certain situations, but their tendency will be to revert back to their natural way of engaging with the world.
For now, let’s assume you’re pretty confident that you’re a Giver, and want to become more Fierce and less Selfless. Your “why” should be clear to you before you attempt this transformation. Some of the reasons my clients want me to help them make this shift are:
- Their professional growth is stunted by others’ perception that they are not strong enough, don’t know how to set boundaries, and anyone can walk all over them.
- They give so much to their family but feel resentful because they’re not appreciated.
- They are exhausted! No matter how much they give, there’s always more they feel they should be doing, and they end up feeling overwhelmed and hopeless about never being able to “catch up”.
- Their health is compromised, and they know deep down that they are not taking care of themselves, but don’t know how to do that without feeling like they’re being selfish, or taking away from another life area that is important to them.
- They have trained everyone around them to expect a certain level of selfless giving, and they feel it’s too late to change them (or themselves).
- They are doing all the things they were taught, that makes for a good mother (wife, father, child, employee, boss, … ), and yet they feel more guilt, shame, and resentment in their everyday life, rather than the ease and fulfillment they seek.
- They feel drained, instead of energized, after social interactions with friends and family.
So we begin the work of shifting from Selfless to Fierce. It’s not difficult work, but depending on how long we’ve been practicing being Selfless, it will take a measure of time and patience – mostly with our loved ones who, through no fault of their own, have come to have a certain expectation of us. It’s only human nature that what is tolerated today, is mandated tomorrow. Once we’re ready to do the work, it helps to know where we are going. Here are 5 ways Fierce Givers show up:
- They are always looking for the win/win solution. Their motto is, “We all win, or we don’t play.”
- They empower others to become stronger, more capable versions of themselves. In other words, they teach others how to fish, and don’t give them the fish.
- They give for the pure joy of it, and if it doesn’t feel joyful, they slow down to question and explore their emotions without judgement for themselves or others.
- They are always in the equation, knowing that they cannot serve others from an empty plate.
- They have a deep and clear understanding of the distinction between serving those they love and pleasing them.
My own story of how I lost my superpower in my 20’s and regained it 2 decades later, is one for another time. Suffice it to say that having been on both sides of the giving equation has allowed me to help others – especially women – to become proud, powerful and Fierce Givers.