If you’re a natural giver, then you have probably fallen into the trap of over-giving at some point. Always aiming to please, you put the needs of others ahead of yourself – often at the expense of your personal growth and well-being.
While generosity is a noble quality, there is a fine line between being generous and giving too much.
“Generous giving comes from a generous place, which implies that you have taken care of your own needs and can put forth energy toward others. It comes from a full heart,” says Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW. “Over-giving, on the other hand, is not the ultimate form of selflessness. Instead, it essentially comes from an inability to receive. That means you give, give, give because you think (or hope) it will be appreciated, or because it makes you feel good about yourself, or because you feel morally obligated to.”
In other words, over-givers give due to an unmet need. It’s giving in order to get. It’s stems from seeking validation.
Giving with Discernment: What It Means and How to Do It
The difference between a giver who reaches their potential and a giver who gets burnt out is discernment.
Successful givers have what psychologists refer to as “situational judgement effectiveness.” In other words, they are selective with who they help and how they help. Having good judgement and being discerning is not the same as being judgmental.
Discernment isn’t really something we learn in school and it’s probably not something we learn from our parents. Historically, we learn about discernment through failure. However, many of us try to avoid failure because it has a negative connotation; and when we avoid failure, we are depriving ourselves from the important lessons we need to learn and grow. You might say we “learn this the hard way.”
As a generous person, one of the key lessons to learn in order to not hit rock bottom is discernment and the ability to judge well. The word “well” is important here because we learn judgment very early on in our development.
In his book Give and Take, Adam Grant shares his research on givers, takers, and matchers. He poses this question, “Are the most successful people the takers?” What he found was the most successful people were actually the givers. And can you guess who the least successful people were? Also the givers.
In Grant’s research, he found the one key quality that separated successful givers from failed givers was discernment – the successful givers knew who, how and when to help. The way to become aware is to ask yourself: “Am I giving freely to everyone (even takers) or am I careful about who I give to?”
The Skills You Need to Develop to Be a Successful Giver
- Ask questions.
Asking questions helps with impulse control. It requires you to pause and think about what you’re going to say before you say it. It’s what you’re doing with the car salesperson when you say you’re just looking or you want to sleep on it. You’re buying yourself time to make a decision.
2. Trust yourself.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, he cites a research study on college students and the amount of time it takes them to make judgments that accurately predict end of semester evaluations. They showed a six second clip to students and asked them to judge effectiveness of the professor and participants were able to accurately predict effectiveness ratings at the end of the semester, even without hearing the teacher’s voice.
Many people seek validation from others and value the opinions of others more than their own. They also trust others more than they trust themselves. In a professional context, this can cause them to pivot in their businesses as they are getting them off the ground. Eventually they come back to their original idea or area of expertise; but first, they need to learn to trust themselves while discerning which advice they are going to follow and which advice they are going to take with a grain of salt.
Why It’s Okay to Say “No” (and Why You Need to in Order to Be Successful)
By the time givers ask for help, they are not only saying they want to “feel successful” but they are also wondering if there is anyone else in the world like them. They’ve usually been surrounded by toxic people who drain their energy. They had friends who told them they have a gift, but those friends didn’t know how to help them shine.
These types of givers often experience generosity fatigue. This is dangerous for their wellbeing because givers naturally feel fulfilled by giving to others. When the same thing that once lit them up – giving – has become draining, they find themselves no longer productive, motivated, or inspired.
This is not only detrimental to them feeling successful; it is also detrimental to society. In Grant’s research, he also found that when you put a taker in a community of givers, they actually become more generous. But when a giver feels drained, they stop giving, isolate themselves, and give up. This means there is one less giver making the world a better place by giving and changing the environment around takers.
The reason givers are afraid to say “no” to things is because they’re afraid how they will be perceived and worried it will feel bad to say no.
Think of it this way: let’s say you have two friends who come to you for the same piece of advice. The first friend asks you for advice on a subject you’re knowledgeable in. You spend an hour talking to this person about why and how they should follow your advice. Meanwhile, this friend tells you all the reasons why it won’t work, why it’s hard, and make excuses why they can’t do it. You feel drained after this conversation, and a week later you find out that your friend didn’t’ take your advice. Wow, now that’s frustrating.
The second friend you spend 10 mins talking to. They come to you for your expert advice, take it and get amazing results.
Ask yourself: “How would my life be different if I helped six people like friend number two in the same amount of time it took me to feel drained by friend number one?”
This is what it means to be discerning – if you knew ahead of time that friend number one would make a ton of excuses, wouldn’t take your advice, and made you feel drained, then you would spend less time engaging in the conversation. Instead of spending an hour with them, you might instead say “it sounds like you’re having a hard time.” Or “it sounds like you should trust what your doctor is telling you.”
The benefit of saying “no” to that one person is that you have the opportunity to help six people whose lives will actually be changed for the better by the advice you give.