In the past, I had written about being a gracious receiver. Many of us, especially women, were raised to be givers and didn’t learn how to receive. Unless we feel sufficiently secure in ourselves—with our weaknesses as much as our strengths—it’s easier to give because we get to assume the power position, while receiving requires us to be comfortable with being vulnerable.
To be a conscious, empowered contributor to society, lopsided giving isn’t enough, even if gracious in nature, i.e., giving without expectations of getting anything back. It calls for gracious receiving as well. After all, giving and receiving are two equally indispensable parts that complete one of the cycles of life. We can’t have one without the other. There must be give and take, not just one or the other. We don’t necessarily need to give to the same person who gives us something, nor should we feel obliged to receive whatever is offered to us. Nonetheless, we must be comfortable with receiving that which we need and want.
Learning how to receive graciously and consistently is something I’ve been consciously working on for the past few years. Despite that, I was surprised of late at how much more comfortable I still am in the role of a giver than a receiver. As a case in point, recently, a colleague asked me how he could help, knowing that I’m still relatively new. I thanked him but told him I was good. Was I so self-sufficient that I couldn’t use help? Not at all. Did I think I knew it all and couldn’t accept help? Hardly. Rather, upon reflection, I realized that I really hadn’t given any thought to what I wanted to receive from others. Therefore, when asked how someone could help me, I completely drew a blank.
Can you relate to my experience? Is it easier for you to be the one to ask, “What can I do for you?” or “How can I help?” Does it tend to stump you when someone asks you those questions? What’s your typical answer? What may be the main reasons why it’s easier to give than to receive?
The Hat We Wear
When I thought about it, one of the reasons why I had a hard time assuming the receiver role at work is because I have been in a giver role all of my professional life: from being a professor turned consultant turned coach to now running an internal consulting function. To give you an idea, at my company’s recent leadership summit, there was a speed networking session. We were to get into groups of three and take turn introducing ourselves, our functions, and what we each could give to the other two members. It was a super-easy exercise for me, because my job, by definition, was to give and to serve. To further punctuate what’s often expected of my role, in one round of the speed networking, before I could even sit down, one person in the group took one look at me and said, “I know what you can give me!” Wait, wasn’t the instruction what she could give me, and not the other way around?
I realized that my professional identities over the years have deeply ingrained in me the default comfort with giving—above and beyond being socialized to be a giver as a female. Therefore, it’s almost jarring to me in the rare occasions when someone would turn the table and ask me what they could give me, even if I objectively could use the help. It’s as if I needed an organ transplant, but my body rejects the donor organ. When I stopped to think about it, this is pretty screwed up! Pardon the language, but saying it nicely simply doesn’t quite cut it here.
Know What We Want to Receive
To be able to answer the question of, “How can I help?” with anything other than, “I’m good,” I must be ready to say what I want/need. When I found myself stumped by the occasional offer of help, I realized that I didn’t know what I wanted to receive. Then, I realized—to my embarrassment—that it’s much easier to hide behind the mask of a giver. It absolves me of the responsibility to do the harder thing, i.e., to get clear on what I can’t do alone and to ask for help. While pride could be the reason someone hides behind giving, not being willing to be honest with ourselves could also be the reason for not knowing in what ways we could use a hand. In my case, the latter was the explanation for saying, “I’m good,” when offered help.
Pay It Forward
I used to hesitate to receive because I’d feel badly that I couldn’t return a favor. Then, I realized that the cycle of giving and receiving doesn’t need to involve the same pair of individuals switching roles as giver and receiver. That is, even if I couldn’t pay someone back for helping me, I could pay it forward and still fulfill the cycle and keep it going. I see this all the time, i.e., people hesitate to receive because they fear they don’t have anything to give back to the original giver. If I’m not careful, I could forget that refusing someone’s genuine giving cuts off the cycle of giving and receiving, and that all I really need to remember is to pay it forward.
To wrap it all up, while it may feel altruistic to be always the giver and never the receiver, refusing to receive for any reason—conscious or not—cuts off the circulation of good. I’d submit to you all that receiving carries equal value in our world as giving. To keep what’s good going, we need to be willing to be a gracious receiver as much as a generous giver.
So, what do you say? Do you agree that receiving is as important as giving? What reminds you to receive? Would love for you to share your insights and wisdom!
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