A Return to Giving Without Expectation

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Here’s what had gone missing from blogging and writing for me: the focus on what I was giving.

Somehow, I’d gotten myself tangled up in what I thought I was supposed to get from blogging. I had lost the joy of giving without expectation. It is that joy that helps us be generous in spirit, while those expectations are the seeds of unhappiness.

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I started thinking about  “giving without expectation” a few years ago, specifically in terms of parenthood. I was feeling frustrated that my kids weren’t appreciating all the things I did for them, and I asked myself why I was doing those things in the first place. I realized that some things don’t need to be appreciated; some things we do simple because we are fulfilled by the giving.

Writing is like that for me.

Well, some writing.

Some writing I do with the expectation of getting paid. I would not, for example, spend hours rewriting hotel descriptions if not for the cash that’s given to me in return.

But writing about the places I’ve been? That is a pleasure for me. I enjoy sharing stories of travel with people.

I also love writing and talking about happiness and relationships and figuring out how live and be just a little bit better. I like sharing my self analysis because it’s more fulfilling than thinking or talking to myself. No matter what happens after I put those words out there, the initial act of releasing them into the ether is a rewarding one for me.

But passions have a way of picking up expectations like white socks collect dust from a wood floor.

I want to live my passions, and so I presume I have to monetize them. In order to make money, I have to garner attention. I have to measure and optimize and prove the value of what I do so that I can be allowed to do it more often. This, from what I’ve seen, is the way the world works.

Except, sometimes the way it seems the world works is bullshit.

The beauty of giving without expectation is that the gift is better. The shine of sincerity and good intention is not clouded by the film of motive. But more importantly, the person who gives isn’t at the mercy of the fickle winds of feedback. When we give without expectation, we our in control of our happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction.

My friend Courtney and I once discussed this concept in regards to giving to the homeless. She shared with me a story of a man who was unhappy with the free food she handed him through her car window. “Why do I even bother?” she asked.

“Why do you bother?” I asked.

“Because I want to teach my kids about helping other people,” she said. “And because when I have more than someone else, I want to share it.”

“What that guy said or did doesn’t take either of those things away from you.”

“I know, I know, but it ticked me off!”

And of course it did. It’s nice to have our giving appreciated. But when it isn’t, or when we don’t get the response we’d expected, we can hold on to our purpose and passion when we remember why we give in the first place.

However, there is a limit to how much we can give without expectation.

Saints, I suppose, can give endlessly just because, but mere mortals cannot constantly empty themselves out without getting refilled in some way. We must be conscious of our decision to give freely, making sure we are truly OK with the price – that we can afford it emotionally -  before agreeing to the deal. Sometimes we have to admit that we have nothing left to give, and step back until our cup runneth over again.

I’d forgotten all that. I’d gotten tied up in what I thought this place had to be, what it had to produce, and how it might fit into a bigger plan. I spent as much time thinking about optimal schedules and organic search terms as I did turning my internal thoughts about happiness into words to share. I also started giving what I thought I should and not what I could. I was running dry and had become dependent on using the feedback as fuel to keep going, which is pretty much a foolproof recipe for ending up broken down on the side of  People Have Other Stuff Going On Highway.

It turns out I kind of have no idea what the bigger plan is, or what I’m supposed to do to bring it into existence.

What I know is that I am one of those people who has a bizarre need to share what she’s thinking, and I seem to have an unusual obsession with creating happiness. I think I’ll just stick with that and trust that the “bigger plan” is too big and too perfect and too destined-to-happen for me to screw it up by not optimizing my blog.

It’s time to wipe away the expectations and polish off the passion. It’s time to focus on giving what I can because I want to, feedback or lack thereof be damned.

What can you give the world without expectation?

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  1. Jenny says:

    This is an excellent piece…great writing and extremely well thought out. I’m new to your blog and just getting back into blogging after a couple year break. It’s all new territory! Thank you for writing out what I’m sure so many of us are feeling!

  2. Christina says:

    You already know the wonderful Laura Miller of the Secret Agent L project (http://www.secretagentl.com/)? I am almost sure you go, but anyway …

    I did a few missions and one of my learnings was that finding a nice gift, writing an ecouraging card, hiding the gift at the right place – all this is not difficult. Difficult is to walk away and NOT watch people picking the gift up. I realized that what I was wishing for was hiding behind a corner and see how my gift was picked up by a random person and APPRECIATED with surprise and happiness and it was hard not to be allowed to and in some cases not even able to.

    That is how I learned to give without expectations. I had to overcome the urge to watch and wait, but just drop the gift and walk away. To focus on giving and not receiving appreciation. It was a big lesson for life.

    Once I learned my lesson I felt freedom. It was a pleasure and fun to drop the gift and it was a great feeling to be free of expectations.
    Christina’s most recent post: Happy bicycle owner posting with a twist

  3. Megan says:

    I think this is one of those really tough lessons, like not taking anything personally. It’s one of the things I am constantly working on (like Gretchen Rubin, I love gold stars!)in my personal life. Oddly, in my professional life I don’t need the kudos.
    Megan’s most recent post: Not Forgotten

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think the kudos are more easy to measure in our professional lives. Continued employment and paychecks are tangible gold stars!

  4. daniel says:

    Knowing that you don’t know – that’s pretty much key, right there.
    daniel’s most recent post: Movie Contest

  5. Ally Bean says:

    I’ve come to believe that giving is what blogging is all about. Just write posts about whatever makes you feel whole. Share them with the world. Then accept whatever the world hands back to you. It’s a zen sort of attitude that works for me, but took me a long time to understand.
    Ally Bean’s most recent post: The Moon Is Always Up There, You Know?

  6. Kent says:

    An often repeated saying in our house —> “You can only control what you do – not how others respond.” It’s such a tough commitment to stick to that mentality.

    You say smart and interesting things – it’ll all be OK.
    Kent’s most recent post: Sending a Message

  7. the muskrat says:

    Yes, do this stuff for you!
    the muskrat’s most recent post: muskrat does dallas

  8. Naomi says:

    Glad you’re back, babe!

    What can I give the world without expectation? My time.
    Naomi’s most recent post: Box 53b

  9. Kirsten says:

    This isn’t always easy but it’s my little life mission. As much as I can, I give without expectation. I don’t write about it or talk about it but it’s how I live each day because a while ago I realized it’s just a better way.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom, lady! I needed the encouragement today.
    Kirsten’s most recent post: Never Say Never || Revel Resorts

  10. Faiqa says:

    Most of the giving I do is without expectation of result. I try to find joy in the act itself. I’ve had people tell me they never see me sit down… I don’t think those people realize how much satisfaction I get from giving. At the same time, it’s always nice to be appreciated. Everyone has their moment when they need someone to tell them they’re doing a good job. Even me.
    Faiqa’s most recent post: Hunger Games and Happy Marriages

  11. today is my aunt’s 69th birthday. at lunch with her and her daughter she mentioned that one of my out of town cousins had sent a check for $40 in the birthday card, but she wanted to send it back, feeling the amount was too much. after i finished laughing i asked her two questions: 1) why doesn’t she feel worthy of $40 and 2) who is she to say what is too much for another to give.

    leads me back to a lesson i learned after the flood, don’t get in the way of other people’s miracles because giving can be quite selfish for the giver. complicated thing for me to grasp at first, but my priest friend swears that the more he gives, the more he gets.

    anyhow, i’m rambling. sorry, but i have to a tad more. i need to ask if you honestly think / thought that you don’t get much from blogging?
    hello haha narf’s most recent post: Adventure in Tahn

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