Generosity is certainly an admirable quality. To be generous means to give freely and liberally.
An act of generosity is both an act of kindness and an act of contribution.
Except there are times when an act of generosity goes awry. By that I mean you act with the intention of being generous, yet somehow are left feeling resentful, taken advantage of, depleted, or just plain unappreciated after the fact.
Now one might argue, if this is how you are left feeling despite your intention to be generous, you had some kind of emotional strings attached. This could call into question whether it really was an act of generosity at all.
After all, generosity, in its purest form, has no strings or expectations attached.
Then again, maybe something else is at work when a sincere intention to be generous leaves you feeling less than satisfied after the fact.
Consider that the difference between an act of generosity that delivers on your best intentions vs. one that results in emotional distress comes down to one thing: mindfulness.
By learning to be mindfully generous you can ensure that the spirit of generosity with which you initiate an act, fully manifests in your experience. It can also facilitate the effectiveness of your personal leadership.
There are two principles you can apply to ensure you are being mindfully generous, increasing the likelihood of satisfaction all around. They are:
1. Expect NOTHING in return…NOTHING AT ALL
This requires you be very honest with yourself up front. If you hope for something in return, admit it to yourself and don’t bother unless you are willing to risk disappointment. Making the choice to be generous consciously can free you up to willingly take that risk, thereby releasing some, if not all, of your attachment to a particular response.
If you know you want something in return say so. Of course, in this case it becomes a negotiation rather than an act of pure generosity. Nonetheless you can still act in the spirit of generosity by giving more than is necessary or expected from the exchange.
If you expect anything, from a simple thank you to a gushing display of appreciation, it probably means you are trying to please someone rather than truly be generous. If you happen to be a people pleaser by nature, even just being aware (a.k.a. mindful) that you have this expectation can be enough to free you up, allowing you to let it go and act generously anyway. You see people pleasers are often by nature very generous.
2. Know what you can responsibly afford to give…and give only what you can responsibly afford.
This includes more than money. It includes your time, attention and energy.
One of my clients consistently went above and beyond contractual obligations in the spirit of generosity. When looking closer at profitability it became clear they were giving at the expense of the health of the business in some cases. When a few clients later balked at having to pay for previously freely provided services, it was upsetting. An unrealistic expectation had unfortunately been set unconsciously regarding the exchange of value.
Being mindfully generous in this case meant establishing clear expectations regarding the exchange of value so anything above and beyond could be easily recognized as such. Of course, the best clients will be as committed to your success as they are to their own, making adjustments to an agreement much easier. Clarity, however, is essential to building a strong foundation of trust for the long term in any relationship. And no one wins if you go out of business or cannot keep up with your commitments.
When it comes to giving of your time and attention, it is important to be just as mindful.
I have seen far too many people give to the point of exhaustion or at the expense of commitments they have made to themselves. Bringing mindfulness to your choices in how, when, where and for what purpose you give of yourself will help to ensure your generosity not only contributes to others, but fortifies you as well. Leaders must pay particular attention to how they invest their time, attention and energy to ensure they are leveraging these things in service of something larger than themselves.
Ultimately, an act of mindful generosity is a gift to all involved.
A recent experience reminded me of this. A long time friend generously shared her magnificent home on a beautiful island with her friends for 5 days. As we left the island together, her joy and sense of satisfaction from sharing a place so very special to her was palpable. It was a great reminder of the rich experience it can be for all involved when someone acts with mindful generosity. The sharing of her home, her time and her loving energy throughout the journey was both given and received as a precious gift.
Now I’d love to hear from you: what is it like for you to be on the receiving end of a mindful vs. a mindless act of generosity?
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