I never knew why, but part of me always hated the story The Giving Tree. It’s not that I don’t understand love. I have three wonderful boys and I would do anything for them. And it’s not just that it’s a sad story because both the boy and the tree are even somewhat happy in the end.
Maybe it’s that the Giving Tree gave everything to the boy and then that’s all it had. What if the boy lived another 20 years and wanted to keep coming back to the Tree, but because the Tree had given too much, it couldn’t give anymore?
That’s the problem with sacrificing yourself. You lay yourself down at whatever alter you chose with the belief that your sacrifice will define you, but I say that’s hogwash. It’s not the loss of you that defines you. It’s you. It’s your love, your passion, your ideas, your effort, and your relationships.
If you sacrifice your whole being just to satisfy the whim of a short-sighted boy (even if you love them more than your life) then you cannot give him anything more, even if he needs you more in the future.
As a leader sometimes we need to be like a tree. Strong. Standing tall. Ready to support our followers , whether they’re our children, our employees, our friends, or our students. But unlike the Giving Tree, we need to take care of ourselves. We can’t give everything away without demanding new fertilizer and water for ourselves. To not do so is short-sighted. Then we can only give so much. If we take care of ourselves and continue growing, we can support more people. We can let them reach even greater heights.
We’ve all known people who just want to keep giving. They can’t say no, even as it eats them away. I’ve been in the headspace as well—feeling like my worth was defined only by what I could provide for my family. Then a very wise man pointed out that I would never want my children to feel that way. They are precious and worth far more than just a sacrifice for someone else. Then he pointed out that the best way to teach them that was to Lead By Example.
Talk about a mind shift that knocked me off my feet.
So, what can we do? How can we keep going, keep giving and giving while still holding onto our spark?
We are social animals and many things about our evolution supports our need for other people. Meditation and a day at the spa may help relax us and give us focus, but I think a critical part of the recharging process is a great set of friends. Like batteries that get used up every time we give something of ourselves to another person, we need people that will help recharge us.
Feeling loved, feeling valued, feeling understood. It involves someone giving something of them to us…their time, their ears, their patience, their effort or their silence. And that’s OK. We all need a group of people that we can call on to give us a bit of themselves, every once in a while. With friends, it’s give and take and it allows us to keep giving ourselves, over and over again.
The truly selfless act may be to be a little bit selfish, after all.
by Veronica Ciolfi
*Beautiful picture at the top by Jonathan Sammy.