Imagine the following scene: You’re at home, sitting in your living room, curled up in your favorite chair, reading your favorite book. Night falls, the temperature outside drops. You glance at the window, snow is falling. The cold begins to penetrate the house. Thankfully you have a nice wood fireplace. It’s time to add a little heat to the room. You stand up, retrieving a log from your carefully prepared stack of wood, anticipating not only the warmth from the fire you’re going to build, but also the calming crackling sound, and the soporific glow from the flames. As you approach the fireplace, you stop, poised to add the log and remember that you are a strong person. Your time and effort is valuable. You don’t want to be taken advantage of. What if the fireplace doesn’t give you enough heat? What if the log you spent so much time preparing isn’t used as effectively as it could be. Why should you spend so much time and energy on something that may not come back to reward you? So you speak out loud to your fireplace, putting words to thoughts: “Give me some heat, and THEN I’ll throw on a log”.
Think about the absurdity of this scene. We all know the natural order of how the reward of heat is created. Yet if we look, we may find that we do this same behavior in ourselves.
In our personal lives, friendships and romantic relationships have become a business transaction. “I’ll keep being your friend as long as you are fun to be around, and as long as you don’t hurt me”. Or “I’ll stay with you as long as I’m getting more enjoyment out of this relationship than I think I’d get with someone else”.
In our business lives, we see our employer “taking advantage of us” and so we hold back our best efforts. We don’t stay late even when it’s convenient. We slack when we could be productive. We say to ourselves, “I’ll work hard only when I feel valued”. We may even justify unethical behavior and ultimately theft as a way to “balance things out”. At the very least we cease to be “anxiously engaged”.
We also fall victim to that horrible practice of comparison. “So-and-so’s boyfriend always does thoughtful things, mine never does” or “Company X buys their employees lunch every day, my company does nothing”. Whatever it is, we can always find something that looks better from the outside.
This situation quickly becomes so disheartening, so draining on us. This viewpoint of seeing everything in the world, our friends, significant others, and employers as the other side of a scale we anxiously try to balance, never putting too much on our side.
But in both our personal and business lives, there exists another viewpoint that can lead us to long term success and happiness.
Let me relate a story from my own life. When I was in my early twenties, a friend of mine got a job at a company I worked for. He was hired as a low level IT person whose job was to climb into the hot attic and pull cable all over the building. For 8 hours a day he ran cable from one end to the other. Nobody was up there to see him working or not working. They had no idea if he worked hard, or slacked. As long as the cables got ran they were happy. He, on the other hand, didn’t have any schooling or background, and he really wanted to be in tech. He saw this as a huge opportunity in life. So he worked his heart out. He ran. He sweated. When he was done, he went to his manager and asked for more work. The few times someone did see him, they saw him working hard, never slacking. Today he’s a high level IT engineer.
He didn’t demand heat before throwing on a log, and that fire ultimately provided far more “heat” than he ever anticipated.
The most fulfilling relationships you’ll have are those for which you never stop and consider the “relative balance”.
Photos by Derek Howard
If you give selflessly and consistently, always putting out the best of what you have, those around you will want more of what you have. And you’ll discover that what you have to give is far more valuable than even you thought. Others will find joy and benefits that you yourself didn’t see. Employers will beg to pay you to work for them. You’ll touch lives you never thought you would. You’ll bring light and hope to those around you.
In my own life, it’s always the things I did that nobody asked me to do that benefited me the most. From organizing meetups, to helping out others, to creating blogs and podcasts. Those items always gave back far more than I ever put in, but only because I didn’t start by asking what I would get out of them. I just worked.
Boundaries are important for your health. There are times to quit jobs. There are times to break off or cool down relationships. But until we reach those points we should be “all in” with our efforts. The quickest way to poison a committed relationship is to only give as much as your partner gives. The quickest way to starve your career is to only work hard when you feel well paid and well appreciated.
You will benefit far more by being your best self regardless of the output of those around you.
Are you a flower refusing to bloom until the soil is just perfect? Let me quote my favorite Disney movie, Mulan: “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all”
What situation have you been holding back on? A relationship? A job? Something else? Seek out a trusted friend and talk about it. Maybe that can help you find the best way to turn it around. If nothing else, you’ll get a chance to be heard.
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