Generosity and the Gremlin of Not Enough

One of the interesting things about particularly challenging times, be they as common as a suddenly-lost job or as extraordinary as a pandemic, is that they have a way of revealing a whole realm of what was already there but denied. These times act like highlighter on text that’s always available yet often overlooked, sometimes willfully.

For example, that life is inherently unpredictable and that the comfort we get from a sense of certainty and predictability has come from the luck of so many days panning out somewhat as we anticipated.

For example, that leaning into our web of interconnection thoughtfully is best not just for those around us, but for ourselves as well. To paraphrase my friend, storytelling expert Natalia Alvarez, I’m safer not if I have all the hand sanitizer, but if everyone around me has it, too.

We often call that one generosity, those all-wins acts like sharing our hand sanitizer.

Seems so straightforward, this generosity. Give what you can, when you can, thoughtfully, and yet Whampus, my Gremlin of Not Enough (and Other Terrible Criticisms), has been having a field day with it. Whampus would have me compare myself and my actions with every person working in the trenches of hospitals and grocery stores, with every person cranking out facemasks from home to donate to medical personnel, with all manner of heroics that have goose eggs to do with my personal abilities.

I know this gremlin prodding well; it nagged at me for the decade+ between when I worked with teens in the foster system and when I became a coach.

The first fit Whampus’s ideal of being on the frontlines, right there with teens who had been through the wringer in a variety of horrible ways. In my early 20s, I was sorely lacking in skills to hold space and hope in the midst of their pain and anger, and in skills to process the experience such that I could keep trying. Instead, each shift lived in me as failure of the worst sort until Whampus had me convinced that I was utterly incapable of being helpful to anyone else, ever, in any meaningful context.

Coaching, on the other hand, is more like, well, Tupac Shakur actually said it best when he said:

I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.

In coaching, I’m part of a virtuous loop where I get to use my knack (an innate knack that I have and do work diligently to perpetually cultivate) for moving individuals toward better, more empowered versions of themselves which means they have more to put into their version of world change. And that tends to inspire and empower those they interact with and so on.

It’s from that same toolbox of skills cultivated for my clients that I pull from as I work to hear Whampus while also taking away his ability to make decisions for me. That is, tools to notice my discomfort and self-criticism without letting it determine my actions. My decisions – your decisions – are better when they come from a wiser place.

And it’s that wiser place that knows what generosity looks like when enacted by you.

Maybe it is being in a hospital or grocery story right now.

Maybe it is sewing masks.

Maybe it’s something else: Sharing homeschooling activities with friends, daily phone calls to check on community members, growing food to share in the season soon to come, decorating the front of your home to delight neighbors.

Whatever it is, I encourage you to work from your own enlivenment because as is always true but is being highlighted now, we need to fill our own tanks so that we can be generous in thoughtful and ongoing ways.

Or, as Howard Thurman said:

Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

As I’ve explored my inner dialogue about how to work from what makes me come alive and from my own skills, I’ve decided to add a few more free community offerings to my calendar, one on each weekday (two on Friday!) at least for the duration of the current stay-at-home order in Virginia. Find my professionally-focused gatherings at Keep Going Conversations, and centering-focused events created by a collaborative of coaches and others at The Breathing Space.

Members of The Bigger Badder Crew get their own weekly sugar-on-top including our free-form community conversation each Wednesday at noon Eastern, Chomp&Chat. We’d love to have you there, too.