For many years I was caught up in the idea of DIY: do it yourself. I don’t mean the DIY home improvement stuff, although I did (and do) a fair bit of that. No, this was more about the idea of doing everything for myself, of going it alone, of never asking for help.
Americans are big on the whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” thing. We have all kinds of myths of the lone hero doing things against impossible odds. And sure, there are times when that’s true—when it’s that singular person who’s courageous or creative or committed enough to do the thing that needs doing at just that moment.
But there’s a difference between doing something on your own because it needs doing that way, and doing something on your own because your pride won’t let you ask for help, or even receive help when it’s offered.
I’ve done that. A lot, I realized. I caught myself doing it just last week, when I needed something important, a friend offered help, and I refused. Not because I could do it myself even, but because I was not willing to accept the help, because my pride was getting in the way. So I politely refused the offer, and then sat and tried to figure out how I was going to do it myself.
A few days later, no further along, I realized that I needed to accept the help. So, from a place of humility, I called back and told my friend, “I’m going to take you up on your offer after all. I hope you don’t mind.”
And of course he didn’t. The problem was fixed almost immediately, and we both left the exchange feeling good about it.
That was the thing I hadn’t thought of before, when I was so wrapped up in my own needs, and my own pride to see them accomplished through my own efforts: that receiving with grace is a gift to the giver, too. When we allow another to give something to us, to do a favor, with no thought of payment in return, we allow them the opportunity to experience all the wonderful feelings that come with giving a gift to another.
I realized too that I was hoarding those feelings for myself—always willing to jump in and offer assistance when needed (and to experience those great feelings when I helped someone else)—but never willing to allow someone else to feel those feelings helping me.
And it dawned on me that I was only living half the experience—like trying to breathe and only exhaling. That’s a good analogy: Just like breathing is both exhaling and inhaling, life is both giving and receiving. One without the other is imbalanced, and our lives suffer because of it.
(The same is true of those who always take and never give in return, who breathe in all the world has to offer but never breathe out some of who they are to enrich the world in turn. Or Consumers vs. Producers, put another way. A post for another time…)
So I’ve decided that I need to be more open to opportunities to receive the gifts of help, or gratitude, or praise that others offer me. And to do so with grace and humility. To ignore my pride when it speaks up and tells me I can do it on my own, or my selfishness when it tells me that I’ll be beholden to that person if I accept their gift, freely given.
I believe that learning to receive those things better enables us to give them freely ourselves. To truly understand having a need, and the humbling act of asking for help.
I hope you’ll take the opportunity this week to learn to receive gifts with humility and grace, whether it’s help or gratitude or praise, and to use that learning to improve your own ability to give to others in need.
Receive. Give. Inhale. Exhale.
Just like breathing.