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In her early days, my mom was the queen of loving by giving. Like many mothers, she was happiest when she knew that everyone around her was happy.

Mom’s kitchen

Mom liked to bake, and her bounty was my reward for walking home after school. I didn’t mind the two-mile walk, except for during the months of November through March, when it was colder than brain-freeze in Wisconsin. As you might imagine, after puffing up a half-mile hill towards home, I felt great relief at seeing the stack-stone steps that led to the front door. The only thing better than tapping our quick, “secret knock” and turning the blackened brass knob to enter, was closing my eyes and deeply breathing the scent of whatever my mom had just baked. Often, I smelled breads: sourdough, kalamata olive, English muffin, orange-glazed cornbread, raisin bran, and my favorite of all breads—chocolate (ahhhhhhh). Not at all sweet, this ciabatta-like, lightly-crusty-and-inwardly-french-bread-feeling dieter’s dalliance held a mild coffee tang and was highlighted by pea-sized, dark chocolate chunks. It was absolute perfection when cut like a sleigh and laden with a heavy-handed spread of creamery butter.

Free love

More than half of what mom baked was to give away. She’d say, “their child is sick,” or, “they just lost a family member,” or sometimes, she “just wanted to do something nice.” When Mom would give a loaf of bread, she was giving something that nourished, soothed and salved some of life’s setbacks. She was giving a loaf of free love.

Giving too much

Mom got accustomed to giving as living. It wasn’t just bread she’d give away—she gave all the time: when she was sad, when she didn’t really want to and even to people who were deeply unkind to her. Bread was just one of many examples of how Mom gave goodness to others yet did not know how to give goodness to herself. Being focused on the wants and needs of others, she didn’t know what she wanted or needed. If I asked her, “what do you want for dinner?” her response was, “what are you hungry for?” If I asked, “how do you feel,” she asked, “Are you ok?” After years of not knowing how to care for herself, she experienced a period of immense emotional pain. I watched her shed tears for “no reason,” hover in depression and go through a health scare that left her temporarily bedridden. After spending much of her life as a giver, one can imagine how difficult it was for her to be immobilized and unable to give for months.

Giver’s pain isn’t sexist

Giver’s pain is a common ailment. It affects mothers and women across the globe, but it isn’t at all sexist—men feel giver’s pain too. And, because men—in general, do not find relief in discussing their pain, they often experience both the pain of giving and the pain of harboring it in silence.

Many men who’ve given to the point of pain are simply doing the best they can. In an attempt to salve a situation or driven by guilt, desperation or fear of losing something, they give all their money, time and possessions … in hopes of receiving love, attention and/or acceptance. This is both regularly unsuccessful and debilitating. Each of the men I’ve worked with who have walked this road, met a dead end of loss, anger and depression. Even if they were able to “keep” the job or relationship to which they “gave it all,” they lost themselves and lived with the regret of becoming “yes men.”

Learning through others

By unconditionally loving, observing and coaching people who are givers, I’ve learned three deep and pervasive lessons.

1. By only giving to others, we lose passion for life.
2. By only giving to ourselves, we lose friends and family.
3. The most joyful people choose to balance giving to others and themselves.

The good life

To become more powerful and joyful, we can choose to say “no” to fears of losing and “no” to unhealthy demands and behavior. We can choose to respect ourselves enough to say “yes” to our true needs and wants. We can choose to have faith that we will always be loved—whether by the person in front of us or by a different, respectful person. By applying willpower to stand strong and respect what is best for us, we allow ourselves to be treated the way we want. And we feel the results: confidence, freedom, respect and joy in life, ourselves and our relationships. Are you willing? The good life awaits …

What are your thoughts, ideas and experiences on giving? Have you been on the giving or receiving end in life? Please share with us, so we may grow in wisdom and willpower together …

Always with love,

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