Updated: Mar 5, 2020
If I could give you anything, what would it be?
Some people would ask me to buy them a car or a house. Others would ask that I pay their rent or pay their unpaid payment to bring their car loan up to date. Still others would ask me to send Grubhub to deliver food to the spot they’ve staked out under the bridge. How do I know all this? Because people have asked me for all these things.
I used to respond to requests with nearly the reliability of an ATM machine. It felt good to buy the gratitude and admiration of recipients by sharing the blessings that have been entrusted to me. But the good feeling quickly faded after the next ask that usually followed the receipt of their gift.
The cars I gave needed fuel and insurance and oil changes, and eventually they required tires and repairs. The houses require maintenance, property tax payments, utilities, and furniture. The rent paid one month, is due again next month. The car payments brought up to date are lost forever when the recipient doesn’t make the future payments. And although sending food to be delivered is a wonderful thing to do, the person is going to get hungry again within hours.
After several years of writing checks as though I was printing money in the basement, I began to learn that in some cases, I wasn’t helping the person, but rather, I was inadvertently harming them. I wasn’t helping people get on their feet, make better choices, and build their self-esteem and dignity. I cringe to think of its, but I know that in some cases, giving people a hand-out deprived them of their dignity.
I also learned from some people that no matter what I gave, it wasn’t enough. It crushed me to learn that some people were disappointed with the value of money or things that I gave them. "Why did she buy me a Ford, when she could have given me a Mercedes?"
I decided to completely change my approach to helping people.
I looked back at the ways that people helped me when I was 16 and newly emancipated with no money and no safety net. I realized that I hadn’t created financial success through being given money. In fact, had anyone simply handed me money, I would’ve felt awful. I didn’t want pity. I didn’t want a handout. What I desperately wanted had no financial value. In fact, it was, and still is, priceless.
A few wonderful souls accepted me, taught me, and gave me opportunities. To use the old parable, they didn’t give me a fish, they gave me a fishing pole and taught me how to fish. So rather than one meal, they taught me how to provide meals for myself for a lifetime. And in the learning and achieving, I acquired a self-worth and dignity that I hadn't even understood was missing.
When I think back on the best gifts that anyone has ever given me, I know now that the things aren't things at all. They are relationships, life lessons, success tips, opportunities, and introductions to others.
I understand now that the best things that I can do for anyone are to be a good friend, to share what I’ve learned, to clearly communicate the success tips I’ve acquired along the way, to give others opportunities when I can, and to connect people with others.
So let me ask you... if you could give anything to others, what would it be?