March 14: Back to the Harvard Business Review -- productive generosity

This post is my final set of learnings, reflections and personal application of ideas from the Harvard Business Review article Beat Generosity Burnout by Adam Grant & Reb Rebele (link at the bottom of this post).

"Although giving makes our jobs and our lives more meaningful, it doesn’t always make us more energized. On average, helping others makes people only modestly happier -- and in some studies, takers actually report more pleasure in life than givers. It’s not hard to figure out why. When people are selfless to the point of burnout, they undermine their own ability to give and the satisfaction that comes from it.

Generosity means caring about others, but not at the expense of caring for yourself. By protecting yourself from exhaustion, you may feel less altruistic. Yet you will actually end up giving more."

So, I bolded the sentence above and again here: Generosity means caring about others, but not at the expense of caring for yourself. This statement is hard for me to read, but I think I am growing to believe it. I have had too many days when I come home too tired to take care of myself (and therefore -- unhealthy dinner, no workout, tears, mean mom/disengaged wife syndrome creeps in), and I complain that I've been giving-giving-giving all day long. SOME of that giving is part of the job, but some of it is being an over-committed, let-me-do-it-all lifelong habit that needs attention.

As a coach, this jibes with some of what I've learned:
* ask good questions to truly understand the challenges;
* help others seek solutions, don't be the solution-guru;
* if I do the work solo, that won't build capacity or be sustainable -- create right-sized plans that empower others.

Adam and Reb wrap-up the article with suggested good habits. As I read through them, I know that I need to embrace 1-2 of these if I want to be a stronger, sustained giver to the people and organizations I care so deeply about. AND not only do I need to make the commitment to shifting my practice, I need to have a way of sharing that with folks that doesn't make me feel terrible or guilty, but instead, acknowledges my care. Again, just like I do as a coach, I think I'm doing to need to rehearse my language, so it feels comfortable and authentic, rather than a bumbling "uhm, I don't think I can but let me check, I'm so busy but you know how important this is to me and I want to help but..." (I'm really good at THAT already!).

So my big takeaways:
* Being generous is worthy and important in the workplace.
* Being a stressed giver isn't good -- for the giver or receiver.
* There are concrete ways to reflect on your giving and make it more productive.
* AND it's possible for ME to be a more productive giver -- but for that to happen, I need to commit to changing some of my bad habits.

I know so many educators who give-give-give, and while some of the stories in this article may feel too "corporate", I bet you'll recognize yourself in here, as I did, and be inspired to make some meaningful changes -- for your OWN good and the good of those you help, too!


  1. Glad you circled back to this article. Sharing your thinking is a great way to cement your learning. I copied those 7 Habits onto my desktop. I think they belong in my writer's notebook where I can do a bit of reflecting on my own habits of giving.

  2. This is such good advice. I'm in huge need of remembering those 7 habits. Thanks for bringing my attention to this article and its wisdom.


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