The Giver is a book about a utopian society that bestows upon it’s people a specific job, following a young boy who’s chosen to receive all of previously forgotten history as the only tangible connection to humanities troubled past. It’s also a movie starring Jeff Bridges, but we don’t talk about that. The receiver soon becomes the giver: the one member of society tasked with shouldering the weight of the dark side of life.
Raise your hand if that sounds like you.
For better or worse we don’t live in a utopian society – and for those emotionally enlightened few, absorbing other peoples wants and needs is a curse that prevents us from taking care of ourselves. The title to this post is an oft-quoted proverb that leaves little for interpretation. You don’t have to always be the giver. In fact, if you go through life trying to solve everyone else’s problems while ignoring your own, you’re on a fast track to resentment and unhappiness.
I know because I’m one of those people. I’ve lied to myself about it most of my life – convincing myself that my heightened sense of empathy made me unique and righteous. In reality, my sacrificial quest for the happiness of my peers was little more than a self-conscious little boy hopelessly grasping at other people’s approval. I wanted everyone to like me, and it tore me up inside.
I was a giver. In a lot of ways I still am. But I’ve learned to channel that empathy into healthy forms of expression like writing, meditating, and friendly advice giving. I have taught myself to sympathize with people without subconsciously using their pain to amplify my own. I’ve realized the only real way to help other people is to first help myself.
You don’t have to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.
It’s true. You can, however, build a fire for yourself and the benefit of others, as long as it’s keeping you warm too.
This isn’t necessarily an easy transition to make. Looking out for yourself isn’t always in the best interest of others, which is kind of the point. The good news is people you want to keep around in your life will never ask so much out of you that you waste all your energy on them. Focusing on yourself is one of the best ways to learn who your true friends are. But again, these revelations are never easy.
Learn to say no. If you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. Have a good reason and don’t for a second feel bad for falling short of someone else’s expectations. The more you say no, the better you’ll get at it, and the more in tune you’ll become with your own needs. Find that sweet spot and only give out the candy you can afford to live without.
The rest is all yours.