Here is a tricky one.  When is it appropriate to invest in yourself and when is the right time to give to others?  The answer seems so straightforward, as “Paying it forward” surely will create a virtuous cycle that will come back to support you. Right?

Yes and no.

I have found that being generous to others has allowed me to make the greatest difference in all that I do and that my outreach has indeed created an unanticipated virtuous cycle where others look out for my best interests too.  I have also found that attempting to be generous when stretched thin, low on energy or underprepared has created less than optimal outcomes where positive intentions became a mixed bag of results.

As someone who is now 40, I stand firm in my beliefs that giving should be a top priority in nearly all that I do.  My first consideration in any situation – from a conversation to a meeting to reading a friend’s LinkedIn profile update - is “What can I do to help?”

With this inclination toward generosity also comes responsibility to be in the position to fulfill my promise that comes with offering up my help.  For me, that means making sure I create a healthy space where I have the time and energy to give my best when an opportunity to help presents itself.

Most of the time, my first inclination to give or to help has been the right one.  There have been select times, however, where I would have been better off taking care of myself first to put me in a stronger, more secure place to be of service to those I want to help.

Over the years, as I have focused on bringing people together to help those in need of help, I’ve learned – through trial and error – to have the self-awareness necessary to invest in myself in between times of giving to others.

It has not been easy.  I recognize finding that balance between helping others and taking care of myself will be a constant challenge I will face, personally and professionally, in the years to come.  Fortunately, I have found resources to help guide me on my way.

Firstly, I have been able to learn from my near peers – people just like me who have gone through recently what I am going through now.  I have been able to collect this shared knowledge through my Capture Your Flag interviews.  Here is one from author and TED speaker Simon Sinek that I hold dear and think you will find helpful:

“Earlier in my career, my aspirations had to do with me. What can I achieve? What can I do? How much money can I make? That kind of thing. My aspirations have really changed into what can I do for others?  How can I help people around me grow, and learn, and do more, and achieve more?” – SIMON SINEK

Secondly, if you are not familiar with Wharton business school professor Adam Grant, I highly recommend that you acquaint yourself with his work. Grant has extensively researched and written about generosity in his bestseller “Give and Take.”  His research findings on why you might want to live a more generous life – and how best to do it - are eye-opening.

As you think about how, where and when to be more generous at work, I urge you to take stock of yourself and identify what you need to be the best when you want to serve others.  Having a better awareness of your giving style and success rate will benefit you and those you try to help.

Adam Grant’s resources, linked above, can help you build that awareness.  Having a better appreciation for how you life and what roles generosity and kindness play in that equation will allow you to better stay true to your goals.  This is where Simon Sinek’s insights, linked above, prove helpful, as do the below Capture Your Flag links to additional resources.

Being more generosity-focused in your career is a noble intention.  It also can be awfully tricky, as I have learned.  With the resources above, I hope you will find success in your actions and the results they create for others.  If you have additional insights to share, please leave them below in the comments to help the community.

Some more videos on Generosity:


Erik Michielsen is the founder and CEO of Capture Your Flag, an educational media company creating video-based programs for career learning and professional development. His mission is to bring Near Peer Learning programs to the world, as he believes a gap exists in between peer learning and expert learning that Near Peer knowledge sharing programs can fill. Since 2009, he has been producing the Capture Your Flag career documentary interview series with 75 rising leaders – including Alayne Cotterill - to build a Near Peer, Q&A knowledge repository to help aspiring individuals find Near Peer Exemplars who have been through what they are about to go through.

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