Ever feel like you get too caught up in helping others, to the detriment of your own work? Over-giving can be a particular issue for heart-centred practitioners, leading to a sense of scarcity, and ultimately, burnout. But don’t worry, there is an answer. And it’s one that will help your business at the same time…
When the oxygen mask drops from the panel above your head, airlines hope you’ll remember the phrase: “Fit your own mask before helping others.”
In a crisis, you-might-die-here situation, this should make total sense. Yet airlines remind us every time, because many people’s instinct is still to help others first.
So when the danger isn’t life and death, when it’s the slow seep of leaking energy caused by over-giving, it’s all the harder to put yourself first.
Especially when your work involves helping others, and your natural inclination is to be generous with your time and skills.
Generosity is positively valued by our culture.
It’s an aspect of the cooperative spirit that has enabled the human species to thrive.
And expert businesses often thrive through sharing expertise in articles like this one, or providing complimentary sessions.
However, over-giving is NOT aligned with the expansive feeling of generosity.
Just the opposite.
The key markers for the over-giving energy leak are feeling depleted, resentful, over-stretched, drawn, drained and juice-less.
All seriously bad news for creating business growth, or doing powerful work with clients. So if you’ve been experiencing any of these symptoms it might make sense to check whether you’ve been over-giving.
Over-giving shows up in a variety of ways.
Jennifer Louden defines it as “giving more than is sustainable and for the wrong reasons”.
For helping professionals it might look like:
- Endless free sessions, or working for friends and acquaintances, with no prospect or plan for gaining paid work through it
- Consistently under-charging or offering deep discounts
- Cramming tons of stuff into every interaction, every course, every session
- Getting involved in alliances, masterminds or other peer support groups where you are the most senior, most skilled, or otherwise have most to give and least to get out of it
- Struggling to define your niche: finding it hard to let go of “I help everybody with everything”
- Bending over backwards to accomodate others e.g. working out of hours or at inconvenient venues; taking on more work than you can handle; ignoring your own policies on things like missed appointments or paying up front
All of us who want to make a positive difference get caught up in one or other of these from time to time.
And I get it. It can feel mean or selfish to withhold your care, energy and attention.
Yet, when over-giving is a habit, like the air-line passenger taking care of everybody else’s mask, sooner or later you are going to run out of oxygen.
I know you know this.
I know it too. Even so, I still sometimes find I’ve gone into over-giving mode. It’s a behaviour that comes unbidden, usually from unacknowledged feelings or buried beliefs, like the ones explored below.
Sometimes, it sneaks up on you, and you might find yourself wondering how on earth you’ve got to here.
So it can be helpful to consider what might underlie the over-giving habit:
NB We all struggle with “wrong reasons”, so please, be gentle with yourself if any of the following are familiar to you:
#1 Feeling like you have something to prove so you keep trying to prove it over and over by saving/healing/fixing everyone you meet.
This can even extend to patterns of desperately out of balance romantic or business relationships, where instincts for self-care are ignored, in the service of saving or fixing the other.
Being a superhero is exhausting – not least because not everyone wants (or is ready) to be saved.
#2 Discomfort with your own stuff, or when hitting a roadblock in your own life/business, so the healing impulse gets turned on everyone and everything else.
Byron Katie calls it “being in someone else’s business” – i.e. the overlooking of boundaries that leads all of us to sometimes think we know better than the other person what would be good for them.
“Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business. When I think, “You need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself,” I am in your business.” ~ Byron Katie
Of course, as coaches, therapists and teachers, often we are invited in.
Yet there’s a difference between the well-resourced, boundaried, and mindful care-taking done in the context of a helping relationship and getting involved in other people’s stuff just because it’s there.
Using your expertise to help others feels good.
Struggling with the often messy work of developing your own business, or healing your own issues, or figuring out your own productivity blocks (for example) is a much more needy and vulnerable place.
No wonder we’d rather put on the superhero outfit and go save Gotham.
#3 Lack of belief in your business, or lack of confidence in your abilities, so you give it away because that’s less scary than going to the market
…And at least you’re serving someone… (anyone!)
Perfectionists in particular can struggle with this one because if it’s not perfect, (the thinking goes) how can you charge for it?
#4 Feeling that your role in life is to support and care for everyone else and that your needs should come last.
Many women I know were brought up to take care of everyone else’s needs first. Or that “making do” was the only acceptable approach. For me approved behaviour was about coping, being capable, and staying cheerful at all times.
So doing anything else (like being needy, putting yourself first, or wanting “more”) feels like challenging something fundamental.
And yet, as heart-centred, soul-powered professionals, is our purpose not to help people?
Actually, I think many people mistake passion for purpose.
I’d argue that heart-centred professionals are passionate about helping people. And passion often contributes to chronic over-giving.
Because it’s passion without a purpose.
Passion creates drive. Purpose, on the other hand, provides boundaries and direction.
Purpose is the river bank without which all around would be flooded and passion lose its energy and direction.
Put passion and purpose together and you have an unstoppable combination.
With purpose it’s easier to, as a friend puts it: “lean into the discomfort” of saying No, choosing self-care, and standing up for your business.
For heart-centred businesses, especially solo-businesses, your personal purpose informs your business purpose. If these two are not in alignment, the river is blocked and it’s hard to find motivation or drive. So your niche stems from your business purpose and not the other way round.
It’s this connection, and alignment, that gives your marketing vibrancy and oomph.
I’m often asked about “choosing a niche” and whether it’s necessary.
If you’re in the habit of over-giving – I think it’s vital.
In particular, identifying a Purpose-Based Niche is vital. (And in the next article I’ll be writing more about how you can do that.)
I hope through reading this article you can appreciate that “I help everybody with everything” is not just making it harder to market your business, but is contributing to unsustainable giving.
Clarity of purpose, defining your ideal client, understanding what your business is for and claiming that – these are all fundamental to effective marketing.
More than that, I think they are essential medicine for ending the cycle of over-giving, depletion and superhero burn-out for heart-centred professionals.
Because it’s easier to stop trying to serve the world, and concentrate on better serving your purpose, when you know what that is.
What do you think?
What happens when you find yourself in over-giving mode? Comment below…
And if you liked this post, please share.