Yes, selflessness. And, boundaries.
How to find the balance between giving and getting.
Have you ever watched a movie, read a book, or heard a quote that flipped an idea upside down for you? You’re just sitting on the couch, casually living your life, when all of a sudden someone says something that makes you sit up and listen a little more intently. Before you know it, you’re starting to rethink everything about who you are and how the world works. I had a moment like this over a year ago where I threw out just about everything I thought I knew about how to be selfless. It was all thanks to a writer named Lysa Terkeurst.
Why did I have to rethink selflessness? Well, I thought that true selflessness looked like someone constantly pouring out their cup in service to others. Boundaries, I thought, were selfish, like putting a tight lid on our cup. Lysa schooled me on this idea. Her book The Best Yes explores what it looks like to truly give our best to every area of our lives. And, you guessed it, the key is a complex (but entirely possible) balance between selflessness and boundaries.
What does imbalance look like?
I find it’s helpful to take each side to the extreme to understand the need for moderation. What happens if we constantly pour out our cup by never sleeping? We’d have an extra 6-10 hours each day to be actively productive, but even the most intense human beings can rarely go more than a few days without sleep and still function. Yet, to never share our energy with others—whether we sit in bed all day, every day, watching Netflix or even fill our time with something more edifying, like reading—is to rob ourselves and those around us of the deep fulfillment that comes only through giving.
I tend to fall short by leaning towards too many boundaries. I spend a lot of time reading and journaling; but, all the lessons I learn from leadership books and the reflecting I do mean absolutely nothing if I don't take time to go out and put those ideas into practice by spending time with people. It's got to be both.
How do we say “yes, and…” to selflessness and boundaries?
There's two main things at play here: choosing carefully where we will add the most value (selflessness) and choosing carefully how we prepare ourselves to serve in those areas (boundaries). We can divide all of our time between these two buckets. When we do it right, both of them result in serving others effectively.
Let's start with deciding where to serve. I've found it helps to answer these four questions.
1) Where is my natural talent?
If I'm good at teaching, maybe I should volunteer with an after school program. Am I good at physical labor? Perhaps I help load boxes at a food bank.
2) What do I find joy in doing?
We have to be careful here because not everything worthwhile is fun, but we will find ourselves giving more joy to others if we're in an area we can enjoy, too. If we don't like being outside, we're likely not going to add much value to a day cleaning up at the park.
3) Where do I see the greatest impact when I serve?
Looking at results from past service we've done can help us determine where we're most effective; we can do this ourselves, or, even better, we can ask a friend or a project leader to give us feedback from their perspective.
4) What needs are going unfilled in my community?
Sometimes, the best place to serve is the one where no one else is doing it yet. Even if we’re not the best at it, what we do is certainly better than nothing.
We've decided where to serve. Now, it's time to balance it out with how to fill our cup before pouring it out for others. Let's answer two quick questions.
1) What helps me recharge?
For all us introverts, we usually need regular, prolonged periods of time alone or in a quiet space where we can read, reflect, or simply relax. For all y'all extroverts out there, you may find more fulfillment in hanging out with your friends or going on spontaneous day trips. However you fill that free time, let it equip you to go out and serve with gusto.
2) When and for how long do I need a break?
Maybe you're the kind of person who can just run and run and run for weeks at a time, but you need a whole week off a few times a year. Or, perhaps you are most productive when you consistently spend an hour a day on something that fills your cup. Maybe it's a bit of both.
Once we've established what fills our cup, we can draw those boundaries for ourselves; it's okay to tell our friends we need to go to bed early, to keep a couple hours each day free of appointments, or to say no to another project if we know it will take away from the other things we've already said yes to. Most importantly, we must always remember the reason for those boundaries; the purpose of filling our own cup is always to pour it out for others. For me, saying “yes, and…” here looks like sticking to a consistent morning routine on the weekdays but leaving most weekends open for spontaneous adventures with my teammates. This allows me to do the work I’m here to do, whether it’s presenting a workshop or meeting with an FFA sponsor, while also building relationships with the people I’m blessed to serve with for the year.
Selflessness and boundaries are not at odds with one another. They must happen in tandem to maximize our effectiveness in the world as people who seek to do good. I’ll drink my morning coffee, you take your spontaneous road trip, and then let's get to work.
What’s your favorite way to serve? Let us know in the comments or on social media by tagging @miriamrosah and @nffaevp and using the hashtags #EmbracingComplexity and #FFA21.
New to the blog? Curious about why I push for “yes, and…” in so many areas? Check out the intro post here.