Recently I engaged in an exercise to help me figure out how the people around me influence me. The premise of the exercise is that as people contact and communicates with me; they either replenish or drain my energy and fulfillment. The exercise began with data collection. I tracked my personal calls, texts, and emails for two weeks and for each individual recorded whether they were asking for something, or offering something. At the outset of the conversation, I noted if they were asking for my assistance, which I recorded with a minus, or if they were offering their assistance, in which case they got a plus. Not all calls were that cut and dried, but the outcome was interesting. I found that over 70% of the time people initiated a conversation they wanted something from me. It might be my time, money, or advice; but the time most people reach out is if they need help. I found there are a few people in my life who are always needy and an equally small number who are normally offering their help or good wishes. Most folk fell pretty close to giving as much as they got. That completed the assignment, I got the results I expected, that should be the end of it, but that did not really tell the whole story.
Being an over achiever, I also recorded how I felt at the end of the conversation. This is a more ambiguous evaluation, purely subjective, but in my opinion more telling. If at the end of the exchange I felt negative or drained I marked a down arrow, if I felt positive or energized, I recorded an up arrow, and if I felt pretty much the same, it was a dash. Surprisingly, when I tallied the end of conversation marks, I found that not only had the trend reversed, it had done so by more than 10%, and that at the end of 85% of my interactions I felt as good or better than I did going in. This was a very interesting finding, but what was amazing was that over 75% of my interactions with the people who usually needed something left me feeling more positive at the end of the call. I had not predicted this outcome; that I would experience what I perceive as a net gain from helping others, and I wondered why.
Now this is not a scientifically rigorous experiment, there was no blind or double blind study with control groups or statistically representative samples. It was just one guy keeping track of his interactions for a couple of weeks. I am not a trained psychologist, or a degreed researcher, and even if I were I did not have enough data to make broad generalizations, and frankly, I am not a good enough researcher to gather that kind of information. I am a thinker, and now I will share my thoughts. Prior to beginning this exercise someone had mentioned that the average professional life of a counselor is 10 years, and the point that was being illustrated was that we all have a finite amount of resources available, and that we need to be careful about letting people into our lives who consumed significantly more than they replenished. I question the validity of the example, because it uses an average. There are people who only last a few months as counselors before dropping out of the profession, and others who last for decades. I think that there are people the universe replenishes when they help to others. You probably know some of them. They volunteer as class moms and tutors, firefighters and police officers, scoutmasters and Little League coaches. They are out clergy, our firefighters and police officers, doctors and nurses, the 85-year-old man who volunteered twenty-thousand hours at a children’s hospice, and a thousand other occupations. Giving, helping, sharing what the universe gives them with others feeds these people in a way that most cannot understand. I believe that giving of myself to others replenishes rather than diminishes me. I believe that my service feeds me in a way I cannot describe to someone who is not similarly blessed. Most importantly, I do not believe that this makes me inherently better or worse than anyone else. I believe that all serve, each differing only in the manner. It is even my household motto! This is just the way the universe needs me to serve, and so the universe provides what I need to accomplish my tasks.
What do you think?