Elizabeth Gilbert’s Confessions of an Over-Giver

My whole life I’ve been an over-giver. My general operating policy has always been, “If it belongs to me, don’t worry: You can have it!” Over the years, I have over-given with my money, my stuff, my opinions, my time, my body, (“I know we’ve only just met, but of course we can make out in your cousin’s car!”) You name it, I have given it forth. I am especially over-giving toward people I just met yesterday afternoon at the gas station.

Now, over-giving is not quite the same thing as generosity. Generosity is neither entangling nor aggressive, because the generous person doesn’t expect anything in return. The over-giver doesn’t expect anything in return either—except to be petted and feted and praised and loved unconditionally for the rest of time (and I was)—so that’s not emotionally loaded. Nothing toxic there!

For most of my life, my over-giving problem was relatively contained, limited by my own resources. But then a few years ago I wrote this book called Eat Pray Love, which sold about a bajillion copies, thus transforming me overnight into a wealthy woman, and presenting me with the amazing newfound opportunity to not merely over-give but toover-over-give. Oh, bliss! I was like an alcoholic locked in a distillery—what wonderful and terrible luck!

So of course I went on a full-octane over-giving bender. I gave to some charities and good causes, but mostly I gave heaps of money to people I knew and loved. I paid off my friends’ credit card bills, caught them up on their mortgages, financed their dream projects, bought them plane tickets, tuition, therapy, gym memberships, vehicles. Sometimes (well, twice), I even bought them houses.

A neighbor dubbed my munificence “hip-hop charity”—because it reminded him of the way rap stars get rich and then buy Mercedes-Benzes for everyone back in the hood—but sharing money with my intimates felt so much more satisfying than sending off checks to some distant organization: I could see (and feel!) the gratitude so personally; it was a drug-like pleasure. Also, my giving bonanza went a long way toward leveling off the apparent karmic imbalance of my own crazy success—an imbalance that had left me feeling profoundly uncomfortable. (Why had I struck it rich while peers of equal or greater talent still struggled? Why not spread the good fortune around willy-nilly?) Finally, it was joyful and empowering: I was a dream-facilitator, an obstacle-banisher, a life-transformer! In short: Giving away money to my friends was so much goddamn fun!

Until suddenly it wasn’t.

Until suddenly I didn’t have some of those friends anymore.

I didn’t lose those friends for the reasons you think, either. It isn’t because “money is the root of all evil” or because “money changes everything.” Listen—of course money changes everything, but so does sunlight, and so does food: These are powerful but neutral energy sources, neither inherently good nor evil but shaped only by the way we use them. When I lost my friends, it was because I had used the power of giving on them recklessly. I swept into their lives with my big fat checkbook, and I erased years of obstacles for them overnight—but sometimes, in the process, I also accidentally erased years of dignity. Sometimes, by interrupting his biographical narrative so jarringly, I denied a friend the opportunity to learn his own vital life lesson at his own pace. In other words, just when I believed I was operating as a dream-facilitator, I was actually turning into a destiny disruptor.

Even worse, sometimes my over-giving left friends feeling shamed and laid bare. Sometimes, for instance, “lack of money” hadn’t been a friend’s problem in the first place: Maybe her real problem had been lack of confidence or organization or motivation. Maybe by erasing her money problems, all I’d done was suddenly expose her other problems. Maybe such rapid exposure is a dreadful thing to do to somebody. (As a great British wit once quipped, “You can always tell people who live for others, by the anguished expressions on the faces of the others.”) All I know is, those friendships withered under a cloud of mutual discomfort, and now we cross the street to avoid running into each other.

Years ago, in India, a monk warned me, “Never give anyone more than they are emotionally capable of receiving, or they will have no choice but to hate you for it.” At the time, the advice sounded cynical, even cruel. It certainly flew in the face of Christianity’s highest charitable ideals, as famously expressed by Mother Teresa: “Give until it hurts.” But these days, I’ve come to believe that when you give heedlessly or with an agenda, you actually can give until it hurts, and that the person who is most gravely injured in the exchange is the other guy.

So I don’t do it anymore.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll always be a giver. I still see generosity as one of humanity’s great natural watersheds—a place where lives can be cleansed, renewed, filtered back toward grace. But a watershed is a delicate ecosystem, so I’ve learned to watch where I step. I’m more likely to trust the well-established charities nowadays than to practice social engineering within my own circle. Granted, I don’t get the same endorphin rush that I used to get by waving a magic wand in someone’s face…but I do get to keep my friends now, so that’s a boon.

And I try to keep it in scale. The other day I was in a New York subway station, watching a woman I’d never met before struggling to make her outdated MetroCard work in the turnstile. She didn’t speak English, and nobody was helping her out. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I took ten minutes to carefully show her how the whole system worked—how to buy a new MetroCard from the machine, how to add credit to it, how to swipe it. I didn’t give her any money; I just gave her my attention and then went on my way. It was a simple exchange, but I think it made both of us feel good. I was a little tempted to buy her a house, mind you, but I talked myself out of it—because as much as humanly possible these days, I try not to give anymore until it hurts. Instead, I only give until it helps.

After that, not a penny more.

http://www.oprah.com/spirit/How-to-Avoid-Giving-Too-Much-of-Yourself-Elizabeth-Gilbert/1

Will take this as personal advice: What to Do if You Can’t Find Your Passion By Elizabeth Gilbert

Having hung up my camera for a long time now …. this brings it all into perspective….
When Elizabeth Gilbert’s passion went AWOL, she was shocked, bereft…and stumped—until she got a piece of advice that led her back to the thing she was meant to do.

I’ve always considered myself lucky that I do not have many passions. There’s only one pursuit that I have ever truly loved, and that pursuit is writing. This means, conveniently enough, that I never had to search for my destiny; I only had to obey it. What am I here for? No problem! I’m here to be a writer, and only a writer, from my first cigarette to my last dying day! No doubt about it!

Except that two years ago, I completely lost my life’s one true passion, and all my certainties collapsed with it.

Here’s what happened: After the unexpected success of Eat, Pray, Love I diligently sat down to work on my next project—another memoir. I worked hard, as always, conducting years of research and interviews. And when I was finished, I had produced a first draft that was…awful.

I’m not being falsely modest here. Truly, the book was crap. Worse, I couldn’t figure out why it was crap. Moreover, it was due at the publisher.

Demoralized, I wrote a letter to my editor, admitting that I had utterly failed. He was nice about it, considering. He said, “Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out.” But I did worry, because for the first time in my life, I had absolutely no passion for writing. I was charred and dry. This was terrifyingly disorienting. I couldn’t begin to know who I was without that old, familiar fire. I felt like a cardboard cutout of myself.

My old friend Sarah, seeing me so troubled, came to the rescue with this sage advice: “Take a break! Don’t worry about following your passion for a while. Just follow your curiosity instead.”

She was not suggesting that I ditch my passion forever, of course, but rather that I temporarily ease off the pressure by exploring something new, some completely unrelated creative endeavor—something that I could find interesting, but with much lower emotional stakes. When passion feels so out of reach, Sarah explained, curiosity can be a calming diversion. If passion is a tower of flame, then curiosity is a modest spark—and we can almost always summon up a modest spark of interest about something.

So what was my modest spark? Gardening, as it turned out. Following my friend’s advice, I stepped away from my writing desk and spent six months absentmindedly digging in the dirt. I had some successes (fabulous tomatoes!); I had some failures (collapsed bean poles!). None of it really mattered, though, because gardening, after all, was just my curiosity—something to keep me modestly engaged through a difficult period. (At such moments, believe me, even modest engagement can feel like a victory.)

Then the miracle happened. Autumn came. I was pulling up the spent tomato vines when—quite suddenly, out of nowhere—I realized exactly how to fix my book. I washed my hands, returned to my desk, and within three months I’d completed the final version of Committed—a book that I now love.

Gardening, in other words, had turned me back into a writer.

So here’s my weird bit of advice: If you’ve lost your life’s true passion (or if you’re struggling desperately to find passion in the first place), don’t sweat it. Back off for a while. But don’t go idle, either. Just try something different, something you don’t care about so much. Why not try following mere curiosity, with its humble, roundabout magic? At the very least, it will keep you pleasantly distracted while life sorts itself out. At the very most, your curiosity may surprise you. Before you even realize what’s happening, it may have led you safely all the way home.

What I Know for Sure About Certainty By Elizabeth Gilbert

This is a profound teaching: IMPERMANENCE! also ……….. surrender.

Absolute certainty is not something I strive for anymore. I’ve learned the hard way that destiny usually looks upon our most strident convictions with amusement, or perhaps even pity. (Oh, those silly humans! So desperate for their absolutes!) Sometimes it seems like the only job of the world is to gently (or not so gently) separate us from our deepest assurances, exposing us once again to that ultimate moral teaching tool: humility.
Of course, it’s not always a pleasant experience to have our certainties stripped away. Sureness is something like a neck brace, which we clamp around our lives, hoping to somehow protect ourselves from the frightening, constant whiplash of change. Sadly, the brace doesn’t always hold. I could list for you a tragicomic litany of all the things I was once mistakenly completely certain about, and I’m sure you can do the same. Maybe you, too, were once absolutely sure that you’d found your great love, or your final best friend, or the perfect mentor, meditation, or medication that would—once and for all—never fail you. And then? Slowly, it seems, we are not so sure after all. Such is our slippery toehold here on Earth, and so it has always been.

Perhaps it is for this reason that the people we instinctively turn to in times of trouble are those who—we sense—have made space within their convictions for doubt and mystery. Compassion grows best, it appears, in the soft spots beneath quiet surrender. So I try very hard to go easy on the firm conclusions. These days I settle for feeling only 85 percent sure about most things, most of the time. I believe this is keeping me sane, and I also believe that it’s keeping me human. In fact, I’m 85 percent sure of it.