What do you enjoy more? Receiving or giving?

Most people I work with are natural givers, and the ‘gift season’ offers interesting challenges. Bigger is better. The more the merrier. What do you give to someone who has everything? Apparently, that question holds a painful truth. A 37-year-old corporate athlete that just burned out taught it to me. We had a session working through the pain behind that truth, and he allowed me to share it with you.

Dave is a brave one.

Think big 4. Think going from trainee to VP in 8 years. Think meetings in Hong Kong and New York in the same week. Sky is the limit. Think about burning the candle at both ends. Think losing both your parents in the same year. Not a miracle that Dave didn’t care much about his KPI’s and billables anymore. The same man that considered a 4-digit lunch as a casual meal, now must make it through the whole month with the same budget.

“What do you give to someone who has everything? That question just says that I’m too broke to get you something you can’t afford.”

Dave showed up in shambles. Pictures of last Christmas reminded him of his lifestyle. Flying with his parents, wine and cheese from Italy, designer gifts for all his loved ones. “I can’t join my friends for our yearly brunch. Forget about gifts, the only way my bank account lasts till the end of the month is by skipping all of my expensive hobbies. I can’t afford lobster nor champagne.”

Dave was considering a dark option, faking a quarantine to avoid the brunch reunion. Confessing that he couldn’t pick up his part of the check was not an option. The thought of showing up empty-handed paralyzed him. He was picturing himself as a failure with nothing left to give, but since his parents’ past away, he was feeling alone and wanted all the hugs and laughs that he could get.

His problem turned out to be his salvation.

“Even if your credit card is not maxed out, it cannot pay for the connection you have with your tribe. Why do you think material things are the gifts they are hoping to receive?” Dave’s eyes sparkled as he deconstructed the oxymoron that was creating this internal error.

He jumped up. “I got plenty hugs left in me!”

I wouldn’t be me if I wouldn’t have challenged Dave to stretch his breakthrough. “When was the last time you told your friends what they mean to you?”

He teared up. “Every year they tell me how much they miss me. They wish the best for me, but they feel like they lost a friend to corporate.

We brainstormed back and forth, and Dave decided to pick up the pen. A letter of appreciation. Uncut, raw emotions and thoughts about how he valued each of his friends and their bond. In our session, he realized that he might have splurged financially, but that he had been a greedy person regarding the time and energy invested in his relationships. He felt empowered and confident to show up at the brunch with his handwritten letters, but he couldn’t change his financial handicap regarding the expensive tradition.

Dave had a choice to make; either facing his worst fear and biggest taboo: showing up vulnerable, or buying stamps and mailing his letters.

Is Christmas about giving or receiving?

The question is simple. Human relationships are two-way streets, without receivers givers can’t do much and vice versa. The leap of faith that Dave took makes me smile every time I share it with someone. He wanted accountability because the act was simple but the internal resistance gigantic, so he sent this simple group text while sitting in front of me:

“SOS – I can’t afford our fancy brunch AND I can’t make it through the holidays without seeing you! Options anyone?”

His openness fired up the group chat, apparently the location was kid-unfriendly and this created a lot of babysitter scheduling challenges. A hero appeared. Dave’s childhood buddy Tom said his parents’ house could fit all of them. The group remembered their roots. A potluck dinner with recipe-request-raffles became the new tradition. Dave texts me about how he is celebrated for helping them rewrite their coding for the holidays.

Dave was a guinea pig for my unRush Challenge and came out like a champion. How about you?