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Forget Perfect

Giving, getting and the nutty assumptions that hold us back

Give till it hurts. We all have been told we should give more. You're asked to give your time - and often your money - to your kids' school, the neighborhood clean-up crew and your elderly parents.

You're expected to give money to your church, to support the good works and - depending on your preacher - avoid eternal damnation.

And who hasn't been shamed into giving a buck to a bell ringer who made eye contact as you exited Target, laden with packages that probably cost more than their entire collection for the night?

We're all familiar with the 'tis better to give than to receive adage, if not from our parents, then from assorted teachers, preachers and charities who tug on our heartstrings with photos of starving donkeys in the Amazon.

But what if giving provides more than just a feel-good fix or a way to assuage consumer guilt? What if it actually helps you improve your own circumstances? And what if you don't have to choose between giving and receiving, but you can experience both at the same time?

John David Mann, co-author of the best-selling book "The Go-Giver", calls our either/or thinking about giving vs. getting a "treacherous dichotomy", suggesting that it's counter-intuitive for us to believe that we can give and receive at the same time. Yet, Mann says, while we may perceive that we have to make a choice between giving and getting, we don't.

To be clear, business people are often well schooled in the give-to-get approach, swapping leads or favors with colleagues. But it's usually a tit-for-tat exchange, done with the well-understood assumption that when you give one, you're supposed to get one in return. So they're not truly giving, they're trading, and people who don't stick to the rules are quickly cut off.

However, Mann suggests that one of the secrets of "stratospheric success" is giving - not with the immediate expectation of getting something back, but with a heart that's open to receiving, whenever, wherever or in whatever form the gift appears.

It's a subtle emotional shift, but it can make all the difference in the world.

In "The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea" (www.TheGoGiver.com), Mann and co-author Bob Burg provide a parable about an ambitious young man named Joe, a true go-getter who feels as if the harder and faster he works, the further away his goals seem to be.

Joe learns that changing his focus from getting to giving - putting others' interests first and continually adding value to their lives - ultimately leads to unexpected returns. Conversely, he also discovers one of the Laws of Stratospheric Success - "The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is staying open to receive."

One of Joe's teachers tells him, "The majority of people operate with a mindset that says to the fireplace, first give me some heat, THEN I'll throw on some logs."

We're probably all guilty of occasionally calculating up the potential return of giving, be the reward a business lead, eternal salvation or simply getting our spouse to quit whining. But on the flip side, those who selflessly give to someone in need often have trouble accepting the same generosity they extend to others.

Mann and Burg effectively illustrate why the give-to-get model doesn't work in the long run, and also why the one-way give-to-give-to-give-to-give approach limits our own and others' success.

"The Go-Giver," a book that has created such a buzz CEOs are buying it in bulk for their employees, taps into a universal truth. Giving and receiving aren't mutually exclusive ideals; you can do both at the same time, and you don't have to keep score.

You can't script out exactly how it will work, but when you're open and you give the best of what you've got in every situation, it always circles back to you.

And it almost never hurts.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear."

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