The Gift of a Giver

During this time of year, we are inundated with suggestions of ways we can help others. Whether it’s the Salvation Army volunteers wearing Santa hats and ringing bells outside your local grocery store (I do that!), organizations making it possible for you to “adopt” a family less fortunate than yours, or packing up shoeboxes full of goodies to send to children in third world countries—there are countless ways you can make a difference. To be honest, I think it is a welcome change from the messages we most often hear all the other months of the year.

“Follow your passion. Do what makes YOU happy. You’re awesome. Find yourself.” These phrases should sound familiar, because they seem to be everywhere these days. Young people all across the globe are being encouraged to discover themselves and follow their hearts. These messages aren’t necessarily bad by any means—we all need to follow our passions—however, life really isn’t all about us. When taken to the extreme, this mindset contributes to self centeredness and an entitlement mentality and can send our children the wrong message. So, this holiday season, and for the other months of the year, I encourage you to direct your life toward others.

As the holidays approach swiftly, what if we all went from being self-focused to other-centered? Think of what a difference we could make in the world! After all, I think most successful people would say that their biggest life accomplishments have more to do with what they’ve done for others, rather than what they’ve done for themselves. Giving can be a greater gift to the giver than to the receiver.

Where are you directing your life right now—toward yourself or toward others?  Spend some moments thinking about how you spend most of your time, energy, and resources. Talk with your family about the ways you can shift your focus toward others. Whether it’s by yourself, with a friend, or as a family unit, brainstorm some ways you can impact your community during the holidays and beyond.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Donate a Thanksgiving meal to a local family who can’t afford one this year
  • Serve meals or collect clothing for your local mission or shelter
  • Adopt a family (or child). Some organizations you can do this through are: Doing Good Together, Soldier’s Angels, World Vision, and the YWCA. Also look for local organizations or programs near you.
  • Visit those who are lonely (bedridden, in a nursing home, etc.). Call local senior centers or nursing facilities to find out how you can help. Dust off those rusty caroling skills! Or, take someone out to lunch who is missing a loved one.
  • Donate to Toys for Tots or similar programs
  • Make a difference in the lives of foster children. Look into ways you can help during the holiday season with organizations like Together We Rise or Children’s Action Network.
  • Encourage paying it forward. Even if it’s just buying a Pumpkin Spice Latte for the car in line behind you at Starbucks, it will bring joy to someone’s day! One of my favorite stories is about someone who pays for the groceries of others.

 

I promise, you’ll receive far more in return than you give. Your life will have more balance, your spirit will soar, you’ll make new friends, and you’ll maximize the impact of your life. Oh, and you’ll also make the world a better place in the meantime! What’s not to love about that? Happy holidays!

 

Your Greatest Gift

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

Mother Teresa

 

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?  How about the greatest one you’ve ever given? Can you come up with your top three?  Is there a common denominator?

 

More often than not, when I ask people these questions, they generally answer with memories of gifts that:

  • were not expected
  • were ones they (or the other person) really needed but wouldn’t have suggested
  • showed that one person was thinking about the other, and understood them
  • were not necessarily things, but often experiences
  • were sacrificial on the part of the giver

 

That’s how I would describe my favorite gift ever given.

 

I grew up in a modest income family, but with parents who splurged on us every Christmas. Whether gifts or homemade candies and cookies, Dad and Mom did everything to bring joy to our household at Christmas. Sacrificially. Wonderfully.

 

But, that Christmas of 1972, we were struggling.

 

Life for my parents had changed dramatically a few months earlier. I left for my freshman year of college and my older sister got married and moved to Taiwan with her husband. Mom and Dad, who had poured everything into their kids, were adjusting to an empty nest.

 

When I returned home for Thanksgiving break, I could tell it hadn’t been easy for them. Our usually spirited household was quieter than normal and our conversations were often nostalgic. Someone would be missing this Christmas.

 

That’s when I realized it was my turn to be the sacrificial giver, with a gift they would never ask for or expect—but one that would mean everything to my parents.

 

On that Christmas night, Mom and Dad would open my letter saying this year it was  about them. That in 20 minutes, they would receive a prearranged and prepaid long distance call from their precious daughter. At six dollars a minute and as your typical broke college student, all I could afford was 10 minutes.

 

I will never forget those 30 minutes and the sea of emotion that filled our living room. Hands down, it was my best gift ever, and possibly theirs.

 

This season, we focus on what I consider to be history’s greatest gift—

a son given to us sacrificially by our heavenly father… an unexpected gift that means everything to this world… from a Giver who knew exactly what we needed.

 

Is this the year for your greatest gift? What will it be—and who will receive it?

 

Merry Christmas to you and yours,

 

Dennis Trittin and the LifeSmart Team

The Joy of Living Generously

The value of a man resides in what he gives
and not in what he is capable of receiving.
~Albert Einstein

Really, life’s greatest joys come not in the getting, but in the giving. Don’t you agree?

People who live generously—not just with their money, but with their whole person—deserve special admiration. They’re not motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by joyful service. Their qualities of generosity, empathy, compassion, and kindness make them inspiring treasures to us all. And although those values tend to get more press at Christmastime, they are values we should all aspire to live by all year long.

Generosity is a paradox. The culture around us screams materialism and commercialism – Buy, buy, buy. Accumulate. Indulge. On the other hand, there is a whole world out there that desperately needs what we have to offer. It invites us to give, serve, help, and empower. The paradox of generosity is this: the more we give, the more we get! It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true. We find our life by losing it. We win by losing. We gain by giving away. And, our greatest memories are of the gifts we gave rather than the ones we received.

This kind of generosity requires sacrifice—not just financial, but personal. Yes, it can be stretching and uncomfortable. But slowly, we begin to realize there’s more to life than what we own and can hold onto.

Have you ever wanted to change the world? This is where it starts. In fact, how you eventually impact the world will be driven not merely by what you have to offer but what you choose to offer. It’s the ultimate generosity test, isn’t it?

What do you uniquely have to offer the world? There are many different avenues that can allow you to allocate your personal resources to serve others. To decide how best to give what you have to benefit others, there are three main questions to consider:

  • What talents, skills, and resources do I have to offer?
  • What groups or community segments (e.g., youth, elderly, homeless) do I feel most called to help
  • What organizations will allow me to use my time, talents, and treasure to help those I feel most passionately about?Could your answers to these questions be a New Year’s resolution in the making

What would happen in our communities if we all cultivated and demonstrated this heart of generosity, of “other-centeredness” as a way of life, embodying the qualities of generosity and compassion in our everyday dealings with people? I think the world would be a more welcoming place! With that in mind, here are some ideas for living generously this holiday season—and throughout the year:

  • Make a donation to an organization serving people and causes you are passionate about.
  • Look for ways to be creatively generous if you are on a limited budget. How can you give time? Attention? Acts of service? Material possessions? You could sell something you own and give away the proceeds.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter in your city.
  • Visit a nursing home or hospital. Listen to their stories, or tell some of your own. Just sit with them if that’s what brings comfort.
  • Allow yourself to be interrupted without being irritated—this is a mark of a generous spirit. (Or, put down your mobile device and give the people around you your undivided attention.)
  • Make yourself available to people or organizations, free of charge, for consulting on an area or topic in which you have expertise.

This short list of ideas just scratches the surface—you may even come up with better ones! The bottom line is this: Living generously will bring help and hope to others and immense joy to you in return. You’ll receive far more than what you give. Nothing compares with using all of you to serve and improve the world around you. This is the true spirit of Christmas!

Have you experienced the deep satisfaction that “giving yourself away” evokes? What have you done and how has it impacted you. Looking ahead, what new ways do you envision using your time, talent, and treasure to make the world a better place? Share your thoughts; we’d love to hear your stories and ideas!

The Two Stages of Life and What Really Matters

“What do you want for Christmas?” is probably the most asked question right before the holidays. You’ve probably been asked, and even asked it yourself, more times than you can count over the last couple weeks. Sure there was a time in my life that my list was a mile long, but things change. Now, my Christmas list is filled with hopes for others—especially the young people in our communities.

It’s said that the first half of one’s life is the “accumulation stage” and the second half is the “distribution stage.” During the accumulation stage, you’re in gathering mode, spending your efforts on life’s needs and wants.  You build a career, buy and furnish a house, start a family and buy the things necessary for your children, save for retirement, and buy lots of things along the way. Many of us could probably go in our closets or garages and pull out items we haven’t touched in years, or forgot we had! But is that all there is to life?

But then, one day, around the age of 50, it hits you. You have all the toys you need, your kids’ braces are paid for and they’re in college or beyond. You have a boat and a new deck and a comfortable car. You discover that the joy of giving is greater than the joy of receiving, and your perspective changes dramatically. I’m a typical case—it happened to me around 49! That’s when my life focus really shifted to helping children and young adults lay a solid leadership foundation for life. Pursuing my passion of equipping young people to succeed in the real world has been more fulfilling than anything I could have imagined.

Did you notice how the first half of life tends to be more skewed toward self and family, and the second half is more focused on others? Had I known this earlier, I would have sought more balance in my accumulation stage and started my distribution stage sooner. The joy and satisfaction that comes from giving our time, talent, and treasure so far outweighs the fun of accumulating that I regret not starting this process earlier.

With Christmas just a few days away, opportunities for giving and sharing abound. This is the easiest time of year to find ways to positively impact others and give of our excess. But hopefully, directing our lives toward others will not be a once-a-year event. By starting earlier and making it last the whole year long, we receive far more in return than we will give. So, where is your heart and passion leading you today?

Do you want your life to have more balance, your spirit to soar, your heart to be filled with joy, and your life impact to be maximized—all while making the world a better place? Embrace the gift of giving yourself this holiday season and see where it takes you. Then, make it the gift that keeps on giving, into January, the New Year, and beyond.  Next time you hear “what do you want for Christmas,” do a self-check. Let’s all make the resolution to begin our distribution stage earlier and put an end to accumulating stuff we’ll rarely use and may even forget about!

Take a few seconds to reflect: Where are you centering your life? How are you modeling this principle to the young people in your life? Have you begun the distribution stage? Share your insights and ideas with us; we’d love to hear from you!

What Do YOU Uniquely Have to Offer the World?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I’ve been reflecting on how thankful I am—not for what I have for myself, but for what I have to give away. Really, life’s greatest joys come not from the getting, but from the giving. Don’t you agree?

I have special admiration for people who commit their lives to serving others. They’re not motivated by fame or fortune or power or things, but rather by joyful service. Their qualities of generosity, empathy, compassion, and kindness seem to come naturally to them, and they’re inspiring treasures to us all.

How you impact the world will be driven by what you have to offer and what you choose to offer. Well then, what do you uniquely have to offer the world?

“What do I have to offer the world?” It’s a profound question, and one that will continually evolve throughout your lifetime. At any point, though, your assets will generally fall into three categories: your time, your talent, and your treasure.

There are many different avenues that allow you to allocate these resources to serve others. To decide how best to give what you have to benefit others, there are three main questions to consider:

  • What talents and skills do I have to offer?
  • What groups or community segments (e.g., youth, elderly, homeless) do I feel most called to help?
  • What organizations will allow me to use my talents to help those I feel most passionately about?

Then, it becomes a matter of deciding which of your assets to offer to have the greatest potential impact in each situation. Your time, talent, and treasure offer you tremendous opportunities to give the gift of yourself.

Living life with the heart of a giver will bring help and hope to others and immense joy to you in return. You’ll receive far more than what you give. Nothing compares with using your gifts and talents to improve the world around you. This is the true spirit of Thanksgiving!

Have you experienced the deep thankfulness that “giving yourself away” brings about?  Looking ahead, what new ways do you envision using your time, talent, and treasure to make the world a better place?

Direct Your Life Toward Others

Follow your passion. March to the beat of your own drummer. Pursue your dreams. Find yourself.

Sound familiar?  It should. The message is everywhere these days.  And it sounds great, doesn’t it, to encourage young people to discover themselves and follow their dreams? We do it all the time (me included).

But isn’t it also paradoxical that, at the very time young people are heading off into the world to become part of a college community, part of a business or organization, part of a marriage someday … they are hearing it’s all about them? No wonder colleges and employers are complaining about the entitlement mentality in today’s incoming students and employees!

Are our teens getting the wrong message from our “it’s all about me” culture?

Maybe it’s time we pay attention to combining that message with a healthy dose of other-centeredness.

In reality, the most successful individuals are those who have realized that a successful life is not all about them.  In fact, most people who have achieved a full measure of success (i.e., in their personal life as well as their professional life) will tell you the best things are found not in what they have gained for themselves, but in what they have given to others.

 Wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn this sooner rather than later?

The first half of one’s adult life can be aptly called the “accumulation stage” and the second half is the “distribution stage.” During the accumulation stage, you are in “gathering mode,” filling your  bushel basket with life’s needs and wants. In some ways, it might feel like it’s all about YOU. You build a career, buy and furnish a house, start a family, save for retirement, and buy lots of things along the way.

Then, one day, usually around 50 when the kids have left the nest and you have all the toys you need, you become more motivated to give back. You discover that the joy of giving is greater than the joy of receiving, and your perspective changes dramatically. You realize it never was about YOU. I’m a typical case—it happened to me around 49! My life is so much more focused now on others than it was when I was a young person, and I doubt I’m an exception.

When I left my dream 28-year career in investment management to teach finance and life skills to young people, I had no idea it would lead to a total career change to that of author, publisher, mentor, and speaker. But, oh, the fulfillment of being able to direct my life toward others on a regular basis.

 

Had I known this earlier, I would have sought more balance in my accumulation stage and started my distribution stage sooner. The joy and satisfaction that comes from giving our time, talent, and treasure so outweighs the fun of accumulating that I regret not starting this process earlier.

 

Where are you directing your life right now—toward self or toward others?  Give it some thought. By shifting your focus toward others, you’ll receive far more in return than you give. Your life will have more balance, your spirit will soar, you’ll make new friends, and you’ll maximize the impact of your life. Oh, and you’ll also make the world a better place in the meantime! What’s not to love about that?

How differently do you feel when you give versus when you receive? Which will have more lasting impact? How have you impressed this principle on the young people in your life? Share your ideas and stories with us by commenting below; we’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Live to Give


“I will honor Christmas in my heart,
and try to keep it all the year.”

~Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

 
One of my annual highlights is watching the film classic, A Christmas Carol. I love watching the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge when the self-centered miser develops a servant’s heart. Granted, it takes a dramatic, catalytic experience late in life to get him there, but he becomes a changed man all the same. Every time I watch this film, I reflect on what more I could have done in the past year to help others. It’s a time of accountability, complete with a promise to do better in the year ahead.
 
I have special admiration for people who commit their lives to serving others.They’re not motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by joyful service.
 
I’m convinced our daughter Lauren was born with a servant’s heart. I first noticed this when she was four during a visit to a McDonald’s playground. She befriended a devastated little girl who had been deliberately abandoned by her big sister (Ronald would not have been happy!). The girl’s tears were soon replaced with joy for those ten brief minutes. While this example may seem ordinary, it is illustrative of the many times that Lauren has nurtured people who were socially excluded. Her empathetic heart has often been a blessing to others. Not surprisingly, she is considering a career in child psychology and counseling. I think she’ll be a natural.
 
The holiday season is a time when our thoughts often turn to practical ways we can serve those less fortunate. At a time when we are counting our own blessings, what are the ways we can include, encourage, or assist people in need?
 
This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of our family’s ideas:
–       take a shift ringing a bell for the Salvation Army (we just did this last week; it’s a hoot, you meet great people, and it’s such a worthy cause)
–       volunteer at a local food bank
–       gather a group to sing carols at a retirement home
–       go out of your way to compliment those who are in service positions (including the Military)
–       send a note to a teacher expressing your gratitude
–       donate money to a local ministry that pays electric bills for the needy
–       adopt a family for gift giving
–       send a personal note to someone who lost a loved one in the past year
 
What do you and your family do to serve and bless others during the holiday season? Please share your ideas and stories with us; we’d love to hear your experiences!