How learning to receive made me a phenomenal giver.

There’s a popular saying that “it’s better to give than receive”.  I disagree with this viewpoint.  I believe that both giving and receiving is equally good. To be a phenomenal giver, you also need to learn how to be a phenomenal receiver.

Our society, infatuated with anything free and fast, seems to have forgotten the art of giving.  Giving has become a habit, and we only look for the short-lived high, while what we’re really yearning for is something that will last longer. Like a short-lived passionate romance, the fierce flame burns out quickly with not enough substance to keep the fire going.

Before we know it, we’ve fallen into the entitlement trap.  Receiving becomes so part of our life that we take for granted all the expensive gifts we receive. We say thank you out of obligation and because we have good manners, not necessarily because we feel grateful.  Often, we don’t even consider that we won’t receive gifts.

You receive another package, and without opening it, drop it in a drawer where it lies a few days before you have time to open it.  You enjoy the surprise for a brief moment, then put it away again, with all the other wanted and unwanted gifts.  As you close the drawer and walk away, you forget about it and continue with your busy life.

That was my story of receiving for a long time, but I’m guessing I’m not alone.

The past few years, however, I learned how to receive gracefully, which was a much harder process than I could have ever imagined.   When you actually need people to give you things – being reliant on what you receive – the substance of receiving changes substantially.  But learning how to receive has also taught me how to be a phenomenal giver.

A leap of faith

When I decided to quit my job a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine the journey I was about to embark on.  If I did, I would never have done it, but ignorance is bliss.  Thank goodness for that!

All I knew at the time was that I was soulfully unhappy.  I felt so undervalued and unsupported in a dead-end job.  But mostly, I feared dying one day, without ever expressing myself and what I’m passionate about in the world. I wanted to think like Da Vinci, live like Paulo Coelho, grow old like Jim Hall (who I saw perform live a year or two before his death) and die like the Buddha, and I knew that would not be possible if I stayed in my ‘normal’ day-job.

So I took a leap of faith and chose my own happiness over fitting into the system.  I chose the scary unknown over fitting into a job description written for the average of the people who has done the same job before me.  Unused and never expressing my own unique self. Passionless.

Now everything I do is driven by passion, including giving and receiving.  Whether you’re looking for a way to say thank you to your employees, or looking for inspiration for a gift for someone special, here is what my journey to self-expression has taught me about giving:

1. Do give passionately

Passion is better than expensive. Always.  Most people already have more than enough.  They don’t need or even want, another gift.  But everyone needs love, regardless of how much they already have.  So choose something that is filled with passion.

Last year, I decided to write personal thank you notes to everyone who inspired, supported or meant something to me during the year.  For 30 days, I wrote a love-letter to all the special people in my life, each day with a different theme.  Like a gratitude journal, I expressed my heartfelt gratitude in a simple handwritten note that I photographed and emailed to the recipients.

Every word was written with passion and I sincerely connected with each recipient as I wrote it.  Most people received my heart on my sleeve, without even bothering to respond or reciprocate, as it was probably just yet another Christmas card. But one person showed me what giving should feel like.  She responded telling me she cried when she read my note because it was so touching.

My gift was simple, but it was filled with passion, and she received this gift with as much passion.  For a brief moment, we connected, and that is what giving is really about.

2. Do make it personal

A gift voucher is practical.  I get it.  You’re not artistically gifted, and a card from the store is beautiful.  I get it.  You have to be fair.  I get it.

But giving is not about being practical, or being perfect.  And definitely not about being one-size-fits-all.

Giving is about connecting.   And you’re not connecting with someone by giving them a generic, fair, easy gift like a gift voucher.  Rather, the message you give is that either you don’t know me well enough to choose something more personal, in which case rather take me for a coffee and get to know me better.  Or worse, you’re not a priority that warrants that I spend my valuable time searching for something that you might like. Or, you’re just like everyone else.  Average.

The best gift I received was from a friend who didn’t have much money to spend on gifts.  She decided to make me a music CD, filled with songs that either we shared sometime during our friendship, or that she knew I would love.  She even took the time to design a label and print it to look like a professional CD.

The cost of the gift? Probably less than a few euros or dollars.

The value?  Priceless.

Each time I listened to the CD, I thought how much time it must have taken to choose every song specifically for me, and how important I must have been to her that she dedicated so much creative energy and time on my gift!

3. Do make it special

To receive a gift is awesome, but to receive a gift that has been wrapped and decorated with love is tenfold more special.  Just like an undecorated cake doesn’t taste as well as one that has been beautifully decorated, so too a gift without the wrapping doesn’t receive as well as one with the wrapping.

Forget practical and efficient.  The little things matter.

Wrap the gift in a beautiful box or buy the most beautiful, handmade paper you can buy.  Decorate it with a delicate piece of ribbon, or tie it with a string of raffia.  Add the colored tissue paper to the bag, and don’t forget the card.

The devil is in the details.

What differentiates a good gift from a great one, is the packaging.  You can have a really small or inexpensive gift, but when it’s wrapped exquisitely, it feels like a million dollars when you receive it.

When you spend time thinking about the packaging, the message is that you really care and that the recipient is special.

4. Do rather than have

Most people already have everything that they want and need, and the things still on their wishlist is too expensive or personal to give as a gift.

Having is overrated.  We only have things because we believe it will make us feel a certain way, but having is very short lived.  The high never lasts more than a few days or maybe weeks, unless of course, it’s something as thoughtful as my music CD.

Doing, on the other hand, makes for timeless memories.

Christmas is about connecting with people and expressing gratitude and love.  What better way to show your love than giving your undivided attention to someone.  Being present with someone is the best gift you can give.

So rather than buying something, consider doing something together as a group or a pair.  Go hiking in the mountains, visit a museum or an art gallery, do a road trip together, or even just decide to have a picnic outdoors together.

The best memories are not the ones that involve having things, it’s the ones where you did things.

5. Don’t give because…

Don’t give because it’s your birthday.  Don’t give because everyone does.  Don’t give because they gave me something.  Don’t give because you’re hoping to get something in return. Don’t give any present because of anything. Period.

Give, because you want to.  Give, because you want to express your love or gratitude.  Give, because you feel generous.  Don’t ever give out of tradition or because you feel guilty.  Rather give when you find something special.

Don’t wait for Christmas to show your appreciation and love, make everyday a Christmas.

Another super special gift I received was while my best friend and me, each with our partner, traveled in India.  After a week on an island, we had a stopover in Cochin back towards Mumbai.  On the spur of the moment, we decided to go shopping as there was nothing else to do.  A taxi dropped us off at a huge department like (but much better) store, and the two couples separated as we browsed through the exquisite fabrics, jewellery and other goods.

That evening, after we enjoyed a lovely dinner, I was handed an exquisite gift.  Just because.  No reason.  It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

6. Don’t give as a reward

Ever wondered why a monetary bonus at work based on performance don’t motivate people?  Or why people seem ungrateful when they receive a gift as a reward for completing a task successfully?

Because no-one wants to feel that they’re only deserving of a gift when they behave in the way that you want them to behave.  Everyone wants to feel that they are loved and appreciated for who they are, not how they behave.

Although the examples I mention is specific to a work environment, the same is true for personal gifts, especially when it involves a partner or a child.

Don’t only give your partner a gift when they cleaned the house, or did something that you want them to do.  Don’t reward your children if they get good grades at school.  Giving to reinforce behavior is a form of manipulation, and no-one likes to feel manipulated.

Give selectively, not as a predictable habit. Sometimes give after successes, but also sometimes after failures.

Giving is an expression of your love and gratitude.


Giving is an expression of love with the exchange of a gift a token of appreciation.  Giving is about connection.  But you can’t be a phenomenal giver if you’re not a good receiver.

This Christmas, give mindfully.  Give with passion.  Give unconditionally.


Source: Roberto Nickson via, I the author confirm I have the right to use this image.

With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.