Publishing journal and magazine articles used to be a stressful experience for me. When I first started, of course, it took me much longer to prepare each piece for submission, because I wasn’t familiar with the editing process. More importantly, however, I had a nagging guilt at the edge of my awareness about sending my writing to editors. Wasn’t I taking up their time by making them read my work? Wouldn’t the magazine have to use a lot of paper or web programming time to make my articles publicly available? Was all that worth it just so I could get my name in print?
Although I had this feeling, I kept chugging away at the publication process, hoping some day I’d gain some insight that would change my perspective. Eventually, an interaction with one of my readers gifted me with that insight. It was nothing particularly spectacular or unique—a woman simply e-mailed me to tell me one of my articles helped change her outlook on life for the better. But her e-mail led me to a key realization—I’m actually giving people something when I write my articles, not just receiving recognition, money, or whatever else.
I recognized that, when I thought about my publishing endeavors, my attention would be fixed on what I was getting out of the publication process, and what others had to do to help me get it. I was placing no attention on what my writing was contributing to the publication or its readers. Of course, when I thought about publishing that way, it seemed like a pretty raw deal for the magazines I submitted articles to. I got to spread my name around and (at least sometimes) get paid, and they had to run through the whole rigmarole of printing my piece. No wonder I felt self-centered and guilty.
When I realized I could actually give others something by publishing, suddenly the process began to feel more inspiring. My productivity and focus in writing magazine articles blossomed, and I no longer felt constricted by the fear of “bothering” or “taking from” editors or the reading public.
Many of us have the hangup I described in at least one area of our lives. We worry that, if we pursue our goals, we’ll be somehow taking from others and giving nothing in return. In essence, we’re afraid that following our dreams might be inconsiderate or selfish. This phenomenon certainly isn’t restricted to career issues—many people live with it, for instance, in their intimate relationships.
Some people, when they’re considering introducing themselves to someone they’re attracted to, place no attention on what they have to offer the other person. Instead, they’re entirely focused on the possibility that they’d bother the other person or make them uncomfortable. They’re fixated, in other words, on what they’d “take,” or the inconvenience they might cause, and not what they can “give.” Not surprisingly, this mindset has them hold back or become nervous as they’re meeting the other person. But when they hold in their awareness the gifts they can bring to a relationship, meeting people can become inspiring and enjoyable again.
In my experience, people with anxiety about public speaking often have similar concerns. They worry that they’re boring or inconveniencing the people they’re speaking to, and thus they’re less confident and articulate than they’d otherwise be. When they turn their attention to the gifts they can bring the audience—the education or entertainment they can provide—suddenly public speaking ceases to feel like such a difficult and stressful exercise.
I believe that, in our deepest essence as human beings, we naturally desire to care for and bestow our gifts on others. This desire is a strong motivator when we’re pursuing our goals in life. Simply remaining conscious of what we’re contributing to the world with our activities does much to dissolve the fears and mental barriers that get in the way of our success. In Unfolding Self: The Practice Of Psychosynthesis, therapist Molly Young Brown aptly describes how connecting with our drive to serve is a powerful source of energy and focus:
When we know ourselves to be most essentially spiritual beings, acting through particular personalities and organisms, we are set free from the fear of selfishness that has plagued the good children of our culture for so long. We truly can trust ourselves! When we plunge deeply into who we are, we discover that we are creatures of great potential who yearn to use our capacities to serve humanity . . . . To be truly Self-centered is to be a giver of gifts to the world.
If you have a goal you’ve wanted to achieve, but you’ve felt restricted by fears of “taking from” or inconveniencing others, I invite you to try this exercise. For a moment, remove your attention from the praise, material things, or anything else you may receive from the activity, and the possibility that others might disapprove of what you do. Instead, focus your attention on the ways what you plan to do would serve the world. Picture the happiness, comfort, productivity, and other gifts you’ll bring into people’s lives.
If you aren’t accustomed to thinking this way, I suspect you’ll be surprised by how motivated and inspired you’ll feel, and how insignificant your fears will appear compared to the joy you can bring others.
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