03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Reflections On Giving And Receiving

It's that time of year for active giving and receiving. As I choose which of the soliciting envelopes to open, and which worthy organization will receive small checks from me, I've been reflecting on my own different ways of giving and receiving back.

As a psychologist, some people say that I am giving all the time. For some reason, I suppose because it's my profession, the offering of my skill and attention does not feel like I am in service; it does not feel like a gift given feely. Well, it's not, is it, if I get paid for it.

For the last number of years I have committed myself to one offering of time and energy a year. After hurricane Katrina I went with a friend to New Orleans for a wild, wonderful, wacky, poignant four days. We were the two middle two middle aged women in a dorm with a million spirited college kids, sweating and shoveling out the remains of people's homes. It was one of those heart opening experiences that instilled a sense of connection with all of humanity. I was awestruck with the team leaders who spontaneously emerged from the work groups sent out to different sites. I was inspired by the young people who will inherit our future. When I returned from our days of shoveling I promptly got pneumonia from the dust and mold stuck in my lungs, but it was worth it.

The next year I volunteered a week in Amsterdam chaperoning and emotionally supporting an Iraqi victim of sexual violence who was seeking citizenship outside her country. (My expenses were paid for by an American concerned citizen.) My tasks involved accompanying this frightened and traumatized woman to appointments with lawyers, doctors, Amnesty International, etc. Hers was a story with mysteries that still escape me. I know not if her tale was 100 percent true, but if only half the events she alluded to happened, she was worthy of my efforts. In my week away I got the gift of leaving the normalcy of my life and pushing my own envelope on comfort for the possible good to a lost soul.

This year I just finished a pro-bono series of sessions in Leadership Development for senior staff women, and project managers, who work for agencies under the umbrella of Women's Way in Philadelphia. I like running groups. I like facilitating leadership development workshops. I know that these women, the next generation of smart and capable female activists, don't get the opportunity, or funding, for advanced and expensive leadership programs that are most often paid for by large corporations who have an investment in their potential high performers. I decided to offer my time and energy towards their development. It was truly gratifying.

Recently I heard Barbara Greenspan Shaiman speak about her new book Living Your Legacy: Ten Simple Steps to Find Your Passion and Change the World. She reminds us that too often we think of giving, or volunteering, as time spent being good people, divorced from activities that come from our passions. She invites us, instead, to find what we love, and how to offer it to others. It's a good message for any time of year.

I look forward to my next year's adventure in service; it feeds my soul. I hope, and trust, that in the process of satisfying my own personal need to feel connected and a part of something outside myself, I am truly giving.

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