For most of 1999 I gave away each piece of my packed lunch until I had nothing left.

My Lunchable went to Karli, Doritos to Ashley, Capri Sun to Sarah, Slim Jim to whoever craved that, and then I was left with my tiny bag of carrot sticks, which no one (including me) wanted.

Most of my classmates ate the homemade crustless PB&J’s their stay-at-home moms packed while I brought the circular Smucker’s variety from the freezer section. Working a high-stress job full-time, my single mom didn’t have time to de-crust or slice quarters. Instead, she purchased all the best ready-made items the late 90’s had to offer at Target and then quickly assembled one of the most coveted lunches in my Catholic school’s cafeteria.

I didn’t mind that the contents of my lunch bag were unique as long as I fit in on the playground. My thinking was that if I gave all I had to give (which, as a 4th grader, was my brown bag of processed foods) then people would respect, include and love me — at least for the next 20 minutes that followed lunch on the playground. I didn’t want to ask for inclusion at recess, I wanted it to occur naturally, and in my mind I could control that by giving.

This never worked.

I never got a turn in Four-Square or jump-rope. And I rarely had a swing saved for me no matter how many kids promised it.

20 years later I realize I sometimes still use similar tactics to be respected, included and loved.

Cut to August of this year, in my boyfriend’s kitchen — stomach rumbling, about to dig into a smoothie bowl I’d just blended and assembled to Instagram-able perfection, when his roommate walks in. She asks what we’re eating and instead of just answering her question I offer up the bowl I’d just made for myself. I insist that I didn’t even want it in the first place and that I could make more, when in reality we didn’t have any more ingredients.

A few weeks later I had some friends over to record a podcast. As they were leaving I felt like I should offer them snacks for the road. Next thing I knew I found myself emptying my already sparse cabinets — and giving up my prized spirulina popcorn I had brought back from Hawaii.

The circle is endless; I can recount at least 10 more instances lately where I’ve let someone cut me in line when I, too, am rushing, or where I act like I’m Daddy Warbucks, tossing my credit card down for dinners, coffees and Lyfts I could have split.

I’m not a martyr and don’t think this behavior is particularly noble — but rather, old, deep-rooted programming where I unconsciously feel that if I’m a pushover giving everything I’ve got, then I will be included, loved and admired because we live in an eye-for-an-eye society.

In theory, I think I had the right idea as a kid in regards to giving freely, however I went wrong in expecting something in return.

I was not giving because it made me happy (it made me hungry and secretly resentful), but rather giving because there was something that I wanted.

But what if I had just asked for what I desired? Why does asking terrify me so much?

In these recent examples I gave out of obligation. When offering my smoothie bowl and popcorn I expected them to pass on the offer, because if I was in those situations I would have emphatically declined, never wanting to take when I had nothing to give immediately in return.

These situations have made me explore within myself why, exactly, asking is so challenging for me. I realized that because of the way I give, I have the assumption that others give out of obligation or a need for something in return as well. And that, of course, is not always the case.

I have realized that shifting the way I give and receive will positively benefit my interactions with others.

Here are some lessons I have been choosing to live by lately:

1 | Give freely anytime that you can, but without any expectation in return.

2 | Give within your means.

3 | Admit your hopes, dreams and goals to yourself.

4 | Share them with others and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

5 | Don’t be offended or sad when people say no or can’t help.

6 | Receive with gratitude instead of guilt and stop instantly obsessing about how you can repay others.

I’m working on, and reminding myself of these daily before I give, ask or receive — and now sharing them with you in case they’re helpful (with no expectation of anything in return).

Katie Dalebout is a writer, host and wellness and creativity cheerleader who resides in New York City. In 2013 she started the then wellness-focused podcast Let It Out, which has since molded into a modern long-form interview show covering everything from wellness and spirituality to entrepreneurship and relationships and has an over 200 episode archive. Her first book, Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling was published with Hay House in 2016, and is a collection of personal essays and journaling prompts.  

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