Sometimes, the difficulties we can experience in life, often seems like a “life sentence.”  It often feels like it’s here to stay, permanent even.  A good friend of mine made a casual comment that to this day I’ve never forgotten:  “There’s more to your life than ‘how you feel,’  your emotions can blind you to the abundance that’s all around you.”  Is it true?  Well I would find myself having to put this to the test, just two years after the Great U.S. Recession.

Like many people working in the financial sector during that period, I found myself suddenly layoff.   Being an analyst at a small M&A firm and not an investment banker, there weren’t millions of dollars in bonuses to ride it out, no fat severance as a consolation.  No, I was in full blown distress, and my normal avenues for professional work were all seized up, as the country (and the World quite frankly) held it’s collective breath and took a long wait and see approach to the future.

At some point, after exerting tremendous efforts to find employment, get back on my feet – get back in the game, doubt became more prevalent, more pronounced.  It began to color my thinking, eroding my confidence.

I was spiraling, and I could no longer see a way out.

I was no longer thinking “future,” instead I was thinking “survival.”  And then the holidays arrived-  December, and I’m staring at a new year arriving shortly and I haven’t solved my problem, I haven’t made the course corrections.   I found myself asking: “Is this it? Is this my fate? To constantly dance and tap my way 24/7 to get in and stay in the Game? Is there another way?”

Technology is good. Money’s important. But these are tools right? Resources. Yet, these two things seem to dominate our time, attention and focus. To what end?

So in December that year, during one of those crazy winter storm deals where there was 4 feet of snow outside and everyone was hunkered down at home, I dusted off my old journals looking for the answer to the question.  And I stumbled upon it – the answer came in three parts:

“We will do more for others than we do for ourselves…”

“The fastest way out of feeling bad or depressed or whatever is to set about to help someone – anyone – quickly.”

“The more you give, the more you gain, in every area of your life”

I believe these statements are true. I need these statements to be true – and if they are, then it guarantees that there is more to life than the race, the pursuit, and the game.

So, even with limited means financially, I set aside some of my energy from job hunting and I started focusing on finding ways to assist others – family, friends, strangers; I made time, really listened and offered what support I could.

I found myself joining what was then called “The Boundless Living Challenge,”  a community established by Bob Doyle, where thousands of people from around the globe interacted, shared their dreams and supported one another.  [my experience with the challenge is one of the things that inspired the creation of MeYouSocial…]   The magic – and the miracle part – is that this community’s power was that its members gained all they needed by giving all they could of themselves to others.  And despite my worry and stress of trying to secure, I found myself getting energized helping to inspire others in their pursuit of their dreams.

I gave what I could, and what I had to give wasn’t money of course, but something far more valuable:  advice, sharing my experiences (the good and the bad), referring members to resources I’ve used as an entrepreneur, manager, leader, consultant.   Helping others shifted the focus away from myself, and began to shift my thinking – and how I felt – about life, my life.

Turns out this miracle came in two parts…

Giving without any clear expectation that there would be a “return,” … It felt better than expected and I won’t bore you with details of the dozens of ways reciprocation has occurred (and continues today) but rest assured – it happens.

But the real test occurred when at a fund-raising dinner for a non-profit  whose work I support and believe in, I felt compelled to make a donation. A donation that, being unemployed with little to no cash reserves, I could easily justify to myself that I couldn’t afford to make. But a part of me, the best part of me, knew that it was not only important to the non-profit that they receive my donation, but that it was vital for me to find the courage to do so. I donated 1/3 of the available money I had on hand, and I did it knowing that I would have to make some sacrifices to offset the consequences of my donation.  {And the irony can be found in the organization’s name: “Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help” – kind of reflects one of the major themes in the World today, yes?}

Then, a funny thing happened: I found myself saying to myself – “I’m going to donate more than this.” I realized that I had wealth I hadn’t even tapped yet – and it wasn’t money, it was my relationships and my ability to communicate.

The next morning, I set about crafting a letter to my entire personal network, talking about my experience at that event, how there is often many ways we can contribute over and above money, and that I was grateful for the experience to be “rich” enough to be able to give – of my time, money, whatever I could.  I have no way to know how many people received that letter, and I’m certain it was sent to many more people than I sent it to directly.  Many people responded saying that they had been inspired by my letter and that they had made a donation to such and such charity.

So how does the story end?  Well, I received a note of thanks from the director of the foundation (it was such a small amount of money in comparison to the donations I’m sure they received that evening, which made this personal note even more amazing to me).  I found additional ways to assist the foundation, providing about 30 hours of free consulting time to help them think through expanding their fund raising strategies (beyond the local community).  And a follow-up email to my network asking for referrals for project/consulting work (vs. a job) yielding an engagement the following month.

Under the section “Things We Love,” you will find a list of organizations that are doing great things in the World.  I hope you find one or two (or many) that resonate with you and make you want to give a little bit of your time or money, or prayer – whatever it is:  Give.  I promise you, it will bring you ten fold things you can’t even imagine.

Because here’s the secret: Giving isn’t about the recipient: It’s one of the few test human beings can take where you’re guaranteed to earn an “A.