Giving: The Most Important Lesson in Life


Some people have it all. They’re talented, motivated, and know exactly what they want out of life. These folks want success so badly they can taste it, and their behavior reflects that drive. And yet, even though they have so much promise and so much to give, this fairy tale doesn’t always have a happy ending.

I’m sure you know people who fit the bill. Every step they take is measured against how they’ll benefit personally; everything they do has a quid pro quo; and every conversation they have is steered to their favorite topic — themselves.

You can rest assured that when they call, it’s because they want something from you; they use people as pawns to get what they want; they feel no compunction about being the first to take, then leaving the scraps for everyone else; they bully others to get more for themselves. Sharing? Giving? Playing fair? Not even on their radar.

In the short term, their charisma, talent, and drive earn them BIG kudos. Long term, they’re disastrous. Their confidence is perceived as arrogance; their go-getter personality comes across as pushy; and their ambition is viewed as uncontrollable. The result is that their ruthless behavior causes them to forfeit the things they want most in life.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that people who care about the needs of others and give of themselves go much further in life. “Are you kidding?” may be what you’re thinking. “That’s the most important lesson?

Yes. Some people may believe that this philosophy is simplistic, naive, sappy, pie-in-the-sky, while others consider that it’s only a nicety. You may be thinking, “While that sounds great in theory, it doesn’t work in the real world.” The assumption people make is that you have to be ruthless to win. I’m here to tell you they’re dead wrong. Here’s why . . .

Common Fallacies

Promote yourself to make a great impression. Self-promotion won’t always lead to a favorable impression. In fact, the opposite may be true. If you want to make a great impression, spend your time listening and making others feel special rather than telling them how great you are.

You have to move fast to get what you want in life. Relationships are built on trust, which takes time to develop. When people are viewed as “a bull in a china shop,” their motives are likely to be misinterpreted.

If I don’t take it first, someone else will. When someone makes a concerted effort to be fair, others often return the favor. The opposite is also true — when someone thinks only of himself or herself, it breeds suspicion and contempt.

Packaging yourself is everything. The best way to differentiate yourself or your organization is to be honest, caring, and hardworking. When you work smart and provide significant value, you don’t have to use gimmicks or play dirty to be recognized as a star.

Always try to get the upper hand. Relationships are all about identifying areas of shared interest and creating opportunities for everyone to be a winner. When someone gains the upper hand at the expense of others, it creates envy and resentment.

Don’t compromise if you don’t have to. Relationships are built on compromise. When you watch your partner’s back, your partner will watch yours. Compromise is key. If two people are five steps apart, the best way to meet in the middle is for each person to take three steps forward.

In business, everyone’s a competitor. Some people believe that the best way to propel their career is to outmaneuver their colleagues. When you make people look good, you’ll earn their trust and respect, and they’ll be supportive of your efforts. Plus, they’ll want you on their team.

There’s not enough time to help others. When you make an effort to help others, you’ll create an army of people willing to return the favor for you one day. But remember, please don’t keep score.

The Magic of Giving

You be the judge as to whether or not taking the high road leads to success . . .

Would you consider an egotist to be your role model? Would you choose a self-centered person as a good friend? Would you form a partnership with a greedy person? Would you recruit a selfish person for your team? Would you marry and spend your lifetime with a greedy person? I thought not.

It really doesn’t take much effort to show others that you care. For example, treat them with dignity and respect; “make someone’s day” with a few kind words; provide encouragement; show concern; spend quality time; listen with interest; share half; put their needs before your own; reach out to someone in need; share your wisdom and experience; pay them a compliment; teach them how to fish for a lifetime; thank someone for an effort well done; ask for or share an honest opinion; show gratitude; remember a special event; instill a strong set of values; provide encouragement.

Remember . . . give because you want to, not because you must. That way, it’s from your heart. Believe me, it will come back to you in ways you’d never imagine — but don’t give because you’re expecting something in return.

Some people may look at you cross-eyed after you make a kind gesture. “C’mon,” they’ll think, “why are you really doing this? No one does something for nothing.” Then, when they realize there’s no catch, something magical will happen. You’ll be viewed in an entirely new light.

Just think how far your kindness will go toward building trust, strengthening your relationships, developing teamwork and camaraderie, enhancing your reputation and sense of self-worth — not to mention, adding to your karma.

Giving is a winning game. As Patti Thor says, “It’s not that successful people are givers; it is that givers are successful people.” So remember, it IS better to give than receive. Go ahead; give it a try.

Additional Reading:
Living Life With a Purpose
The Gift of Giving
It’s Your Life
Important Stuff in Life

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  1. Dr. Daisy Sutherland says

    Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this post..your message is something everyone should read but not only read..they should also put into action. It’s not about being the ‘cool one’ or the ‘most popular one’ its truly about being genuine in your words and actions…then and only then will you live a full life and one that hopefully others will want to emulate. Thanks again for sharing your words of wisdom with us all!:)

  2. Marc Kauffmann says

    Your statement “Remember . . . give because you want to, not because you must. That way, it’s from your heart. Believe me, it will come back to you in ways you’d never imagine — but don’t give because you’re expecting something in return,” is very true.

    I’ve found in my career that every time I give advice or provide assistance to someone (with no hiden agenda)that it helps develop a true working relationship.

    In the recent past, I spoke with a CIO at a major company. We’ve developed a good relationship and as such I began receiving business opportunities.


  3. Frank Sonnenberg says

    Susan, Daisy, Marc

    Thanks so much for your thoughts and kind words :-)

    It’s clear by your comments that you understand why I wrote this piece.

    Sometimes it’s counterintuitive that the more we give the more we receive. The truth is, I’ve found that to be the case.

    Have a wonderful day.



  4. Michelle @ says

    Wow, that is a great post! I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy “you are who you hang around”…surrounding yourself around positive and successful people is so important.

    I wish there were more blogs like this! Do you have an RSS feed so I can be sure to come back?


  5. Frank Sonnenberg says

    Hi Michelle

    Thanks so much for you kind words. You made my day :-)

    You can choose to receive my posts via Facebook, e-mail, RSS feed or by visiting. All of the options are listed far right, on this page. Thanks so much for your interest.



  6. Lolly Daskal says

    As always Frank your blog posts make me think…


    I thought I had it all figured out- thinking I know the answer to that statement..but what I love is that you bring new thinking, new lens, new perspective to topics I feel I have the answers.

    Your blog is food for the soul!

    Thanks for all that you do.

    You are truly a special GIVING person!

    Lolly Daskal
    Lead From Within

  7. Marc says

    Immediately, my mind tried to jump ahead and guess what it could be that one would label this superlative – especially given the wealth of knowledge in some of the other great posts here.

    Well, it didn’t disappoint. I had to read it twice. Thankfully Frank doesn’t waste our time with flowery prose or gimmicky wordsmithing. It’s plain, its simple, it’s true. It may be the only blog post I’ve ever emailed out that got a response from EVERYONE I sent it to. From the responses, I do not think it was simply the title that they found intriguing.

    Those of us that read this, understand this and know why it is so important are truly blessed. Perhaps one of the best gifts we can then bestow is making others come to see the value in this imperative worldly perspective. Once we “get it”, it truly is selfish to keep it to ourselves!

  8. Frank Sonnenberg says

    Lolly / Marc

    Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m so glad that the post resonated with you. The truth is, I learn a lot about myself as well when I write these posts.

    As you know, my mission is highlight the urgent need to reawaken personal values and personal responsibility. Thank you, as always, for sharing the post with your friends and colleagues. (Otherwise, I’d be talking to myself)

    Have a wonderful day!



  9. Artie Collins says

    Frank – your message, “The Buck Stops with you” was meant for me….Today, I am re-commiting to my goals! Thank you for the inspiration.

  10. Lolly Daskal says


    It’s not that successful people are givers; it is that givers are successful people.”

    • Frank Sonnenberg says


      You are a wonderful role model of a giving person. We can all learn a lot from you.



    • Craig says

      Our program will reap the benefits of these outstanding gifts of knowledge. Creating an atmosphere of reflection is what learning and growth is all about. When people are willing to share quality nuggets of information, the better off we all will be.

  11. Karen M. says

    Dear Frank,
    While I’m just beginning to crack this book open, I have seen so many things that bring old clichés to mind. One in particular hit a cord with me. In “The Most Important Lesson in Life”, In talking about success, I remember a saying; “Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get.” Thank you for your thoughts & I’m looking forward to the rest of it, Karen

    • Frank Sonnenberg says

      Hi Karen

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write. It’s great to hear that my words are meaningful to you. Enjoy the book.



  12. Pete says

    Frank you are wrong here, I was born a giving type. And all I ever got out of it was getting taken advantage of by others who are a greedy type who enjoy taking advantage of others and never giving back themselves. It only enables these types of people to keep behaving the way they do because people still behave the way you do and pick up the slack.
    At a certain point in my life I just said NO, and oddly people have come to EXPECT me to help and get MAD AT ME if I don’t help, I was never obligated to help in the first place, and it would be a favor I do, but people get so used to taking advantage of your help that they don’t even bother asking and start TELLING you to do stuff, at that point you just gotta cut them off and say NO you crossed the line, and that will help change the world more than me keep on helping lazy people. Sure they get mad and throw a fit at first, but then they stop bugging you as much and go take care of their own responsibilities, it makes your life so much better.

    I’ll help people who really need it, not just want it.

    • Frank Sonnenberg says

      Hi Pete

      I hear the disappointment in your note and don’t fault you for your frustration. I’m sure you’ve worked very hard for everything you earned. When you give something away the least you should expect is a sign of gratitude. Instead, the gift is expected. These folks may call you greedy for not giving them more, but it’s time for them to look in the mirror.

      Here’s where I come down on the issue. I know how you feel because I’ve received the same treatment from a few people. But, I don’t want to lower my standards. I take great pleasure in giving because I believe it’s the right thing to do. I like the way you end your note, “I’ll help people who really need it, not just want it.”

      Thanks for taking the time to write and for advancing the conversation.

      Have an awesome day!


  13. Cindy says

    It’s funny that I find this blog (enjoyable by the way) this evening- as I was walking with my friend who shared same view as Pete above. I look at giving as an opportunity for advancement. I know that sounds strange – but I look to the character of God as we glean from His words (through men) in the Bible – we then recognize His patterns & principles for giving. It is even happening in my children when other children seem to be (on the surface) to take advantage ie: steal their pen when falls on classroom floor – my advice: give them the other pen too( Jesus remarked to give your tunic also…)
    It is an unexpected behavior wrapped in humility –
    Store up treasures in heaven where thieves don’t break in – moths don’t destroy ….where your treasure is – there your heart will be also.

    • Frank Sonnenberg says

      Hi Cindy

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      I’ve found the “best” way to give is to not want or expect anything in return. In other words, rather than having a ulterior motive … giving should be a way of life. A funny thing happens when you act this way … you begin to attract good things like a magnet. There is great truth to the saying “good things happen to good people.”

      Have an awesome weekend!



  14. Bertram Azavedo says

    Thanks for the excellent article on GIVING.
    GIVE – not grudgingly or of necessity or insincerely, but willingly and joyfully – and experience real Joy. GOD LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER.
    – Bertram Azavedo

    • Frank Sonnenberg says

      Thanks so much Bertram. I appreciate your kind thoughts. As H. Jackson Brown, Jr. said, “Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.” Have an awesome day!



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