As a Baby Boomer born in 1954, I grew up in rural Southern Idaho, part of a farm/ranch family. We literally broke the back of the modest acreage (160 acres) to put all four kids through college. Farming was very unpredictable with a crazy mix of factors—available water, weather, insects, yields, commodity prices—determining success or failure. Most of the time we were just surviving, not thriving. However, that never stopped mom and dad from giving generously of all they had, be it time, money, expertise, or prayers.
My dad, Bob, was born in 1916, and my mother, Virginia, in 1924, so both were part of what is been called the Greatest Generation. Typical lower-middle-income Americans, my parents believed “give and you shall receive,” and how good came back to you. This was in contrast to the other saying,, “The more you give, the more you get.” I also observed the joy they received from giving and how it far exceeded any joy associated with money or material possessions.
My wife, Teresa, also had parents who were givers. Her dad was a logger and her mom was a school lunch lady. So, it comes as no surprise that Teresa and I are givers, too. We have had a goal over our more than four decades of marriage to give away half of our income, as well as our resources, to a wide array of organizations and individuals, locally, nationwide, and even globally.
The importance of giving
I was not always a giver. While I grew up in awe and appreciation of my parents and participated in many of their philanthropic endeavors, in my early 20s I was extremely competitive. My mom used to say, “Marty likes his medals gold, his ribbons blue, and his trophies tall.” Competitive by nature, wanting to achieve at high school academics and sports was followed by veterinary school rivalries for top grades and battling for market share with what I considered “competitors” more than “colleagues” in cities where I owned veterinary practices.
It was a book that changed me from “piece of the pie taker” to the “pie maker.”
When I was 35, I read the business and self-help book. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. This book has sold over 25 million copies since its first publication, and was the first nonfiction audio book to sell more than a million copies. Coincidentally, both Stephen and his executive assistant were clients of a practice I owned in Utah. It was incredible to actually meet and get to know a real life hero of mine. He graciously agreed to give me an endorsement for my book, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul, which sold nearly three million copies and was a New York Times bestseller.
In the book, Covey illustrates the power of interdependence, which is necessary for good leaders, team players, and great marriages. In a nutshell, interdependence is “we,” not “me.” Covey coined the terms “abundance mentality,” and “abundance mindset,” where a person believes there are enough resources and successes to share with others. I call it unlimited good.
As a high-profile veterinarian (through multiple media and initiatives such as Fear Free), I frequently have requests from veterinarians and startups related to the veterinary and pet industries for help with building an organization, business, or initiative. I am also asked routinely to help mentor individuals who are trying to better themselves, personally or professionally, or build a brand.
What I have found is that by helping others, I help myself. Giving without keeping a ledger has given me nothing but abundance in my life.
But again, it was not always this way.
The midway point
I had reached a point in life, my late 50s, when I had found myself in a rut. You know the difference between a rut and a grave? The grave is just wider and deeper. I had enough money to retire comfortably (though not extravagantly), and was still in good health to enjoy the last quarter of my life. I have heard the four quarters described as: learn, churn, earn, and turn. For the first 18 to 22 years you are being educated. Learn. Then you “churn” as you burn the candle at both ends to make mortgage and car payments, raise children, and try to afford a toy or two.
Then comes “earn,” the time in your life when you are in the career position to start buying toys, traveling, and saving for retirement. The last quarter, and hopefully the longest one, is “turn.” While not as obvious as the others, “turn” is retirement, turning over in a lounge chair on the beach so as not to burn, or “turning” over when taking a nap. The thing is, I didn’t like not having too much to do.
That is when God put me in a lecture hall to hear boarded veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall’s transformative sermon on how damaging fear was to pets, how we as veterinary healthcare professionals were responsible for harming animals, and how there was something we could and must match up with our oath to prevent or relieve animal pain and suffering.
So, in 2009, at age 55, Fear Free had life breathed into it. It was a chance to give back to pets, people (pet parents, ranchers, horse folks, wildlife experts, researchers) and the profession. And even in this, we have kept giving in mind; Teresa and I have already given away over three-quarters of our stock in Fear Free to Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine to hopefully, prayerfully, endow multiple chairs in animal behavior. We would like 12 chairs, one for most species veterinarians see, including canine, feline, equine, bovine, porcine, ovine, caprine, poultry, etc., and robustly fund research.
Here comes God again. I was looking at our paltry retirement funds and thinking, maybe we need to cut off giving for a while, or at least scale it way back until we can feel comfortable with what we have to live out the fourth quarter (our two children and one grandchild know they only inherit our Almost Heaven Ranch; everything else is going to charity).
Then in 2004, a book came out that could be considered a bookend to The 7 Habits. An award-winning researcher and famed business school, Wharton’s highest rated professor, Adam Grant, penned a bestselling book, Give and Take. In it, he shows how for generations we focused on individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. Alas, in today’s dramatically reconfigured world, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others.
It is our interactions with others that hold the key to our own success. In the new world, there are basically two kinds of people: takers and givers. Takers have a distinctive signature: They like to get more than they give. Seldom do takers thrive, and if they do, they are often financially successful but emotionally depleted.
The most successful people in today’s uber-competitive world are givers. They tilt reciprocity in a way that benefits others more than themselves. If you are a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you are a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis; you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs.
Alternately, you might not think of the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return. If you are a true giver at work, in life, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with people who can benefit from them.
I hope you view this article the way my heart intended it. It is not about me, it is about we. My whole life I have felt blessed, like God was playing favorites with me. I do know what is worked for me. Thanks to great examples like our parents, having read two amazing books, and often being on my knees in prayer, I know it is truly better to give than receive.
Marty Becker, DVM, writes every other month for Veterinary Practice News. He is a Sandpoint, Idaho, practitioner and founder of the Fear Free initiative. For more information about Fear Free or to register for certification, go to fearfreepets.com. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.