©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
In life you always give up something to get something. —Old Proverb
Initially I wasn’t at all certain I truly understood this old proverb, much less agreed. Over time, however, as this axiom percolated through my brain, it gradually became a favorite life precept. I came to perceive that the reverse is also true. You always get something when you give something up.
So when it was my turn to facilitate a seminar breakout, I threw those words out to the group as a conversation starter. After some general discussion, the participants really became involved in the concept. They quickly turned the session into a creative exercise, spontaneously sharing anecdotes related to getting and giving up. Here are several examples.
Several years after learning more about brain function and energy, Nick had been able to change careers. “Almost immediately I noticed an increase in my energy levels,” he said. “But I also began to notice that some of the tasks I had previously done well (but not easily) were becoming increasingly distasteful.” He hadn’t lost his skills, but as he moved closer to the person he was innately, his brain drew his attention to the high energy costs of tasks that were a poor match with his innate giftedness—usually by pushing him to procrastinate. “As I become more aware of this,” he continued, “I also seem to have developed a different perspective about what tasks are really important, those that I could hire or trade out, and those that didn’t have to be done at all.” The lines of his face crinkled into a broad smile, “I wonder who coined that old proverb? He knew what he was talking about!”
“And what makes you think the author was a he?” Allie demanded. But there was a twinkle in her eye and warmth in her voice. After 29 years of marriage she had been left a widow when her husband died in a car accident. “I gave up some of who I am in the compromise required in every long-term relationship,” she said simply. As it happened, two of those compromises involved leaving her hair long and wearing it in a French twist to please her husband, and turning her little art studio into a home library because of his allergies to oils and solvents. Reaching up with paint-stained fingers to touch her silver-streaked bob, and smiling a trifle self-consciously, she said, “I miss him and I am also enjoying some of these aspects of my real self.” In Allie’s case the proverb could read, In life you always get something when you have to give up something.
“I had no choice about what I had to give up.” Tony shook his head slowly and went on speaking. “Furthermore, I certainly wasn’t looking for what I got!” When he was age 10, Tony’s younger brother had drowned in a freak swimming accident. The trauma of this death had reverberated up and down his generational line. “I remember wishing that I could just die too,” Tony reminisced. I thought, at least that way I wouldn’t have to watch my parents grieve. There seemed to be nothing he could do to lessen their agony. Living through that experience gave Tony insights into the desperate pain of loss. That knowledge became a valuable asset in helping him relate to parents and children in the oncology unit where he is a physician. Tony concluded with these words, “I didn’t choose that experience.” There was a pause and a wry smile. “And I gained a personal empathy that has been invaluable in dealing with my patients.”
“I chose what I gave up.” That opening line had everyone turning to look at the young woman who had spoken. Beth had fallen head-over-heels (her words) in love with her real estate partner. “At first I didn’t realize he was married,” she continued in a soft voice, “and by the time he disclosed that, it was too late.” Beth described how she had carefully evaluated the pros and cons of the situation. “I hadn’t heard this old proverb but I knew that one can never have everything in life.” In the end she chose to break off the relationship. “What did I give up?” Beth asked. “A man I loved desperately. I also avoided a lifetime of feeling some level of guilt had I contributed to the break-up of a home that contained two sets of identical twins.” Beth smiled. “And what did I get in return? For one thing, the knowledge that Granny was right. Human beings may not always choose whom they fall in love with, but they do choose their response to the situation.” Beth had made her decision, taken a job in another state, and eventually met the man of her dreams (her words). As a matter of fact, they had just celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary!
There were more stories and then time was up. In conclusion, one of the participants asked if he could share a favorite quote by Ralph Marston because, as he put it, the words were an explanation and an expansion of the old proverb.
“…There is no point in fighting against what already is. When you accept the situation, that is the starting point at which you begin to make the most of it. When you can go beyond acceptance into sincere gratitude, you take on a powerful positive momentum. In short, accept what is, then find something positive about it. Even the most desperate situation has its positive aspects and possibilities. You’ll uncover them only after you’ve accepted that the situation exists. Acceptance is not surrender. It is the recognition of reality. By clearly seeing what is, by acknowledging and even being grateful, you can move things forward....”
In life you always give up something to get something.
If the concept embodied in these words hasn’t been high on your list of principles to live by, you may want to take another look. Once you genuinely understand, accept, and apply this concept consistently, you become empowered to perceive each situation in life, each choice you make, and each action you take in a new way. It enables you to internalize that there is always good news and bad news (or a least some aspects that are more positive than others). It can help you to reframe those situations in which the positive aspects are difficult to identify. It can give you a tool by which to analyze and evaluate your options, choices, decisions, and actions. It can help you find what you get when you have to give something up, even though you may have to look carefully to identify it.
I’ve begun to perceive this as part of the maturing process. It involves the skill of evaluating what you will have to give up in order to get something and then making a decision based on the cost and whether or not you are willing to pay the price.
Do you need to spend some time identifying what you have gotten when you had to give something up?