Spend Your Love Wisely

It’s Valentine’s Day and here in the States we are surrounded by symbols of love. The more jaded among us might say we are surrounded by symbols of retailers making up a holiday to separate us from our money but that’s probably just my cynical Dad’s voice whispering in my ear. Let’s concentrate on the love component.

I can’t help but reflect on how much love gets spent unwisely, for all the best reasons. If only we could get back the days, months and years we’ve spent trying to “rescue” someone we loved (who, it turns out didn’t want to be saved) or trying to prove how much we care to someone who was love blind (could not see it).

I’ve certainly done all those things and more. I’m guessing you have, too, because the people who read my column all have big hearts.

Rather than giving you a piece of candy this Valentine’s Day let me instead give you a piece of wisdom that came to me a few years ago and has served me well ever since—give your heart and your help to only those who are doing the footwork.

One of the many ironies of life is that the people who most need something avoid it like the plague. When I taught time management, those people in the room who had come voluntarily were all very good at managing their time—they were there to get even better. People who were a mess (“I don’t have time to go to a time management course!”) were conspicuously absent.

The work that I’m engaged in results in many people saying to me, “I wish my daughter could hear this,” or “I wish my co-worker or manager were here. They could really use it.”

What I’ve come to understand is that, unless those people want to hear it, they could be in the room and miss it completely. You cannot teach someone something they do not want to learn.

Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that you throw anyone away. You can offer a kind ear and a loving heart at any time and I strongly urge you to do so. What I AM suggesting is that you not do the footwork for someone who is perfectly capable of doing it for themselves.

When my teenaged foster daughters first came to live with me many years ago, I felt so badly about the tough life they’d had up until then, I tried to do everything for them. I gave them too much. If you give a man who has walked through the desert too much water, you can kill him.

What turned out to be the very best thing for both my girls was to show them they could do things for themselves. Today, they are walking miracles—out in the world and making it on their own—and proud of themselves.

I wish I had learned to teach them independence earlier. It would have saved us all a lot of trouble, heartache and resentment. You see, when I was doing too much for my girls, I was silently telling them they were incapable of doing it themselves. That is quite the opposite of love. Love is a beautiful message. Suggesting someone is incapable is an ugly one, no matter the good intentions behind it.

So, this Valentine’s Day, look around at those you spend your love on. Are they pulling their own weight? Are they showing you love by doing the footwork?

Even though love is unlimited, the time to show it is not. From today forward, start spending your love wisely.

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