Are You a Giver or a Taker?

Written by Lisa Bleich

“Are you a Giver or a Taker?” A comedian on the Insignia Cruise line, where I was cruising the Caribbean with my family early December, asked the audience this question during his last set. It wasn’t meant to be funny, but it got me thinking about where my family, friends and I fall.

For the next few weeks, each time I felt I was falling too far on the Taker side of the line, I took a moment to reflect and readjust. The concept stuck with me.

I was reading an article in The Week entitled What Wealth Does to Your Soul .  The story started with a vignette about a tennis summer camp for the privileged that tried to instill a sense of giving for the greater good of community rather acting out purely selfish motives through breakfast cereal selections. Click here for the full article by Michael Lewis in the New Republic.

And of course, this got me thinking about how this idea of givers and takers relates to colleges. Colleges have subtlety shifted their supplemental questions to get at where students fall on the spectrum by not only asking Why our school?, but also asking How will you contribute? In other words, how will you be a giver and not just a taker at our school?

As I reflected back on my clients who were accepted Early to schools, many of them were givers rather than takers. My clients showed their propensity to give in various parts of the College Application Wheel (Click here for more detail) through their personal statement and supplemental essays. Below are a couple of examples.

Nick, a talented countertenor, saw his role as a performer to make connections with the audience and reach them on an emotional level. He paralleled this connection with his experience as a counselor at a bereavement camp for children who had lost a family member. In his supplemental essay  he describes his vision of giving as a singer: “When I sing, I am historian and archivist, creator and innovator in the arts all at once. But most importantly I am a messenger, delivering the profound meaning and emotion captured and expressed in the arts.”

Eli, an entrepreneurial leader, created a high school flag football league in his community. He initially started the league not only to continue playing flag football in high school, but also to raise money for the Special Olympics. In his main essay to Wharton, he wrote about the many obstacles that he encountered when starting a new sports program. But as the league took off, it became much more than a place to play flag football. It became an outlet for numerous kids in his community to enjoy the game; it became a model for fundraising for the Special Olympics; and finally it became a sustainable, replicable program. Ironically, Eli developed an injury and could not play in the league that he created, but he no longer cared since it had given him and others so much.

So as you start the New Year, figure out if you are more of a giver or a taker and whenever possible, move yourself toward the giver spectrum. You will never know the unexpected ways that giving will come back to you.

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