Questioning Your Motives

When I was first married, I had to learn my husband’s family’s Christmas customs. There was a lot of gift buying, and because we didn’t live close, a lot of gift shipping.

As December flipped onto the calendar, I began to panic. My husband hadn’t purchased gifts for his family yet. We had decided it was his job to do that. He enjoyed it. Because Christmas starts in August, by early December I was in high panic. My husband has a different view of time than I do, and he wasn’t concerned.



Finally, in week three of December, he said he was finished shopping. I took a day off work, and, unasked, spent the entire day furiously wrapping, labeling and packing boxes for his family members. I then loaded the car and stood in line at UPS for hours waiting to ship his packages. My credit card took a serious hit on rush charges. I came home feeling virtuous. He owed me now. He would look at me as the hero I was and heap praises on my head. I could taste my victory and it was sweet.

I strode into the house, filled with more that a touch of vindication. “Your packages went to your family today, and they will make it in time for Christmas,” I said, pausing for praise. When it didn’t come, I prompted, “I used a vacation day to get them all out.” When I looked at him, I saw. . . hidden anger.

Available as a poster from

Available as a poster from

“What’s wrong? I took a whole day off to do this for you! I stood in line and put a lot of rush shipping on my credit card!” He looked at me and said simply, “I didn’t ask you to do that. I had planned to take tomorrow off to do it. I like doing it. You don’t. But mostly, you did something you hated so I’d appreciate it. And instead, you deprived me of the joy of listening to Christmas music and wrapping presents while you were at work.” I was furious. How could he be so selfish?  I had taken a day off and done a whole day of furious work for him, and I did not get one word of appreciation.

With time, I realized my totally inappropriate level of control and, well, wrong thinking. My husband was right.  Wrapping and shipping the presents was not my work to do. I took it on without asking. I did the work not because I enjoyed it, or even because I wanted to do it. I did the work to be appreciated. Instead of focusing on holiday joy, I focused on what I didn’t have: time, appreciation, enjoyment.

And the trouble with focusing on “What don’t I have?” is that the answer is always “I don’t have enough.” Always a sad realization.

In the years that followed, I learned to do things for others because someone asked me to help, or because I wanted to. Occasionally, I did things because they needed doing and no one else was available. But I no longer do things to be appreciated. It’s a losing proposition, every time.

—Quinn McDonald appreciates giving help and asking for help, which allows others to feel generous. She does the work that is hers to do.



24 thoughts on “Questioning Your Motives

  1. So true! It has taken me a while to learn this, but I am almost there now… just need to remind myself sometimes… not to expect appreciation… and to do “favors” because I enjoy it, and only when it’s asked for, or I have offered ahead of time. I’m surprised how much more happy it makes me feel.

  2. Oh, this is such a timely post for me! I had an aha moment yesterday regarding the situation with my Mom in the hospital. I suddenly realized that I am the ONLY one worrying about whether she is alone, getting the proper medications on time, and how to handle things when she comes home. My stepdad says he is concerned but his actions aren’t backing up his words. I’m taking all of this on…MY CHOICE! So now I’m realizing that I need to back off. Sure, I’ll still be involved (since I’m her medical POA) but I can’t control every little thing that does or doesn’t happen with her at the hospital. I can’t be there 24/7 to tend to her every comfort. It’s been a long, hard road and I feel terrible for my Mom but I accept that my tank is running empty and I MUST take care of myself.

    This part really hits home for me, “I learned to do things for others because someone asked me to help, or because I wanted to. Occasionally, I did things because they needed doing and no one else was available.”

    Thanks for reading my mind…once again!

  3. You didn’t write this for praise but because it needed writing. But this is wonderful and I will gladly share it. It is an excellent reminder to only do the work that is ours to do, and definitely to pay greater attention to our motives. And I had to laugh at the Christmas starting in August bit. When I lived in northern Virginia, I discovered how awful it was trying to find parking at Tyson’s Corner Mall as Christmas approached. So July and August Christmas shopping became the norm for many years.

    • Knowing what is our work to do is always an adventure. And Tysons starts Christmas SO early. I wasn’t kidding about August–Nieman’s put out decorated trees at the end of August. I roll my eyes.

  4. thanks for the words, the story to snap my complacent thinking into a more clear place today. The waking up reminders are always good to help keep my thinking about just being and doing – no expectations other than my own pleasure in the journey.

  5. Do things for others because you want to bless them, and expect nothing in return. When we do things with the expectation of receiving praise and appreciation (or because we believe that things are not being done on OUR time schedule), then we have the wrong motivation and will almost always be disappointed. Unless the item not being done will result in some sort of major problem (uh…not paying taxes on time, perhaps?), then allowing the natural consequences to happen is usually the best thing.

    What an excellent example you have given of this. I so appreciate you sharing.

  6. This blog post is a direct hit on the head of the nail. Not just for “why am I” sending this gift, doing this or that, or sending a card, but also for asking myself why I’m not doing those things as well. Is not doing something, such as not sending a birthday card to someone who never sends me one a passive aggressive way of punishing them for not giving me something I want? From now on I’ll ask myself why I’m not doing something as well as asking myself why I am doing something for others. Wanting or expecting something in return shouldn’t be my reason. Because it brings me or someone else joy……..that should be my reason. When viewed from that perspective, I do receive something wonderful in return. Internal happiness and peace. I like it. Thank you Quinn!

  7. What an excellent story to demonstrate this idea. We all do things that we don’t want to do or need to do, yet we do them thinking somebody else will be glad we did them, and will be grateful. And maybe they will, but maybe they won’t. Then we are upset because they don’t give us the response we expect. Definitely a no-win situation.

  8. I have learned to ask what my motivation is for doing something. Why am I sending a birthday card (especially to those who never acknowledge receiving it or remember my birthday)? Why am I buying an item (on impulse) that I think someone will like? Why am I sending that e-mail etc ? Is it to make me feel good, to be thought of as a good person, or to look for appreciation for my thoughtfulness? Is it to make that person happy or to make me happy? Depending on the answer, I will follow through or not on sending that card etc.

  9. Never Assume!! It usually comes back to bite you…I tell my grandchildren
    that in their relationships comes compromise….both parties…I love to help
    others and my Mom taught me this and I love to give my art prints away
    because I love to see the smiles on friends and strangers faces for the
    gift of talent God gives me…yes, He is the artist, I only hold the brush!!
    I wrote this in my bio and place it on the back of each piece of art…always
    be thankful. It can always be a lot worse….Life is what you make it and
    it is short…so ENJOY and thank the Good Lord for all we have..Donna Remeika

    • This is more than assuming. This is choosing the wrong motivation. It’s as if you painted solely to get praise from someone. Motivation is a powerful source of satisfaction and disappointment in life.

  10. When we were first married, I’d sacrifice the white meat to my wife, and she’d sacrifice the dark to me, each assuming the other shared our preferences for chicken. Weeks into our marriage we finally discovered that our sacrifices were misconceived, that we’d have each been better off eating the meat we preferred. There’s a lot to be said for clear communication.

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