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The Gift Economy Sweet Spot

The Japanese concept of ikigai refers to the sweet spot of finding work that intersects what the world needs, what the world will pay you for, what you love, and what you're good at. I love this concept! I love when I'm in that flow, and when I can help clients toward that flow.

As I have been exploring how I might work by donation rather than by set fee, I've also been thinking about a similar "sweet spot" of gift economy exchange. What elements would this include to fulfill all the needs of both parties, the givers and receivers of services? 

ikigai - interpretation of Japanese life

For the answer, I looked outside to the Meyer lemon tree in my front yard.  Like all fruit trees, she takes in sunlight, converts it to energy, produces food, and then gives it away to all. Unfortunately, the world (or at least this culture) doesn't work like that for humans. However, we can create spaces, places, and practices locally where we give and receive as effortlessly as that lemon tree.

I began to ask questions like, What kinds of considerations would I incorporate? How would I hold and factor in my own and others' needs with care and awareness? How could I ask them to as well?

What I came up with was a series of considerations, the "sweet spot" of which is the place where both provider and receiver of a service feel mutual joy, and also a sense of comfort that the economic arrangement feels materially doable for both of them. For the provider of a service, this might depend on what other sources of income they had at the time of the agreement. The receiver/payer of the service has their own economic considerations as well. What if we could hold all the needs together, and jointly find that place? I imagine the process as a kind of dance of trust, curiosity, and joy at finding that "sweet spot."

The first thing I would want to ensure is that both provider and recipient feel good about the amount paid. This seems to me to be a vital foundation of work together, and also a first step in building a trusting relationship. Linked to this is the balance of nurturing the provider with a sacrifice made by the payer. I have used sliding scales to help offset the impact to those with less financial abundance by asking larger contributions from those with more financial abundance -- in this way, the impact is shared for more equitability. That concept carries over here -- if each person contributes to the point of impact but not pain (like a good yoga stretch), the provider can sustain themselves with the contributions of those providing more making up for those who provide less.


As a consumer of services, I am glad to know that I am helping the provider of those services to make a living. At the same time, I want to feel that the exchange is also fair to me. In particular, I'd like to feel that I am getting value from what's being provided, both in terms of how others price similar services, and also the value to me. It's also important to me to consider the human energy the provider is putting forth for my benefit, as well as their unique gifts.


I admit, I feel slightly loathe to exchange money for services like therapy and coaching, because so much of their value comes in the form relationship, presence, authenticity, alchemy, and so on which seem both ineffable and priceless to me -- kind of like the majesty of a perfect Meyer lemon. At the same time, we're living in a culture that requires money to live, and usually with set prices for essentials -- so if I want to get more conscious about all that, I figure I need to start probing questions like these. After all, people without Meyer lemon trees generally go to the grocery store if they want one. Though you are more than welcome to come to my house when they're ripe.


So in other words, when working with coaching clients, I want to find the sweet spot of an amount of money (or other form of payment -- chocolate is on the table) that feels good to both me and them, feels like a stretch but not a pain to them in their context, nourishes me in my context, and aligns with both the client's perception of what makes sense in the larger marketplace, and my own sense of feeling valued and appreciated.

That said, the diagram above is just a tiny piece of a much larger human reality. My joy in contributing is itself a tremendous reward. There are leaders I have sought out and offered my services to asking nothing in exchange simply because I want to contribute to them and support their contribution to the world, and I got a strong hit that I had gifts for them that would accomplish that. Money had nothing to do with it. It's kind of like an extension of friendship -- a friendship with coaching benefits.

Or maybe I'm just a Meyer lemon tree trapped in a human body.

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