I'm here to connect, not to serve

Is it better to give or to receive? It's time to choose "both."

I'm here to connect, not to serve
Aug 10 2023 Newsletter by Sarah Dopp

Hello, Shiny Humans! 

I’m so happy to see you here! Thank you SO much for signing up for my brand new baby of a newsletter. (And if you're reading this before subscribing, you can see if it’s right for you over here, or just subscribe if you’re already feeling the vibe.) 

What's in this newsletter?

Today I'm gonna do something that my ego would reeeeeally rather I not do, which is share some of my struggles around starting this newsletter. In particular, I’m going to unpack some themes around giving vs receiving, and being a service provider vs an artist. We’re also going to get a little bit into how my religious upbringing influenced these ideas for me, and how my queer community helps balance that influence. I’ll also ‘fess up about some loneliness, but not in a lot of detail. The general tone feels (to me, anyway) pretty honest and hopeful.

It’s about an 8 minute read and there's an executive function tip with a puppy gif at the end.

The Decision to Connect

I’ve been in a nonstop inner debate for the past year about "What’s next for me?" It’s felt a lot like running in circles, retracing the same questions over and over again from different angles, trying to find new answers.

The thing is, the answers are surprisingly clear and consistent. I just find them hard to accept. And my brain plays a clever trick with things it finds hard to accept: it makes them hard to remember

I have notes and reminders all over my office trying to solve this. So many that the important ones get lost. 

In moments of clarity, I know that all of my explorations, gut checks, and therapy sessions have added up to this newsletter.

But when I strategize ways to put out brilliant, insightful, actionable, take-two-and-call-me-in-the-morning content that will go viral every time, my brain shuts down. And when I want to be always “right” for everyone, and impervious to objection or criticism, my creativity turtles up faster than I can say, “Who stole my dopamine?”

The only thing that made the first step feel safe was deciding to focus on connection. Digital intimacy and relating. Sharing more of my insides to help us all see a tiny bit more beyond everyone else’s outsides. It can be filtered and edited for my boundaries and standards, sure, but the plan is to lead with vulnerability rather than expertise

I’ve had a long, lonely year, my loves. I miss humans. This feeling is so profound that when I watched Season 2 of Heartstoppers last weekend, I actually had the thought—for the first time in my entire life—that it would be so cool to be in high school again. 

It’s been that bad. 

But there’s a reason this conflict about “what’s next” has been so twisty and persistent, and that’s because of one giant unresolved question:

“Am I an Artist or a Service Provider?”

This question isn’t asking what my preference is, or what my most effective strategy could be, or even who I am at my core.

It’s asking permission for them to both be options.

The Drive to Give

I come from a long line of service providers, generous caregivers, and pillars of the community. My family reunions are full of ministers, doctors, nurses, professors, teachers, small business owners, therapists, and farmers. We are proud of our giving. We believe in giving. 

And I was brought up to give. 

Every Saturday as a kid, after cleaning my room, I received my one dollar weekly allowance in the form of four quarters. And the next day at church, when they passed the offering plate, my little hands dutifully dropped in one of those quarters. And while this was happening, every single week, they spoke the same biblical quote from the pulpit: 

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

I eventually left the church, but I kept my tithing practice. Even when I was eating ramen from Grocery Outlet and sleeping in a literal closet in the Castro, I put 5-10% of every paycheck into a separate bank account labeled “Generosity Fund,” and only used it to support my community.  I set up monthly donations to orgs like Gender Spectrum and Trans Lifeline, I gave to Go Fund Me campaigns for top surgeries and pet medical bills, and I sent random acts of PayPal when a friend was struggling to make rent.  

When I started Queer ADHD, the community coaching business I launched during the pandemic, I was proud of it beyond words. It wasn’t just going to help queer neurodivergent people find relief—it was also going to help many of them launch new careers as coaches. And it was a refuge of online community in the face of in-person gatherings becoming unsafe. It used my skills, it shined with my values, it brought in members, and it was on track to be everything I dreamed. 

So it was awfully confusing to me when running it made me miserable, reactive, and physically ill. 

At one point, a fellow coach and team member suggested I attend a session as a regular member. They also asked if I had ever let Queer ADHD support me in the ways it was supporting everyone else. My response—which was basically “oh god no, of course not, I can’t do that"—hung in the air, glaringly out of place.

Charity vs Mutual Aid

As I learn more about my AuDHD1 brain, it’s clear that I’m really into black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, and tend to oversimplify my options. I’m also, apparently, really into suppressing my needs for the comfort of others. 

I believed it was crucially important for me to give. And somehow I also believed that it would be a humiliating failure if I had to receive… even if that meant receiving the same thing I was giving. 

What does that say about what I was really giving?

I still adore and am proud of my generous service-oriented family of origin. And I’m still grateful for my (very progressive and inclusive) UCC church upbringing. But my queer community knew something they didn’t: 

It is just as important to receive as it is to give. You need both.  

Charity is one-directional giving. It’s a form of self-sacrifice, justified as virtuous, which can also be a twisted form of superiority. If I only give and never receive, then my giving is quietly reinforcing my position as living in a different tier somewhere above the others. More resourced. More capable. More blessed. 

My queer community has been trying to teach me two-directional giving—mutual aid and interdependence—for a very long time. There’s is a world where a few hundred mostly-broke friends-of-friends will pitch in $5-20 each without a second thought to help get someone through the worst month of their life. It’s also where one of the kindest, most empowering things you can do for a friend is to make it easier for them to help you

And we are absolutely not just talking about money here. 

Art is a Form of Service

So back to the question: Am I an artist or a service provider?

The answer is clearly just “yes.” But I’m still on probation from service provider work, because I suspect it’s still dangerous for me. 

I still want to give to exhaustion. It is my actual preference

But writing can be different. Writing is my art. Writing and sharing my own experience is how I feel the most connected and seen. This has been true since I was a teenager, when I let a weekly poetry open mic night and a homemade Geocities blog help me find a pathway out of depression. 

Standardized tests tell me that my verbal skills are my "gift," and my history of interests make it clear that language and expression are my passion. I also now understand that I'm a verbal processor—I need to put my thoughts into words before I can fully understand what I'm thinking.

My queer community also teaches me that authentic self-expression is a form of service— that being openly free helps us all get a little bit closer to finding collective liberation. 

Writing is where I look like I’m giving, but I feel like I’m receiving. 

So that makes it an easy answer, right?

Except that my brain has always labeled my writing as selfish and self-indulgent—even though it’s where I feel most whole. (Maybe especially because it’s where I feel most whole.) 

As part of my work to unblock this path, I even asked permission from my mother. She seemed pretty confused to be asked this by her 40-year-old daughter, and said, Of course you can be an artist. You have always been an artist.” 

And yet somehow it’s still a battle. 

Somehow I can still wake up and try to turn “artist” back into “one-directional service provider.” It’s easy to do if I just forget about connection and authentic expression.

After I announced this newsletter two weeks ago and saw real people sign up, a switch flipped in my brain, and I spent 10 days—ten whole days—trying to figure out how to make this a useful body of work, a commercially marketable product, and something that can change lives. 

And I couldn’t write a thing. 

Fortunately, in trying to sort through why I was suddenly frozen, I found the core again. This is for connection and communication. Period. 

This newsletter is where you (and you, and you, and you...) and I find connection again. This is where I just tell you what’s true for me. (And if you'd like to hit "reply," you can tell me what's true for you too.) Because if I’ve been so isolated that the idea of being back in high school—high school!!—sounds like fun, we need to start with the basics. 

Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m kinda weird, and kind of a mess. But I like to write. 

Thanks for letting me sit with you in the cafeteria today.

Affectionate emojis,


1 “AuDHD” is my neurodivergent community’s shorthand for “Autism combined with ADHD.” 

Fun fact: ADHD and Autism have only been recognized as co-occuring conditions since 2013, when the DSM-V was released. Prior to that, the diagnostic rules said that if you have anything in the vicinity of an autism diagnosis (including Asperger's), you can’t also be diagnosed with ADHD. Note that this was only ten years ago. Culture is still catching up. 

‘Nuther fun fact: The DSM-V is also when Asperger's Syndrome was removed as its own diagnosis and merged into Autism Spectrum Disorder, so that's only 10 years old too. And yes, I bought vintage copies of the DSM to confirm all this, because that’s how special interests work for me. And I totally just infodumped in a footnote. Loveyoubye.

Random Executive Function Tip

When we're overwhelmed, all of our tasks feel like the same priority. But we know they're not.

Making a clear list and deciding what really needs to happen first is a task in itself. It stops happening automatically when we're overwhelmed, and instead takes time and energy—which further adds to the overwhelm. But doing that task first will help. A lot.

Did you find something in here helpful?

If you’d like to engage with this or share your own stories, you can hit me up at hello@sarahdopp.com, or just hit “reply” to this newsletter. (Please forgive me if I'm delayed or brief with my replies. I do read everything I get; I just also have ADHD.)

To comment publicly, you can see where I’m talking about this on social media (try Instagram), and chime in there.   

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