Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Gift of Giving: Why I Do Favors and Don’t Expect Anything in Return

Yesterday, I had a phone call with a complete stranger. I offered some advice and perspective, which he found invaluable. At the end of the call, he asked, “Now, what can I do for you?”

The Gift of Giving: Why I Do Favors and Don't Expect Anything in Return

Photo Credit: emenegue via Compfight cc

If he could see me, he would have seen me shrug. If I lived in the 1950s, I would’ve said, “Awww, shucks, I dunno…”

The truth is I like helping people. It makes me feel good to give. I don’t do it in order to get anything back, which makes questions like that feel awkward.

It seems that the more you help people, the more people want to help you. It’s human nature, I suppose, to want to reciprocate. But really the best reason to do this, to be generous with your skills and knowledge, is because the giving is the gift.

The best way to build a reputation

I’ve heard a lot of people recently ask me how to build a platform — how to attract an audience and keep them coming back. I’m sure there is more than one way to do it, but the very best that I’ve found is simply this: help people.

If you do, it will eventually come back around to you, even when that’s not your intention (maybe especially then). And when it doesn’t, you get the satisfaction of helping someone, which in my experience, it’s its own reward.

So what I told the guy was this: “Nothing. Just listening to me and being willing to take some advice is a gift in itself.”

And I meant it.

That may not be the case for everyone, but I like teaching and coaching. It gives me life. And maybe that’s the lesson here:

Find what you love to do, what you would do even if you didn’t get paid, and do it.

But don’t you have to get paid?

Of course, we all have bills to pay and many of us have mouths to feed. So this kumbaya concept of unreciprocated generosity sounds nice — as an ideal.

But how does it work in the real world? Good question. I’m not really sure, except to say that it’s a little bit of a mystery.

What I do know is that when you help enough people, when you put your work out there in the world and try not to be stingy with it, the world has a way of rewarding such generosity.

It doesn’t hurt to be a little shrewd and not let yourself get taken advantage of, but given the alternative of only doing quid pro quo kind of work that requires someone to return every favor you give, I’d rather be generous.

Given the choice between being Don Corleone and Mr. Rogers, I pick Mr. Rogers. Maybe you should, too.

One little caveat

You can’t help everyone. Not if you set out to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s the catch with this way of doing favors without expectation.

In order to help people, I have to say no sometimes. A lot, actually. It’s hard, and I hate it, but I remind myself that when I say no to someone, it means I can say yes to someone else.

And if everyone got a yes, that’s just the same as everyone getting a no, because I can’t possibly help everyone who needs it. I just don’t have enough hours in the day. Nobody does.

So, if I were to break this down, I would give you these three rules for doing favors:

  1. Help as many people as you can. It will come back around to you.
  2. Expect nothing in return. Help them just because you care and don’t obsess over the results.
  3. Don’t try to help everyone. That’ll make you crazy. Set some rules, like a maximum time commitment for when and where you help people, and stick to them. And get comfortable with saying no.

Follow these rules, and they should get you started. You just might be surprised by how much people talk about you as a result of your generosity.

How do you respond when people ask you what they can do for you? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I am the best-selling author of five books, including the national bestsellers The Art of Work and Real Artists Don't Starve. Each week, I send out a free newsletter with my best tips on writing, publishing, and helping your creative work succeed.

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