How To Be Generous Without Being Took

Last week, I had a chance to catch up with a friend who just moved to LA to work in the music production industry.  He’s read Love Is the Killer App several times, and put several of the ideas into practice.  He’s mentored several up and coming engineers as well as lending his network to those seeking a new gig.  

“But here I am, still living check to check,” he said to me.  “Few if any of the people I’ve helped have done squat for me.  How can your system work in the real world?”  This is a question I’ve struggled with while writing the book, touring to promote it and mentoring dozens of people over the last decade.  It’s very hard for a human to give to a taker, and then be OK with being took.  

In my experience, however, I’ve learned something critical: Nice Smart People Succeed.  Note I didn’t say Nice People Succeed.  The big difference lies in being smart about whom you help out and what to look for before you help out a second time.  So here’s the advice I gave him: 

Only Give To Fellow Givers – Too often, we get sucked into helping out users, because they are very good at conning us out of resources.  Screen people first for their generosity by asking them who they’ve helped out recently, and how it made them feel.  If they fumble for an answer, reconsider whether this is a good person to promote or mentor.  If you give to a generous person, at the very least, they’ll pay it forward.  (I know that it sounds harsh for me to say that we should deny selfish people our talents and gifts, but the Takers are well organized and constantly stealing what they can.  The Givers need to circle their wagons accordingly.)

Don’t Give Away The Scarce Or Non-Replenishable – You have intangible gifts that actually grow when you give them away.  Take knowledge sharing.  When you give wisdom or advice to others, often you get feedback from them later about how it worked, which only sharpens your saw.  When you intelligently share your network of relationships, your total circle usually expands due to reciprocity and goodwill.  If you give away too much time, money or permissions (letting others break the rules), you’ll run out eventually, and then be VERY senstive to the ROI of giving. 

Take The Long View – Don’t expect to see results immediately.  By suspending your expectation for immediate reciprocity, you send a powerful message to your recipients that empowers them: I expect nothing in return.  This usually gives them a feeling that they too should be as generous and helpful as you, and that you truly gave them a gift…and did not look at them as an investment. 

Photo/Drawing by Joy Martin