I think that my husband Evan and I were both born people-pleasers, and that’s definitely carried through to our business ownership. I personally also long defined myself as a “giver,” and yet, upon further reflection, I’ve realized I haven’t always given to others without expectation of something in return. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but rather, a reminder to choose my favors more carefully.
In the fledgling years of our business, Evan and I bent over backwards to give and give and give. Relying on our pre-wedding-business skill sets, I’d write other business owners’ website copy while he served as a sort of “help desk” for their IT needs. Evan would spin for their open houses and private parties while I lined up DJs for their charitable causes. We allowed this giving mentality to overtake our advertising budget, our social schedule and the time we’d normally allot for our own business goals.
I think our favor-giving was initially borne of uncertainty — we were uncertain whether our business would really flourish and whether we’d be able to build the kinds of relationships we wanted to in the industry. And I’m humble enough to admit that we didn’t always give the favors freely: we tended to have, somewhere in the back of our minds (or sometimes in the front) the idea that we would reap something for having helped people. Referrals, opportunities, whatever.
Sadly, that didn’t always pan out. And we were often disappointed, sometimes even resentful. But it did teach me a valuable lesson. Well, two, actually.
The first is that, just as some of us are born givers (whether selfless or not), some are also born takers. The takers will always have a favor they need you to do, a product you need to buy, a cause you need to support. They lean on you as a friend, sometimes exaggerating your closeness to get what they need. Some may unkindly call them vultures, bloodsuckers, energy drains…the list goes on. After a lot of reflection (and under-my-breath cursing), I just think of them as the yang to the yin. It takes all kinds.
The second lesson is that, as long as you’re doing favors in expectation of a return, you’ll be disappointed. Believing in that doesn’t make it right for others to exploit you, it just helps to take the edge off when someone isn’t properly appreciative. More than that, it allows you to more objectively evaluate the opportunities you have for giving, and to prioritize them in accordance with your values, your resources and your time. In other words, if this favor isn’t something you’d do anonymously, or this person isn’t someone you truly believe in and respect, then, well, you’ll be able to say “I really wish I could help, but…”
I’m not going to go all high-horse and say it doesn’t still sting a little bit when we feel someone’s taken advantage of us. But removing the expectation of thanks, or of some other benefit, does make it easier to enjoy the process of doing something for someone. I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve supported, both through financial contributions and volunteer hours, a bunch of outstanding causes this year. We’ve helped industry contacts fund their personal projects and meet their goals. We’ve imparted business assistance and knowledge to fellow business owners who were struggling. And in some of those cases, the gratitude was nil. Even in those cases, though, we’ve benefited from the grace of letting go. We chose our favors from a place of confidence and a sincere desire to help, and anything else is just a bonus.
(Disclaimer: Please, do not even for a second, think that *any* of the favors I’ve referred to had anything to do with monetary kickbacks. I am so dead-set against kickbacks I can’t even tell you. Well, I will tell you sometime, but in its own ranty post. I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seat for that one!)