Stop Worrying About What You “Get Back” When You Give

One doesn’t have to spend much time around other people to hear some variation on this refrain: “I give and I give and I never get anything in return.”

Whenever I hear something like that, a few things pop into my head. One, that person probably doesn’t “give” as much as they think they do. Two, that person probably does “get” more in return than they realize. Three, their negative attitude is likely holding them back.

Here’s the reality: giving of yourself without expecting anything in return is one of the strongest tickets you have to a more fulfilling life with greater opportunities open for you.

I have witnessed this phenomenon countless times in my life. The people that give while expecting little or nothing in return are almost always the ones that have an abundance of strong relationships and are in a situation where they only have to make a few phone calls whenever they’re in need.

What’s the difference between these people? Why do some people willingly give of themselves and receive so much reward while others feel as though they give and give without receiving much of anything in return?

I think there are a few observations in order here.

First, it is often hard to see the many things you get in return for giving of yourself. A handful of relationships that are steadily growing stronger can be hard to detect. You can’t see the good words that people say about you when you’re not around, but those are usually built on the back of giving. If you’re self-reliant, you rarely call people up for help, so you don’t see the abundance of help you would get.

For example, let’s say you spend an afternoon helping a couple you know fix their roof. While you’re helping, several people you don’t know show up and you get to know a few of them. Afterwards, you all have dinner together. After you leave, the friends you helped speak well of you, then when you’re at the store a few days later, one of the people you worked with invites you to a barbecue. You don’t really remember the guy too well, but you go to the barbecue anyway. Another person you worked with talks to his sister about you and she knows you from something else you did, so they both greet you when you arrive at the barbecue. You might not see these things as intrinsically related to helping out with the roof, but they are.

Second, there are always “takers.” Some people take from others without ever giving anything in return. That’s just life. When you give of yourself, some people will just take. That doesn’t mean that giving is inherently wrong, of course. It just means you may need new approaches.

For example, you might help out five people over the course of a week, but two of them are just “takers” and never say anything about you or offer any help in return. The other three might end up passing things along as in the story above, but the other two are simply black holes.

Finally, the value is in the giving, not in the receiving. If you’re in this solely to see if you can balance the scales perfectly, it’s never going to work out. You’re not going to be able to see everything that you get in return, so it’s always going to appear unfair if you look at it from that perspective. One big place where people miss out on the value they receive is in the sheer pleasure of giving and helping someone that needs help.

In that example above of helping with the roof, it’s likely that everyone involved actually had a pretty enjoyable afternoon. Sure, you spent the day helping someone, but it probably wasn’t miserable, and the camaraderie made it worthwhile.

What can you do about the drawbacks?

The easiest step is to just help others without worrying a bit about what you get in return. Just don’t worry about it. If you try to worry about whether you’re getting things in return, you’re just going to miss most of the benefits and feel bitter about it. Don’t waste your time.

Also, spread your help far and wide. I will fall over backwards helping people who rarely ask. I begin to avoid the people who ask over and over again. What’s the difference? The people who constantly ask are often “takers,” as described above. Don’t focus your giving on just one or two people or else you might very well wind up feeling as though you’re giving and getting nothing in return.

Finally, be social when you help. Talk to everyone involved. Get to know everyone who’s helping. Remember that when you’re helping someone, everyone else who is helping is extremely unlikely to be a “taker.” They’re likely to be “givers,” too, which are the people you want to build friendships with.

When you give without worrying about being repaid in return, society gives back to you in countless ways that you never see. If you want good things to slowly swirl into your life, give the people around you some help when they need it and don’t worry about being “repaid.” You’ll be repaid more than enough over the long haul.

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