Paul Jarvis

Not everything needs to be paid back in full

One time, some thought leader somewhere wrote an article that logicked things out like this (and called it influencer marketing):

  1. Business is all about relationships.
  2. Relationships are give and take.
  3. Therefore, give X and expect X back in return, paid in full. Keep doing X for others, and they owe you X in return!
  4. Your business grows because everyone that owes you a favour pays you back in full and you benefit greatly from those relationships!

Which, in theory, makes sense, or at least can make sense… sometimes. Both sides want to feel fulfilled by the relationship and feel like things are equal. And if every relationship you’re a part of is you giving 100% and the other sides giving 0%, then you should probably consider the type of people you’re working with. No one should be a sucker or always on the giving end.

The problem is when people go into these business relationships, thinking solely how they can give X at the start, simply because they need X in return from that person right after.

For example:

Some bro that I’ve never spoken to emails me, vaguely thanks me for the work I do online, and tells me that he wrote an article about me that links to my site. I reply and say that I’m honoured and thanks for doing that. One week later, the same bro emails me and asks me to write about him and his work.

Or, someone tweets about an article of mine, I thank them, and they ask me to tweet one of theirs.

Or, someone mentions me in a sentence in their blog post and emails me to share said blog post with my list or followers.

Or, and this was the worst one of the year, someone invites me onto their podcast and we have a great chat. Then, when the episode airs, the host emails me to tell me how much work and money he spent on the episode, so I should really share it with everyone that listens to me because he put so much work and money into my interview. I’m getting so much exposure from him now (apparently), my own audience should be eager to hear this conversation too, so I need to share it with them. 4 follow up email ensue about me sharing the show with my peeps. Then I want to invent a time machine, go back and not do the interview…

Yup, this makes me sound like an ungrateful asshat. But if this is how business works now, I’m opting out – ungrateful asshat or not.

Not because I’m somehow above helping others or that I’m above returning favours – but because I didn’t opt into these tit-for-tat relationships in the first place. I’m happy, honoured and overwhelmed sometimes that people are sharing my work. But when that sharing feels like I’m now obligated to share back? Ew. EW.

I always assume (to my own detriment) that people do things for me because they want to. And if they didn’t want to, they wouldn’t do them. I don’t like owing people favours. I’m actually very careful in my life to rarely allow that to happen. I hate obligation, it feels like the type of work I don’t enjoy doing. Whereas giving and serving others? That’s the type of work that I love to do.

If I do something for someone, I’d rather just do it for them because I felt they earned it, or needed it, or because what I want in return is simply to feel like I helped in some small way. All without them asking for anything. I get my karmic payment back for giving or doing things for others because it makes me feel good to do things for others without telling them that they owe me. I don’t need the favour returned because I’ve already been paid in full by feeling good.

“Someday – and that day may never come – I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.” – Don Corleone (the original growth-hacker?)

Genuine business relationships aren’t a fucking growth hack.

And if that’s how you see them, you’re missing out on actual, real connections with other people. Not everything in business needs to be a two-sided deal or an equal transaction.

I hate being in business relationship with people where it feels like we’ve got to keep score. That’s too much work, too much obligation and too much stress. I’d rather just help people who need helping without concern to whether I’m ever paid back in kind.

The less we expect of others because we feel like we’re entitled to something back from them, the lighter our lives will be. Because then we can be fully in service to others, solely for the sake being good fucking people.

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