This week, I had about a half-dozen occasions where I reached out to other people for small favors.
None of them were huge, or even things I couldn’t have done on my own. Most were information-based. Each of them represented a use of comparative advantage, though – in each case, the small favor took less than ten minutes on the part of the other person, but would have been hours upon hours of work for me, given the disparity in skill set or knowledge base.
While that alone would be a great lesson in why specialization and networking are great, that’s not actually the lesson I want to draw from the experience.
The lesson is that people are awesome.
None of those people asked for anything in return. None of them blew me off. I asked politely for a favor and made it clear I understood that they were doing one for me (in other words, I didn’t try to disguise my asking for a favor as something else; I was up-front). I offered sincere gratitude both before and after. And people came through.
This is a powerful force at your command. Master these three things:
And the world is your oyster. Politeness is a virtue I shouldn’t have to explain, but I will offer my own unique definition of it: “Politeness is treating other people’s time as a finite, precious resource that is at least as valuable, if not more so, than your own.” Time is money, money is effort, everything is juice, and so when you take up even a moment of someone’s time you’ve cost them something. The absolute least you can do is make them feel good about the expenditure, and that’s what politeness does.
I’ve already talked about gratitude, but just remember – politeness may get you the favor, but without gratitude, you’ll never get another.
And character, in this context, is simple: Be the kind of person other people are happy to do favors for. That means, among other things – do favors yourself when you can; don’t let their favors be wasted; always show that you’re putting in plenty of your own effort and not relying exclusively on the favors of others.
If you nail down those three things, I promise you that the good people of the world will fall over themselves to help you. People want to help! People want to lift up their fellow humans, do good deeds, and contribute to their society. The heart and soul of mankind is good. Give them the opportunity to make you the focus of their altruism and they will, again and again, if you meet those criteria.
Politeness, gratitude, character. And to everyone that did me a favor this week or ever: I know I thanked you directly, but I thank you here again. Profusely and sincerely. You made my life easier. If I can ever do a favor for you – or anyone – don’t hesitate to ask.