Do Yourself A Favor

As we enter into a busy season with lots of disruptions, there’s a small task you could set for yourself that would have tremendous benefits as you enter next year.

Here it is: Keep a list of every time someone asks you for a favor between now and the end of the year, and why.

Before you leap to any negative conclusions, let me put a fear to rest: this exercise isn’t about keeping track of the favors you do for people. This isn’t about getting some sort of repayment or keeping track of who ‘owes you’ in the new year. Perish the thought.

No, this is a private thing that you’re going to do for you and you alone, and here’s the purpose of the exercise: to find out what makes you valuable.

You see, people habitually underestimate the value of their contributions, especially when those contributions are made easily. We also pay attention to the things with Big Obvious Labels, like our college degree or our current job title. Stuff we do “on the side” or “as a hobby,” even if we’re really, really good at it – those things we tend to forget to list when we’re trying to figure out what we’re good at or what we might want or be able to do.

Tracking your favors is a good way to get an idea of what the world around you thinks is valuable. It’s like crowdsourcing your brainstorming on this topic. Maybe you’re in sales, but come December 31st you look at your list and it turns out that on 46 separate occasions someone asked you to “take a look at my computer because it’s being weird again.” Now think – why are they asking you? Is it possible that totally without realizing it, you’ve cultivated a reputation as a tech whiz because you always seem to know how to fix a computer problem? I’ve seen it happen. And I know what happens next! You say, “well, that’s not really a job skill – it’s so basic! Anyone should know it! I just happen to work with incredibly below-average people in this sphere.” You’ve said that about something you’re good at, I guarantee it.

Especially something you didn’t formally train for. You think everyone should be good at it because it was easy for you to learn, so over and over and over again you think of everyone else as uniquely bad at it instead of just realizing the obvious, which is that all expertise is relative and you’re relatively great at this thing.

Trust the favor list. If everyone you know asks you to cook during the holidays, that means they think you’re good at cooking – or that you’re reliable, or competent, etc. That’s why you should track what each favor was, so you can do a little analysis about why you in particular were asked. You should even track favors you don’t do – for this exercise, it doesn’t matter if you say yes or no, just that you were asked.

You know the phrase, “in the land of the blind, the man with one eye is king?” Imagine being the guy with one eye and saying, “well, I shouldn’t be king, because I can’t even see that well.” Of course you can’t – but it doesn’t matter if everyone else is much worse.

You, like all humans, are absolutely garbage at objectively evaluating one thing in a vacuum – in this instance, yourself. Humans are only really good at comparing things, and if the majority of people around you are bad enough at something that they’re always asking you to do it for them – as a favor – then listen to them. There’s wisdom in their request.

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