No matter what your job, some people are going to use you. It sounds cynical, but in reality, that’s just life. You don’t have to get your panties in a bunch about it, but you do need to know that it’s going to happen and be able to realize when it’s happening.

Point in case: Several years ago, I helped out this person I know, we’ll call him Sam, with a website he was starting. He was extremely friendly and I truly believed in what he was doing with the site. So I pitched in, without asking anything in return, to help him out. And I did. I mean, it isn’t like I made a HUGE difference, but I did my part to help him.

After that, nothing. Sam stopped texting me all the time. He half-heartedly and seemingly-begrudging replied to my emails. He started to disappear. He wasn’t really a friend, and he didn’t care about helping me in any way. He was just using me for whatever help I coudl give him, and when I had nothing more to offer, he left my life.

I’m willing to bet you have had similar experiences. It’s especially common in the workplace. People want promotions and aren’t afraid to use others to get them. But I have to ask this: is it really wrong?

Sam didn’t promise me anything. I helped him because I wanted to, and he took that help because he wanted his site to be awesome. And clearly, I’m awesome.* Maybe it was a crap move on his part to not return the favor in any way, but don’t you see the hypocrisy here? If I say I’m doing something for someone without expecting anything in return, I shouldn’t expect anything return. Too often, we say that, but what we really mean is “I don’t expect money in return.” There’s a little wink wink nudge nudge going on though. I don’t expect anything in return except for you to help me too.

Friendship is a two-way street. Business isn’t friendship. If you help someone professionally, don’t expect them to help you in return. It’s just a nice bonus if they do.

(P.S. I wanted to mention also that I’m not saying that it’s okay for people to step on others to get ahead. It’s never okay, in my opinion, to hurt someone else professionally so that you climb the ladder.)

*Unverified fact

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  1. Judy Helfand (Reply) on Wednesday 16, 2011

    Hi Alli,
    I know exactly what you are talking about. These things happen. A long time ago I decided to take this approach. I help if I can (meaning have the skill and the time) and don’t expect anything in return, but somehow I know in the long run I am probably paying if forward. Because invariably when I least expect it someone will come along and help me and ask for nothing in return. And that has made all the difference in getting through some tough times.

    Those are my thoughts for the day.


    • Allison (Reply) on Wednesday 16, 2011

      I think that’s a really good way of thinking about it, the “pay it forward” mindset. Put good things out in the world, without expecting anything from any specific person, and have faith that good things will happen to you too, without anyone expecting anything from you.

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