I have a theory, and it needs a name. Let's call it "strategic unselfishness."
It's about putting into daily practice the kinds of things we've all heard many times: Life is about what you give, not what you get. Do good for others and good may happen to you. You have to make deposits before you can make withdrawals.
Now, if you're as prone to overthinking as I am, you might start to wonder whether a selfless act stays selfless if part of the doer's motivation is to bring good things to pass for himself. But setting that aside, how do you set yourself up habitually to do for others in your life? Here are 10 ideas to put into practice every day.
1. Offer a compliment.
A few months ago, I learned something about myself. I am really bad at giving compliments. I'm trying to get better at it. Telling someone that you think he or she does her job well is an easy way to spread positivity that costs you absolutely nothing.
2. Make a good recommendation.
A friend and co-worker of mine had this happened once. She was in a bit of a dry spell as a writer, and she channeled her energy into reviewing a mattress on Amazon. Her thoughtful review helped a lot of people--and also rejuvenated her confidence as a writer.
3. Just start working.
One of the best entrepreneurs I've been privileged to know once gave me some advice about how to get a job, especially in a new industry. His idea: Simply show up and start doing the work. Volunteer and overperform, take on a part-time position and do full-time work, or just be the one who starts pitching in without being asked.
4. Find someone a job.
Unemployment is down, but there's still a lot of financial insecurity in America these days. Even if you have a good job, people are often worried about how long that job will last, or whether times will stay good. Instead of worrying about your own fortunes however, make a connection or a recommendation that can help someone else's career goals--especially when there's nothing obvious in it for you.
5. Offer thanks.
I used to work as the top assistant to a pretty well-known and successful person in my field. I learned a lot from him, but one of the most subtle lessons I learned was his habit of thanking just about everyone we worked with for doing their jobs. The people at the publisher we worked with got a thank-you for their work; the guy who brought the car in the parking garage got a sincere expression of thanks. I realized over time that most people greatly appreciate even a simple statement of others' appreciation of them.
6. Give away something valuable.
I built a business around this idea. After I'd written a couple business and entrepreneurship books, people started to reach out telling me they needed to hire a ghostwriter. Many of the potential jobs weren't good fits for me, but I realized I knew a lot of other writers who might want them. Matchmaking turned out to be a great way to do well and do good at the same time.
7. Teach someone to do something.
One of the hardest things for many people to learn when they transition from being an individual performer to a leader is to take the time to teach others to do things rather than just doing them themselves. But we're all grateful to the people who take the time to mentor us, and we remember them sometimes even long after they're gone.
Often, the best thing to say is nothing at all. That's not just to avoid saying the wrong thing, but also to stay quiet long enough to listen to others. It can be the greatest gift we have to offer--simply to listen actively and truly hear what others have to say.
9. Offer forgiveness.
We've all been screwed over in life. We've all done things to other people that we regret. If you want to spread good karma, sometimes the best way to do so is to forgive people for some of the bad vibes they've sent your way.
10. Show up.
A few years ago, I went to give a speech for one of my books, and the event was a disaster. My talk was at a bookstore in a shopping mall way out in the suburbs on a weekday, the weather was horrible, and the room was half-empty. I was having a hard time getting excited, until I looked up from the podium. There was one of my old army buddies--a guy I hadn't seen in half a decade--soaked from the rain, grinning ear to ear. I don't think I'll ever forget that he made the effort to show up.
By the way, if you want to want to read some really eloquent words on this topic, check out Deidre Sullivan's essay, Always Go to the Funeral.