June 30, 2012


debt?You can repay a financial debt with money. What about nonfinancial debts?

When someone helps you in a powerful way, a debt of sorts has been created. That doesn't mean you can or must repay it.

Suppose you got an idea or an a-ha moment that changes your life. There's no possible way to repay the giver, even if they're “doing their job”  (e.g., your grade two teacher).

Maybe you got free publicity or an award nomination. An attempt to repay whoever referred or nominated you may look like a bribe and cheapen the gift.

You might never have met the source of the inspiration, which might be:
  • a song ("Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?" --- Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd)
  • a quote (e.g., "I am not bound to succeed but I am bound to live up to the light I have" --- Abraham Lincoln)
  • a movie scene (e.g., this time lapse at the end of Gangs Of New York, which is even more poignant with the loss of the twin towers)

Was the goal of your benefactor to create a debt you're meant to repay or were you given a no-strings-attached gift?

Here are two ways to (try to) repay
  1. Help others
  2. Shine your spotlight

Help Others

This is perhaps the best way. Do unto others. Pay it forward.

We know how other people can fix up their live ... but don't tell them how. How selfish of us. How unfortunate for them.

Are we afraid to give our opinions?

I have a habit of giving unsolicited feedback (blog post). This polarizes the recipients. In most cases they are appreciative. In rare cases, they are not interested in feedback. Either way, you get a better understanding of how that person is. To quote someone anonymous, a closed mind, like a closed room gathers only dust.

If they agree with your suggestions, do they actually change? If not, maybe they don't care enough to improve. At least you offered help.
Please don't say the first thing that comes to your lips or mind. Think. If you don't know how to give feedback, visit Toastmaster clubs. You can go for free with no obligation to join. You'll see how feedback is given to speakers and members with major roles. If you  join, you'll get to practice giving feedback in a safe environment.

Your feedback is simply your opinion. It's neither right nor wrong. The recipient needn't act upon it. You still benefit by having the courage to give it.

Shine The Spotlight

You can pay your benefactors with more attention. You become part of their tribe or group. You look out for them. Maybe you find opportunities for them. Perhaps you support their causes.

You can thank in public. In this way, you go on the record with your views. If they're on LinkedIn, write testimonials. I often occasionally get thanks, usually in person. That’s nice but of limited value since no one else knows. If you repeat the nice things said about you, you risk looking like you’re you’re praising yourself (and perhaps exaggerating).

Maybe you thank someone who goes bad later. That doesn't take away from the help they’ve given you. That does not mean that thanking them was a mistake.


In my case, Seth Godin has been especially influential. If he sent me a bill, I'd have trouble paying it. Instead, I read his blog, buy his books, support his initiatives (e.g. Triiibes.com), attend his events (e.g., The Linchpin Session) and share his ideas. Most recently, I helped fund the Kickstarter campaign for his next book, The Icarus Deception. Nothing I've done is major but it's sincere. It's better than silence.

How do you thank when you can't repay?


Podcast 175

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PS The summer holidays are now underway. Be mindful of the most dangerous part of driving.

1 comment:

Ronald Clement said...

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