“What’s in it for me?”

It’s a fair question to ask ourselves, but most of us have it backwards. 

Let me explain.Society has trained us well, real well.  We were taught to study hard, get good grades and get a good job.   A good job is a stable job that pays us to work certain hours.  It can be 9 to 5, 8 to 8, longer or shorter.  My longest working day was 20 hours straight; we were in the office fixing a software problem in the production system.  It was a very long day.

We like to assign a price tag to our time.  We compare how much we make in a year or how much we bill per hour.  When I was a consultant with a software firm, my rate was $200 per hour.  I was measured by my billable hours.  The more hours I billed, the “better” consultant I was considered.  My longest project was with a telecommunication client in Seattle, Washington.  I was there for two and half years straight.  I was a cash cow for the firm.  A very fat cow.

Most of us are used to getting paid for our time.  It seems like we rarely do anything for free anymore.  Sometimes we even bring this interesting habit back to our home.  I caught myself a few times when my boyfriend asked me to wash the dishes; my first reaction was “What’s in it for me?”  I don’t remember what he said in response, but he wasn’t happy.

“What’s in it for me?” unfortunately has become the expected response in society.  Few people do things for free these days unless compensated in some manner.  Compensation could be in the form of money, recognition, stock, favor, future business opportunities, experiences, connections or any other “thing” that we think is valuable. 

Imagine this.  You walk into the office one morning and your boss tells you “I am not going to pay you a salary from now on.  You will only be paid based on the results you produce.”  Would you stay or storm out of the office immediately?  Would you be willing to work for free?  Do you work because of money or something else? 

If there is nothing in it for you, that you can readily perceive, would you do it?   

National Public Radio (NPR) provides quality news and radio programs to millions of American listeners every day.  They are a non-profit organization that is putting the needs of the listening public first.  Joan B. Kroc, the late widow of Ray A. Kroc (Founder of McDonald’s), recognized this value to the people and hence donated over $200 million dollars.  The people at NPR couldn’t have expected this generous donation.  NPR was simply, and still is, doing their job of adding value to the public.

In my previous article The Perfect Accounting System, I discussed the idea that “The Universe” has  a perfect accounting system.  You get back what you give out, even though it may not be in the form or shape of compensation you expect.  Life is like a fireplace.  Often people expect a fire, without first putting in the wood.  The secret is to give first.

If you are willing to give your best, you will receive the best.  However, if all you focus on is “What’s in it for me?”, then you will always be limited by what you can imagine.  In contrast, if you shift your focus on how I can add value to others, then you will receive more than you can possibly imagine. 

You might still be skeptical, but I know it’s true because I have experienced it.  My challenge to you for the next 30 days, is to seek first how you can add value to the people around you.  Give your best, and then wait.  I look forward to reading your comments with your experiences. 

“You have not lived a perfect day, unless you’ve done something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”  Ruth Smeltzer

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