The single best way I know to get ahead in life is by helping other people. While I’d love to say that I help get people off the streets or improve access to education, in fact the kind of help I offer is nitty-gritty advice on running companies or about getting and keeping jobs.
It’s not glamorous. I spend lots of time re-writing resumes and editing cover letters. I’ll spend weekends and evenings on Skype doing mock interviews. I edit spreadsheets to bring dubious models back to earth. I sometimes meet with folks who are real underdogs in the workplace. The process is rarely an ego boost.
But there are countless benefits for me. I never ask for anything in return. Nonetheless, I’m enriched by being useful to others. Here are some of the ways I benefit:
- I get out of the building. Going for coffee almost every day forces me to leave my desk. I get some of my best thinking done away from the computer.
- I learn something new. I learn about new industries, new trends, and new hiring practices.
- I see more business opportunities. All my hiring, fund raising, and ideas for new products are somehow the result of networking.
- I make new friends. It’s hard to make friends after age 30, and even harder in a place like NYC. It feels great to meet new people from outside my circle.
It’s a proven tactic. A few years ago I chatted briefly with Adam Grant, professor at Wharton, who has been studying the economics of altruism for years. His book, Give and Take, describes how “givers” who help others without expecting anything in return often rise to the pinnacle of success across many fields. “From banking to manufacturing to retail,” writes Grant in a recent Time Magazine article,” givers are most likely to earn promotions and ascend to leadership positions.”
Professor Grant embodies his work: even though I didn’t know him, he was generous with his time and offered plenty of insight relevant to the startup I was working on. He also happens to be the youngest and most prolific tenured professor at Wharton.
I learned from the best. Another person who profoundly influenced me is my former advisor, Chester Elton. Author of multiple New York Times Best Sellers, including his most recent book, All In, Chester taught me that the best managers are the ones who serve their employees and peers with a spirit of gratitude and humility.
Anyone can do this. It’s sometimes said that bad things happen when we do things to make only ourselves happy, but great things happen when we try to make others happy. If you want to try this tactic today, I suggest making two small shifts. First, never think or say that you’re too busy to help others. Second, believe that you can make a profound, positive impact on other people.
There’s a danger that you can burn out or mismanage your time, so if you embark on this path, know your limits, know how you can help, and beware of people who will take advantage of your generosity. Meanwhile, if you’re mulling over a startup idea or career shift and need someone to talk to, hit me up!