The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him. — Walt Whitman

I’m in the middle of a great book right now: Adam Grant’s Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.

Grant’s central argument is that in the workplace, our interactions with others tend to fall into one of three reciprocity styles: taker, matcher, or giver. While there are advantages to each, being a giver brings a special set of rewards (and risks).

Give and Take is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and one line in particular keeps coming up (from the author himself and multiple interviewees):

“It’s not a zero-sum game.”

(A zero-sum game is any game where a gain for one player creates an equivalent loss for another player. Examples include chess, poker, and rock-paper-scissors.)

Adam Grant has reminded me of something I’m embarrassed to admit I’d forgotten: the importance of looking for opportunities to give.

Don’t Focus On What You’re Owed

It takes real effort to maintain a posture of giving for very long. It’s much easier to focus on what we’re owed.

As an academic advisor, this is an easy trap to fall into. I have countless opportunities to notice that a college freshman clearly hasn’t read any of my emails, or hasn’t even skimmed the required classes for their major (as I asked them to), or just isn’t that engaged in the conversation we’re having. It’s kind of fun to feel self-righteous, to adopt a “kids these days” mindset, and to quickly run through my talking points so I can have my office to myself again.

Here’s what’s tougher (and infinitely more generous): to set aside my own ego and ask myself, “What does this particular person need at this moment? What can I do to improve this person’s life? How can I help them?”

Give Because You Were Given To

Freely you have received; freely give. — Jesus

If we’re honest with ourselves, we are not self-made. We are where we are because many people helped us when they didn’t have to.

Time is a curious thing, though, and the changes in our lives are subtle. We’re often slow to realize that we’re now in a position to help others as we were helped.

Think back over your life to the many times someone extended a helping hand. Is it possible that you’re in a position to help someone else now?

Giving is a great source of happiness, and not just for the person receiving the gift. If you’ve been spending too much time focusing on yourself, make a change. Start looking for opportunities to help the people around you.