Are You A Giver, Taker, Or Matcher?

image - Flickr / Baie.
image – Flickr / Baie.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because I was prejudiced. I didn’t want to interview Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take” for a simple reason: he was the youngest tenured professor at Wharton.

So he rose up through the ranks, smart guy, wrote a book, got tenure, big success.

The standard ladder. The anti-choose yourself ladder. The higher education ladder.

But then I read the book. I friended him on Facebook. I asked if I could talk to him. And then we did the interview being released later today.

How come? Because I wanted therapy.

The book is a simple model for dividing people into three categories. Givers, Matchers, and Takers.

I should add that many people were telling me I was crazy to not interview Adam. And now I agree with them.

But while I was reading the book I was thinking selfishly the whole time, “hmm, I hope I’m a giver and not a taker.”

In part, because I like to think of myself as someone who is giving. That sounds nice. It even sounds romantic as opposed to thinking of yourself as someone who is always “taking”.

But also because givers tend to succeed more according to Adam. They also tend to fail more. So it depends. You have to be a giver who gives to “champs” and not “chumps”.

I definitely used to take a lot. I would take all I could. Not because I was evil (I hope) but because I was scared.

If I didn’t take, someone else would. I was scared I would go broke. Or wouldn’t feed my family. Or wouldn’t find the girl. Or someone would take credit for something I did. On and on. I was scared and hid in my closet against the monsters.

I think “taking” ruined my life for at least ten or so years. I saw the world as a small place and not a big universe.

When you take, it’s like the world is divided into eight slices of pizza and either you eat one of the slices or someone else does.

The reality is: when you Give, you create a bigger world.

If I introduce two people today and they create something of value without me being in the middle, then the world just became a bigger place.

If I help a colleague at work do their job better, then my workplace just got bigger. If I answer a question sent to me from somewhere in Pakistan and their lives get a little better, than the entire world just got microscopically bigger.

The more you give, your universe compounds into something infinite. There’s no end to the universe, but when you give you push out your boundaries more and more. More air to breathe, more room to maneuver, more opportunities to succeed.

I know one guy who “takes” a lot but he does it by pretending to “give”.

He once wrote me that he was now finally “calling in all the favors he had ever done” and he asked me to do something.

He kept writing me. I finally had to write back and say, “I’m happy to help but what exactly did you do for me that you keep reminding me about.” He didn’t reply.

We all know takers who wear the clothes of a giver.

I asked Adam about this. He said, “if you are a giver and you are dealing with a taker, you have to act like a matcher – in other words, make sure up front you are getting something for your giving.” But in all other situations just give.

He described the story of Adam Rifkin, an entrepreneur/VC in Silicon Valley who is a massive giver. He might do a favor for someone, forget about it, and then ten years later the favor is returned in some unexpected way, or maybe it is never returned. Who knows?

When a good gardener plants his seeds, he has faith that some small percentage of the seeds will grow. That is the nature of a giver.

Rifkin has a concept he calls “the five minute favor”. It’s a way of easily planting as many seeds as possible not only during the day, but during a year, during a career, during a lifetime.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in the past few years is that success can be measured in two ways:

  • How successful were you today? Because that’s the best predictor of tomorrow’s success.
  • And how successful are you over decades?

Because that shows persistence, it shows your ability to do “the push”, to solve and master hard problems, to put in the 10,000 hours ultimately of mastery, and it allows the plants you seed to compound into abundance.

A great example is Coolio writing every day for 17 years before having a single hit. Or Michelle Phan making 53 videos before the 54th finally reaching superstar status. Or Walt Disney’s first company going bankrupt, and then his next efforts at animation doing nothing better than break-even and then finally perhaps hundreds of experiments in animation later, creating Snow White 20 years after his start.

There is a strong link between the two types of success. The five minute favor leads directly to the three decades of success.

I’m in my third decade of my career (I’m 46). I can safely say this is true.

That the moments when I took a break from anxiety about money, about gossip, about the people I thought were trying to bring me down, about the pain of relationships failing, and instead took those moments to provide value or help people or work towards a vision I thought was bigger than myself – those are the moments that I can see added up to every success I’ve ever had.

Does this mean I had to wait for 20 years? No. do one five minute favor and you can see the magic happen today. It feels good. Try it!

Even do the favor for yourself – clean your room, clean your mind, clean yourself from the people who bring you down, clean out the anxiety by replacing it with gratitude – even these “selfish” five minute favors are seeds you plant in the world.

A few years ago I was doing business with “a taker”. Every time we finished the negotiation and I got the term sheet, there were always more things on the term sheet that were against me and for him. Stuff that we had never agreed to.

And ALWAYS at the last minute, when I was desperate to get a deal done, he would switch terms and make them massively against me.

Finally, on our third deal together, where I had made zero money and he had made a lot, I said enough is enough and I stopped dealing with him.

He ended up doing a deal with a super genius who I really liked. I even warned the super genius to be careful but since I wanted nothing to do with it, I backed off. But I let him know he could always call me for help.

Well, fast forward six years. The deal between the taker and the super-genius fell apart pretty quickly. The taker is dead broke and living on life support.

The super genius took a three hour train ride with his kids to find me for five minutes and ask me if I could be involved in his company. I was on the way to Claudia’s yoga class. I said I wanted to be honest with him and that I didn’t think I had the time but he was happy to call me any time to get free help.

But he insisted I get more involved and he described what he was doing. It was incredible. I liked it. So I said yes. Then I asked him if he would go for breakfast. He said “no” he had to go and he turned around and took the three hours of trains back. He just needed to find me to convince me to say “yes”.

That’s because I did a five minute favor for him six years ago.

And now hopefully, over the next decade or so, he can save the world.

Giver, Taker, Matcher – which one are you?

Please tell me below all the different types of five minute favors. Let’s build up a library of them. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated.

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