The other day I found a gift card in a drawer for a well-known restaurant in town. I remembered that I had received it as a gift during the holidays a few years ago. That was right before Covid, so it ended up in this kitchen drawer during all the social distancing.
Last week my partner and I were getting ready to go to an event nearby this restaurant a few days later, so I called the restaurant to see if the gift card was still any good. Yes, they said, and it was worth $300 – $300! It was a really fun surprise. We had an amazing dinner, with money still leftover. I definitely won’t put that card back in the drawer again.
How often do we have unused credit tucked away somewhere? Either financially or credit in a different value?
As a good person in the world, I’m guessing you do a lot for others. It’s part of who you are and part of how the world works. Reciprocity is one of the basic principles of social psychology that says in most social and professional situations, we pay back what we receive from others.
And that’s true in theory. But like my tucked away gift card, often time or circumstances interrupt the balance of reciprocity, and we can find ourselves on either end of the giving or receiving. And that’s part of life, too, when things aren’t perfectly balanced.
However, the question for today is to consider where you may have hidden values and whether you feel comfortable redeeming any unused credit.
The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that accepting something gracefully is often a gift back to the giver.
Think back to a recent time when someone wanted to give you something: a compliment, paying for a meal, an offer to help, etc. Did you resist it at first or did you easily and happily accept it? Of course, it depends on the situation, but the focus here is about exploring your comfort with receiving regardless of what is being offered.
Let’s stay on this for a minute. What are things that come to mind that are easy for you to accept? Start small. Someone opening the door for you, you get a free dessert at a restaurant on a birthday or special occasion, or somebody picks up something you dropped.
Comfort is a personal decision, so this is an exercise in seeing where you feel acceptance or resistance. Is there a scenario where you could accept something from one person (let’s say them paying for your lunch) but you’d be challenged if the same thing was offered from someone else.
Or is there a situation where the effort is challenging no matter where it comes from, such as receiving a compliment? Does that usually leave you stumbling along or do you feel a ready acceptance?
When you do offer thanks, are you able to do it quickly? Saying something like: “Thank you so much for buying my meal” or “I really appreciate your help with this” is that done in a succinct, sincere way of recognizing the gesture or gift.
If you find that saying thanks is hard for you to find the words or you tend to over-thank people or you make a mental tally so you’re sure to ‘return’ the effort in kind, these are signals to explore about how you value the effort or how you value yourself.
Let’s return to the gift card example. Is there an area in your life where you often give something – freely and easily? Perhaps it’s babysitting for others, volunteering for a certain event or cause, lending a hand at work or school with projects, etc. Do you let others do for you in the same way in which you do?
Insert whatever example is most relevant here. Would you accept a ride to the airport, for example? Okay, maybe you would. Would you ask for a ride? Oh, does that start to get more uncomfortable-asking versus receiving what’s offered?
Accepting is one thing but asking to redeem “store credit” from others is often more challenging. Even if it’s been out of balance, not in your favor for a while.
I was talking with a former colleague recently and he was sharing steps he’s taking to update his LinkedIn profile. After some nudging from me (which I’ll call ‘encouragement’), he reached out to several people to ask them to write a recommendation for him. To his delight, the people were happy to help, and he was able to see their positive words about his talent. It was a real confidence boost for him.
A few moments of discomfort in asking for something can potentially lead to more credit than you expect. It could also offset some hidden resentment we might be fostering in those times when we’ve been over-giving or over-doing in certain situations or to certain people. Psychologically, we often will do for others what we hope for in return. It can be our subtle (or not-so-subtle) signal on what we really wish to receive.
And this can be a slippery space. Expectations often lead to future resentments.
So if you know you have store credit somewhere – whether it’s actual or emotional credit -, either find a way to redeem it or find a way to release it. Don’t try to track the mental receipts about how other people “should just know and you shouldn’t have to ask.” That is an excuse we tell ourselves and it carries negative interest that only you end up paying.
We live in a noisy, busy world. We’re going to forget things. Being reminded and being asked is part of a relationship exchange. I’ve learned this personally about myself. I mean well but I forget things in the busy buzz of the days.
So now when I offer to assist with something, I will tell the person directly to follow up with me in a certain amount of time. This keeps me accountable, and it also gives them an open invitation to revisit the topic.
A conversation involves more than one person, so check where you are having invisible dialogues in your head and give others the chance to participate. Sure, you can (and likely do) plenty good well enough on your own. But not asking and not receiving doesn’t actually earn you extra merit badges. The bonus of an exchange could end up having a far greater value for everyone involved.
Exchanges aren’t always equal swaps since we all value things at different levels – and many times, the monetary value has little to do with how it’s valued. If you know someone who is a caregiver, see where you can offer time. If someone has a business or passion project, see where you can offer endorsement, attendance, supplies, positive public reviews, and so on. The best gift registries are often right in front of us.
Recognition is often the best wrapping on any gift. It is the thought that counts, and it counts when we give the thoughts, and the gifts, and the credit. Sometimes the best way we can take good care is to be willing to accept good care.