This may be an odd topic and is especially an odd topic for me.
You see, I have this thing about thanking people. It started when I was very young. Whenever I received anything from anyone, whether it was a compliment, a piece of candy or a toy, my parents would immediately look at me and pointedly ask, “What do you say?”
Of course the answer was, “thank you.” Maybe your parents did the same thing.
So it’s my habit to thank everyone for a variety of things. Answered my email? I will thank you. Complimented me? I will say thank you. Waved my car into a busy lane? I’ll wave my hand back in thanks. You get the point.
Freelance means free, right?
I’ve noticed something as a freelance copywriter and content marketer. I’ve had some people email me with questions or ask a small favor and I’ve responded (free of charge). Most of the time, I don’t get a response to my answers and rarely receive thanks.
This used to bother me greatly. The Cowboy, a good sport if there ever was one, would listen patiently to me and finally say, “So… don’t do anything for anyone ever again.”
Well, that didn’t quite square up with my desire to help people, either. Whenever anyone contacted me, I did genuinely want to see if I could help. If it only required a few sentences of explanation or a website recommendation, I was happy to do it.
Then later I’d feel irritated if I didn’t receive an acknowledgement or an appreciative message.
Finally I realized that 1) I was expecting everyone to respond to me as though they had been raised by my parents and 2) I really wasn’t giving anything away if I kept expecting a payment of some sort.
I’ve got no strings
I started to let go of my expectation of being thanked and immediately felt a difference in my day. No longer would I spend precious time being irritated by what I perceived as someone’s lack of good manners. Instead, I looked at what I did as a gift, given freely without any strings attached.
When you give someone a gift, there is joy in the act of giving. You’ve helped the person by giving them the special gift of your talent and time. You already know the value of what you’ve given.
When you expect someone else to thank you for that gift, it’s your ego doing most of the talking. Believe me, I know. I’ve got a fairly healthy ego. But as I pondered why it mattered whether someone acknowledged my gift (or not), I realized the only reason was that I’d receive recognition for doing something nice.
Which made me feel not so nice.
I then realized that to give something to someone and then require a thank you was controlling. I never thought of myself as someone who tried to control people but couldn’t avoid the truth. I knew that if I had my way, people would show their gratitude more. I also knew that I couldn’t make anyone do anything yet secretly wished I could.
Ouch. Talk about a painful wake-up call.
Last week, I received a completely out-of-the-blue note of thanks, on Twitter of all places.
Someone I helped four years ago, thanked me for helping them get onboard with Twitter.
— Tony Faustino (@tonyfaustino) December 13, 2013
So in the midst of my “letting go,” a beautiful acknowledgement of appreciation came my way. I had totally forgotten about helping this man but evidently, he did not.
Many times, people do appreciate what you do for them but for a variety of reasons, don’t express it. But the tweet thanking me was a great reminder that when a note of appreciation comes my way, it is a gift – just as my giving something of myself to someone is a gift.
So during this gift-giving season, whenever you have the chance to give of yourself, do so with joy and fullness. Let go of expecting gratitude and instead embrace the fact that you have the capacity to give of yourself. It is a rare and wondrous thing.