Help Me Always, but Do It for Free!

How many times do we receive a phone call from other people asking for advice? Many times and it may seem natural, up to a point. The point where the advice is part of what we do for a living and the point when the same person needs advice one time too many. Are you familiar with the emails and phone calls with the same question: “How do I do this and that?” and then again: “And after that, what is it supposed to happen?”. After enough phone calls, the problem is solved.

Imagine going to the doctor. There is no way not to pay for the physical exam. One can’t just tap him on the shoulder and say thanks and appreciate of how much help he was, no, one walks out the door and a report is printed and handed to one together with the bill. And, why is that? Usually, because the doctor does nothing by phone or email, he is in a proper place where some authority is formally instituted.

Let’s give it another try. You are not a doctor, but you are who you are, and you can work by phone or email. And people call asking for different things, a small favour, a small document, a small arrangement, putting in a good word, connecting them with somebody. It is just a phone call, five, maybe ten minutes, not too much. It’s normal. They know you know the answer because… you are lucky, and they want to know the answer, too. They need it, for the job, their home, friends or family. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a phone call. Or maybe a short visit, not an appointment, is just a visit, they’ll just come by ask some questions and not take much of your time. What’s the problem, you don’t seem happy?

The truth is, when this happens to me a lot, I’m not. I’ve worked hard for everything I know, I’ve spent my time in school, learning, reading, in other jobs. I’ve learned from experience and my mistakes. I tried a lot and failed a lot. I have put in a lot of effort, because that’s what I chose to do for a living, because that’s my job, to give answers like this and come up with solutions and ideas to problems like this. And I am not lucky, this isn’t luck, and I want to be clear about it. Everything I know and every solution I give is effort. And that’s usually the case with all the people whose advice we seek.

Let’s make one thing clear. This may happen, it is normal, we all do it, among friends, but some, and usually not the friends, do it to excess. I’ve seen long exchanges of emails where the last was something like: “Oh, thanks, now that you’ve explained me how to do it, it does not seem difficult, I can do it myself” or conversations like “You want a thousand euro just because you made a couple of phone calls to the bank (and saved me 20.000)?” or “Could you read my manuscript and help me rewrite it?” or “Can you repair my computer or I lose everything on it?”. Or those students who always cheat at their exams, copying from others: “Oh, this definition is not correct. I don’t remember how it was, but that’s not it. Definitely.”

Sometimes, five minutes with someone may save a lot. And not everybody is a charity, and the mother of a friend of a colleague is not really someone very close, and some problems are more important or urgent than others. Maybe help is not the best word every time. And it is not about money; it is about the fact that we should learn to appreciate what other people do for a living.