Let’s talk about how we exchange our precious resources of time and energy with others. If we are to be the confident CEO of our lives, we need to become cognizant of this and you may recall I touch on this in the complimentary workbook. How often do we take time to analyze our interactions and question whether the costs are worth the rewards?
I am going to play around a little with two sayings in this article and it will be helpful if you pay attention to your automatic reactions as you read or listen. I’ll finish up with a couple of questions for your consideration.
Here is the first saying and one I personally get a kick out of, popularized in the ‘70s.
1. “Ass, gas or grass…nobody rides for free.”
Here is the second saying, popularized in the ‘90s and unfortunately still a go-to for some people
2. “Can I pick your brain?”
In many ways our relationships and interactions define us. How we behave in relation to others says plenty about us. We might live in a selfish manner, worried about protecting our piece of the pie and stay busy making sure no one takes advantage of us.
Or we may be on the total opposite end of the continuum martyring ourselves and giving up our precious resources to every Tom, Dick, or Harry that makes a request of us. I think there has to be a nice middle ground that lets us calculate whether the rewards we receive from our efforts are worth the cost.
As I have said before, we humans are social creatures and dependent on one another, whether we like it or not. We are always in interaction. Ideally, we get what we give and there should be some measure of fair reciprocity.
But, that’s not always the case. Our efforts do not always gain us the outcomes we expect. The problem is we expend time and energy and throw away pieces of our dignity without a clear definition of what it is we expect to receive from our efforts.
Let’s jump into the first saying and play with it a little:
“Ass, gas or grass...nobody rides for free.”
This saying is archaic, sexist, and crass and I love it. For me, it paints a picture of a macho biker at a greasy roadside diner, negotiating with a woman who wants to hitch a ride to the next town. We can see it as a stereotypical, somewhat comical scenario that dis-empowers women. Or we can see this fellow simply offering a truism.
What I like about this saying is its transparency. The hitchhiker knows exactly where she stands and can make a decision. If she does not want to pay on those terms, she can wait for another ride, call a friend, or walk to the next town.
We know of course, that many wonderful things in life are free. The distinction here is what we expect to receive from others when we share our resources. And, when we need or want the resources of another person, we cannot avoid the reality that we are entering into an exchange.
Unless we have clear transparent expectations, we run the risk of fostering resentment. The exchange may not cost us ass, gas, or grass, but it will cost something. Ideally, though, it doesn’t cost us a piece of our dignity.
Most of what we want or need requires some resolve, effort, practice, collaboration, and a willingness to learn and step outside of our comfort zone. These are reasonable costs and often help to move us a little closer to our goals. Even things like happiness, peace of mind, and self-respect come at a price.
No one promised us a rose garden and these things must be earned as well. We do trade something for everything we get or have.
Let’s look at the next saying:
As I said, we often do not take the time to analyze our interactions and question whether the costs are worth the rewards. There are plenty of things we tolerate without looking at what it costs us in time and energy. The habit of allowing others to pick our brains is an example.
It can be nice to have someone ask for our opinion or advice. There is no doubt that it feels good to be helpful. The good feeling generated is the return on investment. Having our brains picked for a review on the latest movie, a shared interest or a great restaurant is very different than being solicited for well-earned information on the very thing that someone earns a living at.
When someone asks me if they can “pick my brain” in a professional capacity I cringe. For me, this saying paints a picture of a sharp, dirty claw rooting around in my skull, scavenging for well-earned bits of knowledge and stealing away with pieces of grey matter. Not a pretty picture is it?
Picking the brain is basically a request for us to spend our valuable time, allowing our expertise to be sopped up, to satisfy someone else’s need, without them adding anything of value to the exchange. This exchange is not based on any real human interaction. There is a giver and a taker.
We should expect reciprocity for our resources or expertise. But brain picking often isn’t reciprocal. Sometimes it’s ok to ask for a little advice, but when we do so we should be respectful for the time provided and grateful for the wisdom this person has likely spent years developing.
If you have a plumber, electrician, or business expert in your family surely you don’t expect them to be responsible for every single family member who has a plumbing, electrical, or business need? If they do accept this responsibility then, for god sake make them dinner, offer to help them with their next move, and babysit their kids or pets. Or better yet, pay them the going rate, just do something to maintain some level of fair reciprocity.
The belief that time and energy are precious resources is a personal one. You may or may not agree. However, the next time someone asks to pick your brain I do hope that you will remember the intention behind the saying “ass, gas or grass… nobody rides for free.”
1. Why did I suggest it would be helpful if you pay attention to your automatic reactions as you read or listen?
2. Are there times when it is reasonable to give more than you get and put aside the expectation of fair reciprocity?
Terri Lee Cooper MSc. RSW