In life as we develop personal relationships we build up what I'll call capital based on the value of that relationship to us and to the other person. Over time that capital builds up as that relationship grows, and it's this capital that helps you to decide whether or not to help a friend move for the twelfth time in the last three years, for example. (I hope none of your friends asks you to help them move that much - yuck!)
This past week a friend emailed me to ask if I could come read for a part he hadn't been able to cast from open auditions. Theatre has been my primary "hobby" for most of my life, and I hadn't performed on stage in a show in over six years. The show is one of my favorites - The Fantasticks! - and will run for three weekends in January. They'll start rehearsals in December, so it's in that 'dead' time between the various events in the SQL Server community. I decided to accept.
For those of you who've never been to Cleveland, there's a very strong dividing line down the center of the area, and people are defined as 'west siders' or 'east siders'. I had to drive to the far east side of town, and I live southwest of the city, so I had to drive about 45 minutes to go to the reading.
When I arrived I found he'd invited another friend to also read for the same part. It was a nice reunion, and he's one of the people I truly value in that community. We both read for the part (privately, we were never in the room together during the readings), and then I was told I was done and that I'd hear back in a few days.
Today I received the email telling me that my friend was chosen for the part. It's very similar to finding out your abstract wasn't selected for a conference at which you really want to present. You understand, but it hurts. I know my friend will do a great job in the part and I'm happy for him. At the same time, I made all these mental plans to put aside other things to make room for this.
And that's my point. We build this personal relationship capital over time by helping people out, and we spend it when we ask people to help us. The director built up capital with me by directing two of the shows that I treasure having been part of. He was also the catalyst for my having gone back to college in 2005 to finish my degree. He spent a great deal of that capital today. How much - well that'll take some time for me to know. I didn't audition for the show because I didn't feel I had the time. His request made me reconsider and adjust my plans, and his decision made all that effort moot.
In our professional lives we develop the same kind of personal relationship capital. It takes time to build up, and we can spend it wisely, or we can blow it by saying the wrong thing, or doing the wrong thing, or not doing the right thing. I've made these mistakes and deeply regret them. Each time I make mental notes to do it better next time.
The thing we don't want to do is waste people's time. That'll spend that capital faster than anything else. People want to know their time is valuable. Treat it as such, and appreciate what they're doing for you.