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Givers, Takers, and Equalizers

Harrison Barnes
By Mar 07,2024
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Nothing is more important to your ultimate success in life and your career as whether or not you are giver, taker, or equalizer. In fact, your happiness and success in life will largely be governed by one of the three types of personalities.

Several years ago, when I was practicing law, there was an attorney who was up for partnership in the firm. This attorney was extraordinary; he was first in his class while attending a major law school and had formerly practiced for over eight years at the firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore, which is one of the top law firms in the world. During his two years of employment at my firm, he continued his work pace by billing approximately 3,500 hours a year. I used to see him exhausted as he wandered the halls of the law firm; he looked like someone out of a Frankenstein movie.

Each January, the law firm elected new partners. To be eligible for the partnership, you need to have worked a minimum of three years at the firm. This attorney had only been there two years and was not elected partner because he was not eligible. At that time, the firm’s charter stated said that lateral associates had to be there three years to make partner. This attorney was crushed and disappointed by the news. He wanted to be a partner now.

Instead of being discouraged, the attorney picked up the pace of his work. Over the next three months, he billed over 1,400 hours, which is extraordinary. There are only 730 hours in a month. This means that over the course of 90 days there was an average of eight hours a day seven days a week that he was not working.

At the end of three months, concerned that this attorney might end up dying from exhaustion, the law firm called a special meeting and modified their charter and made him a partner.

The attorney who made partner was a “giver”. Givers always win and end up succeeding at the highest levels. Years later, I began to see him quoted in the Wall Street Journal and legal publications regularly. He was hired to work on the most important cases in the country. People always want givers on their side because givers do everything they can to help others succeed.

One of the most remarkable people I ever have had the pleasure of working with is the motivational speaker, Anthony Robbins. When he first started out, he did not have an audience who was interested in listening to him speak. Inside he had all sorts of information he wanted to share about personal improvement, motivation and so forth; however, without an audience he could not teach others. In order to get an audience, he started going door-to-door at apartment buildings telling people he was having a seminar, and he invited them to come. He went to apartment buildings because the doors were close together, and he could invite more people to his seminars quickly.

Regardless of whether his audience was two people or ten people, Robbins would put on seminars to the people that came, because deep down he is a giver, and wants to share with others. Givers will give without expecting anything in return. There’s something deep down within them that motivates them to want to give of themselves.

From humble beginnings doing small seminars, Robbins soon was sharing his message with packed stadiums full of people.

This is the result of giving.

I like to study billionaires, because I almost always find a streak of very powerful giving within them. In fact, almost every time I study one, I am amazed by their giving ability. Last night, for example, I was studying the billionaire, Marc Andreessen. He is the co-founder of Netscape and co-author of the first web browser called Mosaic. He and another engineer worked incredibly long hours and weekends to create Mosaic simply because they felt it would help the tech community. Initially, he did not do it to make money. He put everything he had into it because he wanted to give and create something of value.

Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg, the Founder of Facebook, wanted to create something of value that connected Harvard students with one another, regardless of fiscal gain.

The same idea applies to the Founders of Google. They wanted to create a better way to organize online information.

In fact, the more you study the world’s greatest achievers, you will discover that they were givers and not takers. Being a giver is among the most important component of being successful. If you want to succeed, you need to be a giver.

In contrast, takers are people whose interactions with others are largely based on what they can get from other people. They give as little as possible and constantly feel as if they are owed something. They seek out situations and people that will give them handouts, whether it is money, living arrangements, affection, or something else. In the work world, they do as little work as possible and get as much as they can for their effort. In their personal relationships, they are the ones who rarely pay for meals, ask for help, and seldom return favors.

Takers are the kind of people who will withhold information because it could benefit others. Takers have all sorts of justifications in their mind as to why they are owed such-and-such. Takers would rather take than give.

I am sure you know takers. They are everywhere. When you see bums on the street asking for money without expecting anything in return, they are most often takers. Look where being takers got them? I used to travel to India a great deal. When you come to a stoplight in India, and people notice that you are a foreigner, beggars often mob your car. I remember the first time I rolled down my window and gave a beggar the equivalent of about $5.00. He didn’t thank me, but snatched the money out of my hand and took off running. This is a taker.

People who feel isolated in society, depressed, and unsuccessful are most often takers. Almost all criminals in society are takers. Takers are dangerous and have a profound sense of entitlement.

I have been intimately involved in legal recruiting for over fifteen years. In this position, I often meet attorneys when they are in law school. I have had the opportunity to watch what happens to them in their careers. Likewise, I meet young attorneys switching jobs, and observe what happens to them in their careers.

I have met and worked with literally thousands of attorneys throughout my career, and this is what I have learned: The only people who have any modicum of success in the practice of law are givers. Takers always lose.

Several years ago, I hired a very smart young man. He worked for me for a few years before entering law school. When he interviewed with me, I was impressed with his outstanding transcript and his Law School Admission Test scores that put him in the top 98%. However, very soon after starting with me, I realized he never would be that successful in the practice of law.

He was a clock watcher. When working with people, I noticed that he did the minimum he could. When given assignments, he never put in a full effort. For example, one day I asked him to spend a week putting together the “Top 99 Reasons” to use a website we owned. After a week he could only come up with 25, so I gave him another week, and he came back with only 40.

“How in the world can you ever expect to represent people if you cannot come up with 99 reasons to use a website?” I asked him. “Regardless of whether or not you like the website, you need to be an advocate for the website. Coming up with supporting ideas should not be difficult for you.”

Throughout his employment with me, on at least a few occasions, he would come to me and say he had been given new responsibilities and needed a raise. It infuriated me.

I wrote him several recommendations for law schools, and because I wrote a “good enough” letter for him, and knew the admissions officer, he was accepted into one of the top 25 law schools.

On his final day with my firm, he came to me with a detailed sheet of 20 or so times where he had worked a few additional minutes after clocking out. He demanded I pay him overtime, along with various state penalties for not paying him during those times.

“You mean to tell me that you clocked out and, because someone asked you a question while you were hanging out in the office after work, you think I owe you overtime and penalties?” I asked.

He was completely serious and responded in the affirmative.

I paid him what he was asking for, knowing that he was in for a rough ride.

He ended up going to law school, and in the summer, after his second year he got a position with a major law firm that had successfully hired a few of my best employees, who are givers. I never recommended him for the job. At the end of the summer, he did not get an offer. He graduated from law school and did not have a job. That was seven years ago. Today he is in his 30’s and still living at home. Despite being incredibly intelligent, the longest he has ever had a job is a few months.

He came to me for help a few years ago and expected me to get him a job. I explained to him that he needed to be a giver, and approach work in this manner if he was ever going to get and keep a good job. He did not understand this and pretended to agree. He is still unemployed.

Takers are concerned about taking. They see what they want and they take it. The most extreme level of takers is the criminal. A criminal will steal and even kill to take what they want.

You cannot get ahead being a taker. Takers always show their true colors and nothing good ever happens to them. As far as I am concerned, every school in the world should teach about the dangers of being a taker because takers are everywhere.

I support one of my relatives who was never very nice to me. However, she is my relative and needs help. Prior to me helping her, she was completely alone and living in a home with a large hole in the roof over her bed. She had no friends helping her and no job. This is how it works with takers.

When I found out about this, I decided to help. I moved her across the country to be close to another relative of hers. I pay a few thousand dollars a month for her apartment. Five years ago, I bought her a new car. A few months ago, she informed me that the car was falling apart because she did not take care of it, and she needed a new one. I purchased her a new BMW and sent it to her on a truck. When she got it, she was angry because she did not get the opportunity to pick out the car’s color.

This summer, she was with my family on vacation. One evening she took care of my children while my wife and I went out for dinner. The next night we took her out for dinner with a group of people, and she was seated at a separate table. She wanted to pay for dinner for the all of the people who sat at her table, and told me I owed her money for babysitting. I gave her $100. This person is a taker because she has consistently lived an unhappy and unfulfilled life.

People avoid takers. There is nothing positive about associating with takers. They do not give because it is not their nature. They take from society, the government, and others, and believe they are owed something. They file trivial lawsuits for every perceived wrongdoing, they run scams and do things to harm others, and they also cheat friends, relatives, and others in every transaction. They look at the world as a way to manipulate others to get the things that they want and believe they deserve.

An equalizer is someone who, if they take, will consciously give in return. It may not be the exact amount, but to them, but it will look like the same amount. They will justify in their mind that they are giving back the same amount that they have received.

The best time to watch equalizers in action is on holidays and other gift-giving occasions like birthdays and so forth. Here, you will see how this type of person operates. Equalizers will typically give and exchange gifts, which are of the same value. It is quite humorous.

When I give gifts, I like to give nice gifts whenever I can. One of my relatives is an equalizer. Thus, if I give him a gift that costs me $100.00, he will always give me a gift on the next go-around that has the “perceived” value of $100.00. A favorite “trick” of this relative is to go to the “bargain books bin” at Barnes & Noble, and buy a book with a “sticker price” of $100, but in reality it might be discounted to around $10.00. Then this relative will proudly give me this “$100” gift as if they are being very generous.

One year they gave me a table top picture book about wild horses. It contained all sorts of pictures of horses running around the wilderness.

I’ve ridden a horse maybe two times in my life. I have no interest in horses.

But that is how it is with equalizers. They are only interested in giving of themselves the exact amount that they feel equals what they have received (or will receive in return for giving).

In the business world, this sort of calculating approach does not work. Giving of yourself only in proportion to how much you receive means that you are never going to stand out from the crowd, and you will have a difficult time gaining the goodwill of your employers.

The whole relationship between being a giver, taker, and equalizer also plays out in personal relationships such as, friends and romantic interests. When I listen to various disputes that people have in their interpersonal relationships, it generally comes down to something along these lines:

From an Equalizer: “I did this for her, but she only did that, which is far less than I gave her. I’m angry and upset because she did not give as much as I did.”

People go back and forth with respect to issues related to giving, taking, and equalizing, but there is constant tension in society between these three groups.

Here is the lesson: Givers always rise. Many people are far too concerned about being taken advantage of and used. While givers certainly can be taken advantage of, in reality, because givers have so much to give, they are always in demand whether it is with employers or in personal relationships. Givers help others and make people feel good about themselves. Because givers are always working hard and adding value, their worth to the world is always increasing.

The game of life and your career is about adding value. When you are an equalizer and calculate with your efforts and affections, it shows. Similarly, when you are a taker, you are never going to go far, because people and businesses run from people who do nothing but take. When you give, you add value, and people and work flock to you.

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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is the Founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter himself. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in a search and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive that gets results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities that its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.

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