Why You Shouldn’t Want Free Stuff

Have you ever noticed how the things in life that you get for free are of little value? I remember a meeting with a client more than 20 years ago when I learnt a valuable lesson about getting something for free.

At the time, I was a project manager in the construction industry. A contractor offered to remove some rubble from a neighbouring site that belonged to my client. My client was about to start developing the site. The contractor offered to remove the rubble for free. It wasn’t much, not more than a couple of bakkie loads. I was excited to tell my client about the free rubble removal offer.

My client was in his late sixties and a seasoned property developer. Every time I sat in a meeting with him, I garnered some new insight about property development and so much more. His name was Norman and his fatherly energy resonated with me. He suffered from the same physical illness from which my dad died. I’m sure I projected my admiration for my dad onto him. The result was that I listened intently to his every word and admired him for his seemingly never-ending wisdom.

Clearing the new site came up in one of the many management meetings. I proudly told Norman about the offer from the contractor on the neighbouring site.

In my mind, the contractor was doing me a favour because of my good relationship with him. I believed I was the hero; without me, all would be lost.

I have since discovered that the stories I make up are way more exciting than reality.

Norman sat at the end of the table, considering what I had said. He took his glasses off, rubbed his eyes, and then looked out the window with a 1,000-yard stare. Then he declared, “I would rather pay for the rubble to be removed.”

A long silence followed his statement. Norman didn’t appear to be at all interested in justifying what he had said. Several others were in the meeting, and we all just looked at Norman, waiting for him to say more. Eventually, he realised that we were all waiting for his profound wisdom on why he would rather pay for the rubble removal than get it done for free.

When I look back on this moment in my history with the benefit of two decades of life experience since then, it is obvious to me why Norman wanted to pay. There are many reasons, least of all the obligation that is created. Norman chose not to go into any detail about his reasons. He simply made a statement that summed up the nature of the man. Profound and insightful.

Norman’s words of wisdom were, “I would rather pay because if he does a crap job, then I can shit on him.”

I have since discovered that reward without struggle has little value in the same way a poorly executed favour creates more hassle than it is worth.

Justin Spencer-Young




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Justin Spencer-Young

Justin Spencer-Young


Daily content creator at Fast Forward Business. Chief Valueologist. Fast Forward Business Podcast…look out for my daily podcast…a shot of value in your day