Is reciprocal giving the secret to creative wealth?

Jun 20, 2016

As a kid, all of the superhero situations that interested me were similar: Batman and The Outsiders, The X-Men, Super Friends – unique individuals with differentiated powers who relied on each other to solve problems and fight injustice.

These days, the Marvel universe captures the popular imagination with a network of interconnected super friends: Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Guardians of the Galaxy among many others.

In our realities as artists, freelancers and solo-preneurs, many of us feel that we have to be completely autonomous creative units. However, getting any idea, project or career off the ground often requires a lot of help from friends.

Asking for help might not be easy, but personally investing in your friend’s successes (and vice versa) is amazing and can provide exponential value.

Emma Gordon, freelance voiceover artist and storyteller, told me about a time when she and a close friend exchanged shoe boxes of stuff. The boxes were full of tasks each had been unable to tackle – bills they were scared to open, applications for graduate school, unfollowed job leads... you get the picture.

She refers to it as The Shoebox Project. Taking on the burden of her friend's shoebox was a lot easier than grappling with her own. Because they shared such mutual admiration, they were able to handle the other's burden with ease and respect. Afterwards, Emma and her friend grew even closer. She describes the experience as “magical”.

That’s not to say trading shoeboxes is a simple solution to all creative roadblocks. It requires bit of thoughtful planning and a willingness to accept the risk that you may or may not receive or deliver what was expected.

Theater Artist and freelance writer Seth Lepore is writing Ruthless Reciprocity a book to help other performing artists work collectively to meet their own professional goals and grow community.

He says, “it can be done in the same way that a simple kind gesture is done without thinking, but for bigger projects you need to choose your people wisely. Who are your people? That's the first question you need to answer.”

Making sure you love the person AND their goals might be key. Gordon suggests, “If you do this with a friend who you adore but you don't love their end goal, maybe it’s not a great fit. If you think “you'd be so great at that, and boy does this industry/community/planet need what you're doing.’ and vice versa, then that’s probably going to be a good fit.”

Want to try it out? Here are some tips for making it work…


Determine the exact thing you will take on for each other; it shouldn’t be a vague thing or an ongoing list. Ideally it’s a task with a specific outcome you are confident you can make happen. Before handing off or taking on a bigger task, remember that simply taking something small of someone else’s plate is actually a HUGE help.


Save yourself a heap of trouble and talk money before doing anything. Determine if the project or task will require financial costs and decide who will pay for them. If reimbursements are in order how and when will they be paid.


In the case of tackling a more complex project, it is essential to have a timeline. Set an end date before you start and go into it with a realistic idea of you're trying to accomplish in that time. Schedule regular check-ins to update each other on progress and so the timeline can be adjusted as needed.


Don’t forget to document what you do for your friends, because they may have to do it again, for themselves down the road. Keep track of who you spoke to; make note of the steps in the process as you go. Send updates with your progress and any questions or potential concerns they might require input from them.

Had a “super friends” experience yourself? How’d it go? What worked? What would you do differently? Want to try it? Want to talk about super heroes? Share in the comments below!

Mica Scalin

I am a professional enthusiast and creative instigator. From grassroots to broadcast, my passion lies in content driven experiences that create meaningful connections between people.