Pay it Forward

I ran across a column by Tim McGuire that I thought would be worthwhile to share with you. In it, he exhorts people to make a positive difference in others’ lives without expecting anything in return. It’s the concept popularized by the book “Pay It Forward” (by Catherine Ryan Hyde), and subsequently the movie).

(Normally, I won’t recommend any books, movies, sites, or anything here without reading, seeing, or trying it myself. But in this case, the concept stands on its own from the book and movie. The Pay it Forward DVD is on my shelf, ready to be watched. I’ll report back when I do.)

I especially like the concept of giving significant, life changing, help. That is, holding the door for someone, or dropping some change in a hat isn’t enough. You really need to find a way to make a big difference in someone’s life, and not expect anything in return.

For many years at my current and previous jobs, I’ve mentored interns. Tim mentions that his son is an intern and is getting real value from his internship mentor. I can only hope that I’ve done the same for some of my interns.

And I’ll be on the lookout for more worthwhile things to do for people. Maybe you will be too…?

Take ‘you’ out of the equation and see what happens
by Tim McGuire

While Kevin Spacey is one of my favorite actors, I have never known him to be a philosopher. This quotation of his has been impossible to escape, since I read it on one of those quotation desk calendars: “If you’ve done well in whatever business you are in, you should spend at least half your time sending the elevator back down.”

“Sending the elevator back down” is a sensational image to illustrate our debt to young people and to people who have not achieved the success some of us have enjoyed. I hope I have sent the elevator back down with some of these columns that reflect my 30 years of mistakes and lessons in a corporate environment. When I teach at universities and in the seminars I conduct I am trying to use what I’ve experienced to help others.

One of my closest friends enjoyed a sensational newspaper career, but often it seems he relishes the successes of the people he mentored or tutored more than he appreciates his own accomplishments. When he brags on the accomplishments of “his people,” it is obvious “sending the elevator back down” is one of the great joys of his life. His wife is proud of what he’s done for other people, but I know she has raised her eyebrows more than once over his intensity in helping people get jobs, promotions and honors.

My youngest son is about to graduate from college and he’s doing his final “for credit” internship. He’s on top of the world because he has encountered a reporter and a producer at a TV station who do not regard him as a mere piece of meat passing through their halls. They not only value him, they are intent on teaching him.

Both men have counseled Jeff about his career and helped him with his audition tape even when it requires a lot of extra time. They have worked hard to make sure Jeff has a variety of assignments and learns everything he will need in the work world. Both those men know that “sending the elevator back down” is rewarding for them and for Jeff.

This whole concept is similar to the one set forth by Catherine Ryan Hyde, the author of the book “Pay it Forward,” which was later made into a movie starring Kevin Spacey. My e-mail friend, Karen Hoffman from St. Louis, whom I have written about before, is an ardent advocate of “Pay it Forward.”

She said Ryan Hyde “had an experience with her old car catching fire, late at night, in a high-crime area. Her car was saved by strangers in that area rushing toward her. (At first she wondered if they were coming to harm her) then they left before she could thank them.” Hoffman says that was the beginning of the concept behind “Pay it Forward.”

Hoffman wrote me this: “Tim, if the premise behind ‘Pay it Forward’ were embraced, in your lifetime you would choose to do three significant things to help someone else (more than a random act of kindness) and the people you helped could not do anything in return for you, but you request that they pay it forward to three people in their life …”

Hoffman wrote, “Think of the math on this…3 x 3 = 9x 3 =27 x 3 = 81 x 3 =-243 x 3 = 729 x 3 = 2187x 3 = 6561 x 3 = 19683 x 3 = 59,049 = 177, 147 x 3 = 531, 441 x 3 = 1,594, 323 x 3 = 4,782,969 x 3 = 14, 348, 907 x 3 = 43,046,721 etc.”

Both the math and the premise are staggering. In a “me-first” world the concept of truly changing other people’s lives with genuine kindness is not one that is easily embraced. Yet, think of what the concept could do just in your own workplace. An atmosphere that encouraged and accepted “sending the elevator back down” and “paying it forward” would create high-performance and spiritually rewarding workplaces, which could change American capitalism.

Dreaming can be good for the soul.

TIP FOR YOUR SEARCH: So much of the workplace is based on “If I do a good thing for her, she will repay me by doing X.” Think about how transforming it could be if you did nice things for other people with no expectation of being repaid or gaining some sort of advantage.

RESOURCE FOR YOUR SEARCH: “Pay It Forward” (Catherine Ryan Hyde)(Pocket, 2000)

“Pay It Forward” (Catherine Ryan Hyde)
“Pay It Forward” (Warner Home Video)

Update: I just ran across this very apropos quote:
“The point is not to pay back kindness but to pass it on.”
Julia Alvarez

One comment on “Pay it Forward

  1. Amazing. Found your entry on “Pay It Forward” as a link on a post about the “Peaceful warrior workout”.

    I have just finished reading Way of the Peaceful warrior for a second time, and getting a whole lot of learnings out of it. This second reading was part of a ‘spiritual reawakening’ I have gone through over the last 9 months. The amazing thing is that as a result of this rennaisance, I have decided to make everything I can to diseminate the concept of “Pay It Forward” within Australia. Being a 37 year old professional with significant work experience in large organisations, I have reconnected with my dream of changing the world and decided to start ‘A Business of Love’ (I know, it sounds a bit weird) – The Australian chapter of Pay It Forward.

    This business, unlike many others I’ve thought of starting, will be easy to make a success – it doesn’t need to generate any money; it doesn’t even need to be a popular or extremely well-known business. As long as one more person does a Random act of Kindness for someone else, I have left a mark in the world.

    My goal, nevertheless, is far more ambitious than that: By the year 2,012, I aspire to have inspired an additional 1 million people to ‘pass kindness forward’ every month in Australia.

    Thanks for your entry, and good luck in your actions to pass mentoring forward to young people in business.

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