Nick Nichols

Clojure Developer and Dungeon Master

Pay It Back By Paying It Forward

In the business world, we’re all familiar with the concept of debt. You borrow from someone, and pay it back to them with interest. From student loans to home mortgages, “pay it back” is the mindset we fall into. For better or for worse, this is how our interactions with the business world work.

But we all know that the personal world works differently. When you hold a door for the person behind you or let someone cut in to traffic on your drive back home from the grocery store, you don’t expect them to “pay it back” and hand you a dollar for being kind. We are kind for a much simpler reason: it makes us feel good and it makes someone else feel good. While we occasionally pay the favors we receive back with future help, pizza, or something else, it is much more common that we “pay it forward.” Paying it forward works a lot like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that has been sweeping the internet lately; you receive “it” from someone, and pay “it” forward to others.

Why do we pay it forward to others? In my mind, there are two clear reasons. Firstly, it spreads kind, positive interactions out further, ultimately helping more people. Secondly, a lot of the kindness we receive can’t be directly paid back. If you have a personal or professional mentor, how do you pay them back for everything that they’ve taught you?

In the spirit of paying it forward, you can help mentor others with the skills you received as a sort of tribute to those who have helped you. The last five years with the State Farm Systems Internship have been revolutionized by this simple concept. The summer of 2012 was my fifth year as an intern, and I wasn’t too thrilled about going through the new, mandatory speech program.

I dreaded having to deliver a boring speech and having to sit through the rest. Couldn’t I just work? However, as the summer progressed, I came to be infected by the passion of my now friend, Matt Donovan. Learning about the power of personal stories, seeing how you can win a room over, and watching my fellow teammates and I grow was a wonderful experience. They had successfully given me the chatter bug. I was so infected that I wanted to help out in any way that I could.

Once the final competition ended, I sent out at least ten, maybe more, emails thanking them, offering to help, and giving them feedback. And during my first few months as a full-time employee, I was given the opportunity to help lead a group of interns through the same program I had been through. Thankfully, my enthusiasm didn’t scare them off. I wasn’t the only one either; I was joined by a group of people who had been touched by the same acts of kindness and teaching.

From there, the chain continued to grow. Interns from the second year of the program were thrilled to come back and contribute to the program that had given them so much. The young minds we took through the program in 2013 were the leaders in 2014. In the same way we try to repay our parents and teachers, the interns paid us back by leading the next generation.

Think back to your professors, coaches, and other community leaders. They didn’t teach you because they expected something back; they taught you because they were so energized and passionate about the gifts they had been given that they had no choice but to share them with as many people as they could. This is the true spirit of paying it forward. While we can each only donate so much time and money, we can always spare kindness, consideration, and enthusiasm. We can change the world for the better, by paying it forward one person at a time. As Margaret Mead put it, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” We can make ourselves the thoughtful, committed, citizens, and we can bring authentic, positive change to the world. After all, “…that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time,” as Libba Bray wrote. And that is all I want to ask for.

I ask that you think back to one positive gesture, mentoring session, or class and pay that consideration and goodwill forward. It might take the form of a coaching opportunity, volunteering with a local animal shelter, or even something as small as holding the door for one person at the store. That one act in that one moment can change the world for the better, and if it doesn’t make you feel even the slightest bit better, then stop; however, if paying it forward makes you feel stronger, makes you feel energized, or makes you feel good, I encourage you to continue.

The world will thank you for it.