Pay It Forward

When my daughter was in college, we took her and her childhood friend to lunch. At the end of the meal, we grabbed the check. Her friend offered to pay for his food, but we told him not to worry about it. We knew his funds were low. He said he didn’t feel right about that, and I said, “Look, you’re in college, you have a job to do. You focus on that, and let us worry about this. And then someday, when you have a steady job, you can take a college kid to lunch, and we’ll keep paying it forward. Sound good?” He agreed.


Many of us can point to times when someone helped us in our lives or careers, but when we tried to thank them, they said, “No need. Someone did this for me once, I’m just passing it on.” But here’s what really made their act special. It wasn’t so much the advice, direction, money, or hard labor they shared that created the most impact, it was their faith. Faith that we’d succeed and one day pay it forward, too. There’s something powerful about someone suggesting they know we will one day be in a position to do the same kind of good they are doing for us. Their faith is what really moves us forward.


When I was in my early 20s and thinking about writing a book, I went to a Night of Idaho Authors. I sat down across from a nonfiction history writer and told her I’d like to write a book someday. She asked what it would be about, and I told her the Wake Island World War II story. She talked to me for quite a while, encouraging me to write that book, telling me she believed in my story. I went from her to a romance writer who said the same. I walked through the library parking lot that night in a fog. For the first time, writing a book seemed possible. For the first time, I really believed. Their faith moved me forward. I’ve done my best to encourage the young writers and artists I meet and I hope, oh how I hope, my words provided the right motivation, too.


Because you see, it’s not just the recipient who gains when we pay it forward. For the giver, the joy comes not just in imparting wisdom or sharing skills or resources, it comes from knowing life has put us in a position to give back. And we don’t need to be rich or powerful or old to be in that position, we just need to have traveled a little further down life’s path than the person we are helping. We might only be a few steps ahead of them, but we can reach down and pull them up, just like the person in front of us pulled us up. It’s an amazing feeling of connection and continuance. It’s proof that the faith that was placed in us was well-founded.


I like to imagine my daughter’s friend sitting at a table someday, buying lunch for some struggling college student and realizing, hey, I made it! It’s my turn now. But we don’t have to wait until things come full circle or until we’ve been asked before we pay it forward. We’ve all heard stories of people who buy a coffee for the person behind them in line, and then that person does the same. We can look for opportunities every day to pay it forward, and it’s as simple as giving a smile to a stranger or telling someone you like their shoes. Kindness breeds kindness. Kindness breeds love. Love breeds kindness. It’s a beautiful cycle. Let’s keep it going.


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