January 21, 2010

When Was the Last Time You Paid it Forward?

"I would like to start with something I have used in almost every speech, and this is, "paying forward." And that is the thing that you folks can do with your great education for the rest of your life.

Try to take that attitude toward life, that you're going to pay forward. So seldom can we pay back because those who helped most--your parents and other people--will be gone, but you'll find that you do want to pay. Emerson had something to say about that: "You can pay back only seldom." But he said, "You can always pay forward, and you must pay line for line, deed for deed, and cent for cent." He said, "Beware of too much good accumulating in your palm or it will fast corrupt." That was Emerson's attitude, and no one put it better than he did.

~ Excerpt from Woody Hayes' Commencement Speech at The Ohio State University,
March 14, 1986.

(To read the full speech, click here)

With the recent tragedy in Haiti still fresh in our minds, I want to ask you a simple question. When was the last time you "paid it forward"? It might have been a donation to a school fundraiser, assisting at a charity function or maybe taking in the mail for your vacationing neighbor. Perhaps it was covering for a co-worker who had a sick child at home or covering the tab of the person in front of you in line at lunch who left their wallet at home that day?

Regardless of when it was I am sure it touched you and the person who was receiving your "payment."

In a career like real estate, we work hard to bring our clients to the closing table because that is the way we keep score in this industry. Most businesses in the world are run based on profit...and that's okay. It's nothing to be ashamed of. But I also think that people want to have more of an impact on their world around them beyond the size of their bank accounts.

Clay Walker recorded a song that speaks of paying it forward. It was called Chain of Love and the chorus went like this...

"You don't owe me a thing; I've been there to
And someone once helped me out
Just the way I'm helping you
If you really want to pay me back, here's what you do
Don't let the chain of love end with you."

It's kind of amazing how far these "chains" can stretch, isn't it? I am a big fan of author, blogger and marketing guru extraordinaire, Seth Godin. I have enjoyed his books and his blogs and pretty much anything he puts out for public consumption. He doesn't tell you how to think, he just wants to get you to think.

A while back Seth blogged about one of his friends who had written a book about her journey to Africa to help bring financial education and support to women entrepreneurs throughout that continent. The book was called The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

who went on to start the Acumen Fund. The Acumen Fund "is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. We seek to prove that small amounts of philanthropic capital, combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of the poor. Our investments focus on delivering affordable, critical goods and services – like health, water, housing and energy – through innovative, market-oriented approaches."

(Preview the first few pages of the book)

Seth promoted the book on his blog and encouraged his readers to purchase the book, read the book, blog about the book and then perhaps even pass the book along to someone else. A portion of the price of the book was donated to The Acumen Fund.

I purchased the book, read the book and am now finally blogging about the book (sort of). I was finally able to pass the book along when one day, while sitting in church listening to the sermon delivered by a guest of our parish priest. Her name was Sister Pat Pieper, SND.

Sister Pat spoke about her missions and those of her organization, the Sisters of Notre Dame - an international congregation of Catholic women religious, committed, faith-filled, and joyful...witnessing to God’s loving care and goodness in our lives.

I listened to Sister Pat's story that day and thought about the similar challenges that were described by Novogratz in the same under-developed regions of Africa in her journey of The Blue Sweater.

After mass had ended, I drove home, grabbed the book off my shelf and returned to the church to catch Sister Pat before she left the sanctuary. I introduced myself, gave her the book, encouraged her to read it and then pass it on when she was done.

"You don't owe me a thing; I've been there to
And someone once helped me out
Just the way I'm helping you
If you really want to pay me back, here's what you do
Don't let the chain of love end with you."

Today I received an unexpected email from Sister Pat. This is what it said:

Good Morning, Sean,

Perhaps you don't remember me but I gave the mission talk at St. Andrew's last year and you gifted me with the wonderful book, "The Blue Sweater". I just wanted to thank you again. Not only did I enjoy it and was challenged by it but I passed it on to several friends, the last of which was a young girl, a graduate of Watterson last year who is now in South Africa on a six month mission experience.

I expect she will pass it on also. Thank you again for your thoughtfulness and generosity and I wish you and your family peace and joy in 2010 as we all join in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Haiti and the many intentions in our own country.

Gratefully, Sr. Pat Pieper,SND.

I'm not sure where the book will go next, but just like that "blue sweater" in the book, maybe we'll all be surprised how our lives intertwine.

I ask you again - "When was the last time you paid it forward?"

Maybe today is a great day for that.

Until next time, build relationships...solve problems...and have fun!