Pay it Forward

Helping others… it’s been around for quite some time – pretty much the entirety of time. Yet, why is it that when we see others in need of our help, we say that we don’t have time? How can we not have the time for a concept that has been around since the existence of time?

 The concept of helping others is instinctual – sure, there’s the ‘survival of the fittest’ in the wild, but there’s also numerous cases of animals helping each other to survive; think of a herd of elephants, they act in the best interest of the group…

About two weeks ago, a random stranger reached out to me on LinkedIn. No, this wasn’t someone just adding me to their network to reach that milestone number of connections – it’s LinkedIn, people, not Facebook. No, this was someone reaching out to a total stranger (me) to ask if I would be able to help them understand what my position entails. This person wanted to understand a career role as they planned to transition their current career.

Disclaimer: this may be the first time I’ve used LinkedIn for its actual purpose (kidding, of course… it’s my third time).

I got the first message from him late in October – again, I don’t know this guy from Adam – explaining why he was reaching out (considering career change) and asking me if he could ask a few questions about what I do. I could have been my selfish, smart-ass self from a few years ago and sent this guy a “Let me Google that for you” link; I could have ignored the message completely; I could have said “no” and given some lame excuse about not having the time to chat.

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on stress management and working to be a better all-around person. In contemplating my decision to respond, I thought about one of the books I’ve been reading and how much it talks about helping others. I also thought about my journey to where I am today and how much others helped me when I had questions. Additionally, I thought about how many times this guy heard all of those excuses or bullshit responses from others he may have reached out too. Being in sales my whole life, I know how that feels…

So, rather than telling this guy to piss-off, I respond telling him that it’s a tough week to find time, but I’m happy to make some in the upcoming few days. Unfortunately, I am terrible about responding to people on platforms I don’t use daily – please don’t take it personal, it’s just not top of mind! After dropping the ball in the coming day or two, I finally tell him to give me a call on my work phone and we link up to chat.

At first, I was skeptical. Is this a recruiter trying to fly under the radar and get some information out of me?

Nope – this was a genuine guy looking for some genuine guidance. We started off just getting to know each other’s background and interest to help guide our conversation. We talked for about 45 minutes about what a sales engineer does (in a broad sense) as well as interest and opportunities in the area for different career paths. I won’t get too far into the details on our conversation, but I couldn’t believe how grateful this guy was.

In our time on the phone, he must have said “thank you” and explained how helpful I had been about 10 times (at least). Meanwhile, I’m apologizing for rambling and think I’m doing a poor job of representing what I do. It didn’t matter – the biggest thing that seemed to matter at that time was that I, a total stranger to this guy, gave him the time of day. I answered a few questions, pointed him to a few resources and gave him some reading material; all in the span of about 45 minutes. I now have plans with said person to grab a beer and catch up to assist him in his career transition and job hunt, which I am stoked about!

What seemed like nothing to me (45 minutes of my ‘oh so valuable’ time) meant everything to this person. I think we miss out on that perspective all too often – what our actions mean to others. Lucky for me, this one was a positive impact.

Fast forward about an hour after I get home that same evening of my conversation with this guy from LinkedIn.

My doorbell rings. As usual, my two dogs go crazy – they have a vicious bark. I peer around the corner from my kitchen to see two figures back away from the door, seemingly startled by the dogs.

Now, if you know me, I am not known to talk with people that I don’t want to talk with – after all, I’ve already spoken with one stranger at length today (at least one who arguably wasn’t part of my job responsibilities); two would be excessive. I have a Ring Pro Doorbell, which allows me to communicate and see who’s at my door before I answer – I also have a security camera that I can check to see who is at the door prior to opening. I check neither of these and proceed to answer the door on the high from the positivity of my last conversation.

I answer the door and meet two gentlemen that have been going door to door pitching themselves and their cause to my neighbors. They explain that they are out there taking their ‘second chance’ to promote some ‘entertainment’ business that works with charities to provide magazines or something to the waiting areas. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure of what they do – and, I’m pretty sure they didn’t know what they were doing, other than trying to make a sale.

Just from my willingness to step outside had a visible effect on them – somewhat of a weight lifted off of their shoulders. In hindsight, maybe it was actually that I closed the door behind me with the dogs still inside.

Either way, I stepped out to a conversation that was going to not only cost me time, but probably some money (spoiler alert: it did), but I was okay with that.

The ‘lead’ gentleman introduced himself as a rep that is out trying to make his goal of however many ‘credits’ they need to get a commission – it seemed to work like a fundraiser that I used to do in school where you sold door-to-door for ‘credits’ that would turn into prizes; except that this was for a living wage – crazy. He then introduced his partner, whom he labeled his ‘mentee’. The mentee introduced himself and explained why he was out there with what seemed to be a half-genuine/half-made up story about his hardships and current status/motivators.

After they explain how this is their ‘second chance’, they ask me about myself: if I’ve ever experienced hardship, if I’ve ever lived in a low-income area, if I believe in second chances. I answer “yes” to all three of those, which seems to throw them off their game – I live in a rather nice neighborhood today (and I’m sure it was by no accident that they selectively canvassed our neighborhood), so I’m not sure how many of their target audience has answered “yes” to any of those questions, let alone all of them.

At this point, they kind of ditch their act – they realize I’m being open and honest with them, and that I’m giving them the time of my day to talk. They ask what I do and a little about what I did to get to where I am. Obviously, if you don’t already know, I’m a sales engineer and I was in sales prior to this role.

Once I mention sales anything, they start asking for some advice: what should we do to improve our pitch, what advice do you have for someone like us to get to where you are today and a few other questions.

My first criticism was a bit rough: “You should be clearer about what you’re out here for” – again, I still don’t know what their mission was. Next, we talked about how to succeed: “The biggest thing is to keep on your grind” – I explain how when I started in sales, it was 12-, maybe 13- or 14-hour days. We go further into talking about ways to better themselves and use their personalities to build rapport with others like they did with me. I’m sure they were coached up on all of this, but sometimes it’s good to break from the script.

We end up talking for about 15 minutes, at which point I level with them: “Alright, guys. I have $35 cash and no credit card that I can offer you.” Looking through their catalog, this doesn’t look to be enough for anything, but they assure me that I can help with one of the charities they work with. They hand me a list of the charities they work with, most of which are respectable and some that my family and I donate to fairly regularly and I select one, walk inside to grab my wallet and walk back out… “Well, fellas, turns out I was wrong – I only have $25 cash. Is that okay?”

Their smiles quickly fade.

To my surprise, the ‘lead’ salesmen looks at me and says: “You know what, that’s okay. You can give that to him”, pointing to his mentee. I’m blown away. I shake his hand, give them the money, collect my receipt and wish them luck with the rest of my neighborhood; respectfully asking them to bypass my neighbor’s house whom I know has a napping infant at that time of day.

So, twice in one day, no, one hour, I’ve helped and seen others help someone else before thinking of themselves (or myself). How awesome is that?! Not only did I  help someone else out, but, in the meantime, it made me feel great, too! The gratification of helping others is rewarding in itself and, to me, is more rewarding than doing something for myself.

All it took was a little time, respect and money – but time = money, so I guess it was just a little time and respect.

Just think about that for a moment – with a little decency and an hour of your time, you can have an impact on multiple lives. Whether your donating your time as a volunteer for a cause you support, or you answer that cold call you would normally ignore, or you, like me, change your initial reaction to random requests to connect online or in-person, YOU can make an impact.

Again, I leave you with a challenge, much like I did in my post about another person making an impact: Make an impact this week. Take 30 minutes to an hour of your time to listen to someone you don’t know, volunteer at a local non-profit, buy a homeless person a meal and sit with them. Just do something. As the title says: Pay it Forward! You’ll be surprised at how good it feels to help someone!

Remember, anything helps 🙂 !

 

 

 

 

Funny side note: A few days after the two interactions that I have laid out above, my doorbell rings again. This time, it’s Halloween, so I grab our bowl of candy and head to the door. Nope, not trick-or-treaters as there were just before. This time, it was two more grown men going door to door. I’m a little thrown off by this – they do know it’s Halloween, right?

Regardless, I walk outside and chat with the guys for a second – out comes the catalog and the ‘credits’ spiel. I go ahead and level with these guys upfront: “Sorry, guys, someone beat you to it.” They look a little confused by this, so I elaborate: “Another group of guys came through here a few days ago with the same thing.”

Now they get it. They quickly ask: “What were they selling, magazines?” I tell them yes and they go on to explain they aren’t selling magazines, but something ‘completely different’. I explain that I gave the last of my cash to the other guys and am not in any position to put anything on my credit cards.

With a bucket of candy in hand, I wish them luck and send them on their way, recommending that they choose a different night to canvas a neighborhood than Halloween. I offer them a piece of candy – the ‘lead’ guy in this case scoffs as if he’s too much of an adult for candy; the ‘mentee’ here looks at me and goes “Shoot, I’ll take some candy! Thanks!”

The end!

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