Pay it Forward

One of the concepts I love to share with leaders is the idea that great leaders pay it forward. Often times as leaders, we become so focused on what we need to do that we fail to see the needs of those around us. As leaders it is critical that we are able to see beyond ourselves.

Last week I made a very big change in my life. I decided to resign from college coaching to pursue a career in leadership development. The decision was difficult, painful, tiring and a surprise to many people. Last Friday I was feeling the weight of my decision. I decided the best thing to do was to eat and drink away the pain at my favorite fast food restaurant.

I don’t eat fast food often, but when I do I know where to go. I am sucker for a good chicken sandwich, waffle fries and sweet tea. I am not sure if anyone has ever entered rehab for sweet tea, but consider this my cry for help! One glass of that liquid goodness and the world feels like a better place to me.

I sat down and began to enjoy my lunch. I had a table for two to myself tucked away in the back corner. The truth is I really didn’t want to be seen, I didn’t want to answer questions or explain the logic behind my decision. I didn’t want to talk about the timing of my resignation or who the next coach might be. I just wanted to eat my food, drink my tea and try to find myself again.

Soon after I sat down a mom and her twin daughters, who were about two years old, took the table next to me.  A minute later a young man brought their drinks and the mom asked, “Where are your straws?” The young man explained that they were at the condiment station and he pointed in the direction where she could find them. The mom took a deep breath and said, “ok.” She then took another deep breathe and said to her daughters, “ok, come on girls” as she tried to get them both out of their seats to go get the straws. She took a second deep breathe not because it was a long walk, it was about 20 yards, but in that space there was also a line of about 50 people. Walking through that space with twins who were just learning to walk themselves would be a challenge for anyone.

I stopped her, got out of my seat and said, “ma’am, let me get that for you, you have your hands full.” For a moment she just stared at me, I could tell she was thinking, ‘do I try to get my hungry twin two year-old daughters through a crowd of 5o people or do I let a stranger help me.’ She decided to let me help and I was off to get straws, ketchup and surplus of napkins.

When I returned to her table she all but had tears in her eyes as she said, “Thank you, you have no idea what you just did.” But the truth is I do know what I did. I know what it feels like to be overwhelmed, to need a helping hand and to be unsure of how to navigate the path in front of you. I know because I was feeling that way myself.

She let me pay it forward and in the process I found a piece of myself again. As strange as it may seem, when we see beyond ourselves we are often able to find ourselves in the process.

The next time a stranger shows up in your life to pay it forward consider saying yes, they just might need to be a part of the journey as much as you do. Pay it forward.