One of my morning e-mails from a couple of weeks ago made me really think about the “Pay It Forward” philosophy I’ve practiced for the last twenty-five or so years. I struggled all day with how to reply and below is the e-mail I sent to the originator (names changed to protect the innocent) the next day. Two weeks later, I am still thinking about it, so I told the original author I was going to write about it in my blog and he is OK with me sharing my response, because we both want to know others think. When is the Pay It Forward philosophy applicable?

Dear John,

It’s been almost two years since the last time we connected so it was good to get your e-mail with your latest news yesterday. Glad to hear the family is doing well and sorry to hear you may be looking for a job soon. In this crazy economy, that’s a tough spot to be in, and I appreciate you asking me to connect you to Mike. I will be happy to do it, and will do it in a separate e-mail later today. Now, normally I would have done it without even a second thought, but I did struggle with your request and I wanted you to know about it. Why you ask? Well, let me explain.
Even though we’ve known each other for years, we are mainly good business acquaintances, rather than close personal friends. But we have worked on a couple of things together, we know about each others’ families, and we have a bit more than just a casual business connection, so I was not surprised you asked for my help. I also know you to be a competent executive, so I understand you feeling positive I would sponsor you (because that is what a personal reference to fellow executives in my network would be). So the struggle was neither familiarity nor competency.
Here is the thing that made me think hard and over-night before making the introduction.
Last year when I was helping Mary look for a job through connections in my network, over the course of a month I e-mailed you twice and called you three times about making some introductions for her. Neither I, nor Mary, heard back from you; Not even a polite “Sorry I can’t help”, which would have been enough by the way.
So here we are today, a year later, because you know your job is in jeopardy (and yes I know it’s through no fault of your own), you want me to introduce you to Mike. Mike is a good friend, well connected in your industry, and I am sure will help you based on my recommendation. Ironically, Mike is also the guy who, despite the fact he runs a multimillion dollar company, last year, based on my recommendation, introduced Mary to a couple of companies in his portfolio and one of them actually hired her. I am sure between my network and his, we will connect you to the right people and help you find your new job.

But I think if I only help you without sending you this e-mail, I will miss the opportunity to remind you of one of the three rules I believe are important in our life and give you a fish, rather than teaching you to fish. You heard them many times when we worked together, but here they are again, “The Rules”:

Be good at what you do.
Do the right thing.
Help others.

John, I watched, and helped you progress through your career because you follow the first two rules. Now I want to make sure, as you continue to go on to bigger and better things, you don’t forget the last one. This job situation is just a temporary set-back and won’t matter in the long run. Trust me on this one! You see, we all have our ups and downs in our careers and I doubt you will be the exception. I hope what will matter in the long run, and this experience, is that you will remember this e-mail about the third rule.
Help others (even when it’s not convenient).
Or, as the sign in one of my mentor’s office says “Careful who’s head you step on on the way up, because you may need their shoulders on the way down.”

My friend, I hope you read this for what is intended, sharing some wisdom gathered over many years, receive it in good spirit and remember it. I also hope the introductions Mike and I make for you pay off sooner rather than later and you land in a new position that gives you a new platform to shine on.

As always, available to help,

Chuck P.