The wonder of paying it forward…


…and a story about my son and I raking a neighbor’s yard.

This past weekend I dragged my son out to rake some leaves. Of course he complained and gave me every reason why he shouldn’t have to rake leaves, including having to play Madden 2015 online against his friends.

I told him he’d lose his Xbox if he didn’t rake leaves with me, and he told me I couldn’t do that. It was against the law because he bought it with his own money. I told him he could buy all his meals from now on.

Then he told me that I’d have to pay him ten bucks to rake our leaves. “Ten bucks,” I said. “Seriously?” He said he was serious. I proceeded to tell him that in my day I raked leaves for free.

He retorted that we weren’t living in “your prehistoric days” and that he is a Capitalist out to make some money. Where did he learn about Capitalism, I wondered.

When we walked outside our front door and headed to the left, he asked me where we were going. To Pete’s I told him. I heard his jaw drop. “Why are we raking Pete’s leaves,” he whined.

“Because it’s the right thing to do.”

“Will I get paid?” he asked.

Pete’s yard is the size of half a football field and every inch of it is covered with leaves. When I looked at my son, I thought he was about to cry. Hell, I was about to cry. But I told myself that it was the right thing to do, and I repeated this to my son when I saw him just standing there in disbelief.

He and I both grabbed a rake. I gave him the good one because his whining made me want to kick him in the ass, and I told him I would kick him in the ass if he didn’t start raking. I’ve never touched a hair on his body, but my threat got him going.

At first he started raking the leaves like he was swatting at flies. You know, passive aggressive. I knew his game, though. I told him to do it right. He told me this is how he rakes and that he wouldn’t talk to me.

Nearly an hour went by in silence as we raked at least 10 large piles of leaves. This would easily fill 30 bags. I decided to give my son a break and have him start bagging. But as he began bagging, I heard the familiar sighs coming from him.

“Hey, Bubs,” I said.

“What?” he replied, refusing to look at me.

“Do you know why we’re doing this?”

“You said it’s ‘the right thing,'” he mimicked.

“Have you ever read a book called, Pay It Forward? Actually there’s a movie about the book that we could watch.” This got his attention. “You see, the main character’s a boy who has to do a school assignment on saving the world. So he decides to help three people, with the condition that the three people each help three people, and so on and so on. Eventually people are helping each other across the world.”

“That’s pretty cool,” my son says, stopping to listen.

“You know Pete can’t rake and bag all these leaves himself. He’s kinda too old for it.”


“So if we do this for him, it’s like paying it forward.”

“But what will he do for us?” my son asked.

“That’s not the point,” I replied. “The point is that what we do for him will eventually come around to us. Pete doesn’t have to repay us. Do you see what I mean?”


“Does it feel good helping Pete?”

“Yeah, it does,” he admitted…and smiled.

We raked and bagged leaves for another hour, and even after that there were a dump truck worth of leaves. I decided that it was good enough when my bleeding blister started stinging. I knew my son wanted to get back to Madden 2015. So we called it a day.

What does this mean for jobseekers?

In the mind of a jobseeker, finding work is the priority. So to think of helping others before helping himself may seem counterintuitive. It’s not, though. Social psychologist say that helping others makes people feel better; it gives them a sense of achievement.

People who understand the true nature of networking are always asking, “What can I do for you?” Not, “What can you do for me?” One of my most valued connections always ends our conversations with, “What can I do for you, Bob?” As he’s out of work, I think to myself, I should be asking him how I can help.

Another great example of a jobseeker helping others is a customer of mine who facilitates a networking group in the area. This is no light task, as he must recruit guest speakers, run the discussions, and create the agenda. What’s his reward for doing this? He is helping people like himself search for work, which gives him a sense of achievement.

When I was out of work, I was responsible for helping two people find jobs. One of them was my neighbor, the other a family friend. I remember alerting my neighbor of a position in our city’s DPW. My wife put in a good word for him. He landed the job easily.

Those who help others understand the concept of paying it forward. It is not a new concept, as I explained to my son, but it does work. It creates great karma, I tell my workshop attendees. Paying it forward epitomizes networking.

I asked the attendees of one of our networking groups to write down one example of how they recently helped someone. The attendees were so involved in this exercise that they wanted to write about more than one time they helped another person. Many of them said the exercise made them feel happy.

Volunteer to help the more needy, such as a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, if you have the time during the holiday season. While your lending a hand, talk about your unemployment status with other volunteers. (You never know where your next lead may come from.)

If you’re looking for a job, find a way to help someone in need this holiday season. It may not directly lead to a job, but it will make you feel better. Most likely the good deed you do for others will come around, just as I explained to my son the day we were raking leaves.

Back to my son and I raking Pete’s leaves

Later that day I found an envelope in our mailbox. In it was a $20 bill meant for my son and me. I could have given my son the $20 for the hard work he’d done, but instead I returned it to Peter, who tried to refuse the money. His protest were met with my simply walking away, with him holding the money in his hand and me smiling as I mounted my stairs.

Photo: Flickr, Graham

2 thoughts on “The wonder of paying it forward…

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