“Pay it forward” – What We Are is Not Who We Are

September 18, 2019 | Jonathan Salmen, Focal Point Business Coaching Kentucky

Our current mood, our current health, our bank statements, our relationship status, the point we are at in our careers or undergraduate experience… they are just constantly updating strings of data. And they refresh like your social media, changing every minute and reorganizing themselves. But we know that who we are runs a little deeper than the most recent section of our yahoo, Twitter or Snapchat feed.

We exist ambiguously as many great philosophers have continually discovered. Existing between what we are and what we are not. What we have done, and where we want to go. So what force will pull you?

Time surely will, our passions, the people around us, and our environment too.

So why are many of us focused on staying put or moving backwards?

Maybe we have never determined our passion, our values, made clear goals, prioritized our time, or even came close to honestly evaluating our potential.

Often, we don’t see that the “pointless” work we are doing, the “useless” conversations we are having, and the “difficult” people in our lives– are all actually steps in the direction we need to go, not dead ends. And not only that, but the key steps of our lives

Through my mentor-ship, reading, education, and experience, I have found some things. Perhaps it is failing and not the feats that makes success, the hopelessness not the happiness that molds our fulfillment. That maybe it takes a lot of the wrong people to assure we end up spending our time with the right ones. So, I make this assumption: If I can learn all of that as a 21 year old, what do older generations have to offer? The answer, I have learned, is A LOT.

Everything we know we derived from people in our past, those that have lived our lives and had to overcome often more harsh circumstances than we did. Parents, teachers, coaches, friends. Their stories, advice, and actions they took. And none of it began with them, and it certainly doesn’t end with you or me.

How do we keep that ball rolling? Mentor-ship.

Simply, a way of paying back the wisdom you have gathered. But it isn’t just a payback for good karma, it is a long-term investment in another person or the people they can lead.

To mentor is to pay it forward.

The word “mentor” originated in the famous work of Homer’s Odyssey describing an adviser to a man headed to war. Less war in our daily lives, sure, yet life bears the same resemblance to battlefields back then. Our challenges are more internal and our wars are between us and ourselves. The weapons have changed, the battlefields have moved, yet the need for mentors stays constant through the years. We prepare each other for our own “wars”.

The modern wars may be a young person’s first break up, getting yelled at by a boss, failing a class at the university. Although these merely look like speed bumps to an older person, they are mountains to the young one. There is a lot of guidance needed and plenty to be offered and often these young people can bring some levity to harder struggles in return.


I find it relevant now, more than ever to pay it forward, because this newest generation is trying to reinvent the wheel and do it all themselves. “DIY-”, “I-”, “Me-” generation wants to flip the world on its head and tell it what for. Honestly at our level of education, opportunity and the speed of change in Western society, some could get very far. But most are currently finding themselves unprepared for these wars.

We are seeing the highest suicide rates, ages all the way as low as 7 years old looking to take their own life. And we can blame it on social media, we can blame it on parenting or education, we can even blame a god or the devil if we wish to. But there is a growing epidemic of hopelessness and I firmly believe a possible cure is mentor-ship.

Mentor-ship is two parts: someone who is lost AND someone who’s been there and made it out.

Sometimes, many times, we are both of these people in some way.

So, when this young generation are the ones asking for help, in this case many young people, students, junior level employees, interns. I believe it is the duty of those people with the tools of success to reach out and invest in these young people and help them. Help them simplify and maximize the success in their lives as they once learned to do. Of course, both must be willing to put the work in.

A mentor doesn’t allow you to give up or give in, but give more. And likewise, it is the men-tee’s job to be persistent and challenging, something this generation should not have a problem with.

I think of it like this: imagine you are at a buffet with all the food you can imagine.

What are you going to put on your plate?

Are we going to try everything?

Paralyze ourselves and get nothing?

Generation Z gets called apathetic (paralyzed by all the food options), idealistic (thinking they can eat it all), and entitled (as if they own the buffet). But to me that is just evidence of a learning curve. If how we are going to clear our plate is the #1 goal, for example, then a mentor simply helps you pick out what you actually need and holds you accountable to finishing it. Achievement drives more achievement and a good mentor often knows exactly where to start.

Let’s think of the amazing goals that this next generation has on the top of its list. Not too far off from a buffet, we have global warming, political reform, renewable energy, infrastructure, cyber security, education reform, deforestation, sustainability in agriculture. And there are not only the aspirations like these, but of less grandeur as well. Finding a nice job, a mate, a place to live, and a way to give back.

Organization and conventional wisdom could go a long way with generation Z. A mentor knows that the only way to get through the whole buffet is to take it easy one plate at a time.  Your impact on all these global issues, politics, and future progressions could start with the intern at your company, the freshman in your fraternity, your son or daughter at home.

Pay it forward and learn how you can get the most out of this hungry generation.