To Move Forward, We Must Give Back

There are times--in life, in business, even in love and our closest personal relationships--when we feel stuck. When where we are feels outgrown and where we want to be feels out of reach. We have all been there. It is a natural part of personal growth, a critical foundation to respecting and appreciating the successes we go on to achieve.

But how do we push through? In my experience, the answer is so counterintuitive that many of us instinctively do exactly the opposite--getting ourselves even more stuck than when we started.

We succumb to a fearful and aggressive competitiveness, pitting ourselves against everyone and everything around us. We feel threatened or scared and we start throwing elbows. It's us against them, us against the world--as if your dreams, goals and hopes are so finite and limited that if anyone else achieves them, there will be none for us.

But this is not the nature of success. And it is certainly not the best way to get "un-stuck" and move toward where we want to go.

None of us would be where we are today without the encouragement and generosity of at least one (and probably several) people. From the sacrifices of our parents; to the support of spouses and partners; to the generosity of teachers, managers and colleagues, we are almost certainly here because somebody took the time and made the effort to help, inspire or push us--and often all three.

If we stop and reflect, we all have someone who gave generously to us, who shared their wisdom through some act of mentorship. Think of that person. Now, imagine where you would be today if you had not had the good fortune to cross his or her path.

And then consider this: That could be you.

You could be the person who makes that kind of impact on someone's life and career. In a few years or decades, there could be people who shudder to imagine where they would be if you had not taken the time to connect with them.

It's a powerful thought.

But for me, what is most amazing about taking the time to help others is how much you receive in return. Sure, it's rather cliché. But I've found it to be true whenever I make myself of service--particularly professionally.

First, because there is no more effective way to affirm and strengthen your skills than to teach them to someone else.

And second, because the act of mentoring brings to light the powerful value of putting other people first. It sends a strong message, to those around you but really to yourself, that what matters most is giving generously of ourselves. Because when we do, we strengthen all the relationships in our lives and create an atmosphere of collaboration and plenty--rather than one of competition and lack.

Yes, I recognize that is all very cosmic and Kumbaya.

But the fact is, I learned this lesson not from starry-eyed, crunchy utopians (and there are plenty of those in my life, thank goodness!) but from the tough and brilliant leaders of some of the biggest brands and businesses in the world. As busy as they were, they always made time for others.

Why? Because they understood that giving back was necessary to move forward.

At this point, your head is probably filling with all the excuses we make to justify not mentoring someone.

Yes, of course, you are too busy, your calendar is too filled, and your days are too hectic--as much as you'd like to make yourself available, it's really beyond your control. But honestly, if simple scheduling of a small amount of time each day or week is beyond your ability, how will you ever seize the greater opportunities that often present themselves so suddenly?

The fact is, when you make a commitment to helping others, you will be amazed at how many ways there are to do it--and how much easier it is than you imagined. Like with most new goals, the best place to start is right where you are--and where you spend a good portion of each day. Reach out to the people you work with and near.

For some, that is nerve-wracking. Perhaps you think you don't have anything to offer, or that nobody would be interested. I can assure you that is not the case.

No matter who we are or what we do, we can all benefit from a friend or colleague's expertise and insights. And just outside our professional and social circles, there is a whole world of incredibly talented people struggling for an opportunity or a break who just need someone willing to help.

I have great news. That someone is you. And the moment you recognize that, you take the first step closer to where you really want to go.