I got my first adult job in New York City because of the simple fact that some kind person agreed to give me thirty minutes of her time.
It was in my final year at Bowdoin College, and I had decided that advertising was the career of my future. Sadly, no agency wanted to talk with me, rejecting both my requests for an interview and my over-inflated resume, filled with power-verb descriptions of my “relevant experience” as a waiter, camp counselor and bookstore cashier. But Angela Chan—a Bowdoin graduate and media planner at Grey Advertising—said she’d meet with me to share whatever insight she could on the advertising industry and how to break into it. I connected to Angela through Bowdoin’s Alumni Network and requested an informational interview with her, which she graciously agreed-to. That informational interview led to another at Grey, with someone in Human Resources; and that interview led to still more and, eventually, a job offer.
I was so grateful to Angela for helping me get my foot in the door. When I thanked her again and again for not only meeting with me, but also suggesting to Grey’s HR department that they do the same, she humbly brushed it off. “Someone did the same thing for me when I was in your shoes,” she said. “It’s just good karma.” While I sometimes forget how hard it was to get that first job 23 years ago, I have never forgotten Angela’s support in helping me get it. She had nothing to gain by doing so except, according to her, the knowledge that she was doing something nice for someone else.
Paying it forward
As a now mature (relatively) professional, I try to honour the break I got from Angela by paying it forward. No matter how much I have on my plate, I try to meet with anyone who’s had the resourcefulness to search me out and the resolve to ask me for my time. To be honest, I sometimes view these requests with resistance, certain that the last thing my schedule can afford is 45 minutes taken out of it for a coffee. But I am always glad I did. Always. Not only do I get the chance to meet with someone who is most likely of like-mind, but more selfishly speaking, I get some joy in helping that person by sharing my insight on strategic storytelling, advice on the industry and, if appropriate, my connections. It makes me feel good, plain and simple.
I think that no matter how far we’ve come professionally, it’s important that we never forget where we started from and what it felt like to be back there. Few of us, if any, ever “make it” completely on our own. Someone (or some people) helped us along the way. Be grateful for that kindness, and show your gratitude by bestowing the same on someone who is just starting out on his or her journey. I sincerely believe that as you pay it forward you’ll get paid back tenfold. After all, it’s just good karma.