Paying It Forward: Our Responsibility To The Future

Exponential results occur when you pay it forward.

Exponential results occur when you pay it forward.

I came across a magnificent story a few weeks back in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It was a story about a “one man redevelopment machine”, an older gentleman who fell in love with the beat up town of Foxburg in Clarion County, Pennsylvania.
Where others saw blight, Dr. Arthur Steffee saw beauty. So he put his money and his convictions where his heart was, buying up old buildings and opening businesses such as a winery, a pizza shop and other retail stores.
At age 83, chances are Dr. Steffee won’t be around to enjoy a return on his investment. At least in the conventional sense. But in the more important measures–heart, soul, satisfaction and love–he most surely will.
Dr. Steffee embodies the mindset of a steward–the type of leader who understands that his or her role is to leave a place better off than when you find it. It’s a simple concept really. But it requires selflessness, vision, fortitude, patience and a long term view of leadership too often lacking in our society.
“We will never get out of it what we put into it,” he said. “The point is to leave something behind.”
Yes it is. That’s the whole point.
Over the holiday break we went to see the movie “Brooklyn” which chronicles the experience of a young Irish immigrant who leaves her home and her family for a new life in America.
The film is achingly beautiful. You literally find yourself tearing up for most of its two hour running time. Not because the film is especially sad, but because it rings so true and it captures the homesickness, sacrifice and strength of our immigrant relatives who risked it all so that we–future generations –could enjoy the opportunities of America.
I thought of my own grandparents who came from Russia, Poland and Latvia not speaking English or having any marketable skills other than a tremendous work ethic, unfathomable strength and a desire for their children and grandchildren to be here in the land of opportunity.
My wife’s mother came from a tiny village in Italy as a teenager leaving behind all that she knew for a taste of America.
In my family, within one generation, we experienced a fair amount of success. My father, a first generation American went to an Ivy League college and enjoyed a long and successful career as a pharmacist and businessman.
My wife’s mom became a widow at a young age and raised five children all of whom have experienced success in this country.
Stewards and our immigrant parents and grandparents believe our lives should be about about creating opportunity–to leave something behind as the good doctor in Foxburg, PA., says.
It’s not all about us, our pet peeves, personal drive times, annoyances and tastes. Sure, we can’t ignore the present but we need to focus our present on creating opportunities for others in the future.
That’s our jobs. If we do so, history will treat us kindly and reward those who will benefit from our vision, sacrifices and hard work.
If we ignore the future, it will surely bite us and our children.
“We will never get out of it what we put into it”, said the doctor. Maybe, but in many ways we will. The point is to leave something behind.

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