“Paying it forward” is one of those feel good buzz phrases, which has been hijacked and commercialised by some large corporations — Starbucks for one with their backing of the “suspended coffee scheme.” The same has happened with the whole industry that used to be individual random acts of kindness, which spawned a book and several reality television shows.

Do not let this taint your view of the people who “pay it forward” every day in small and large ways.

In retrospect, I was brought up, paying it forward. Each advent we would clear out clothes that were too small and toys we had grown out of, which would then be washed and pressed or cleaned in the case of toys and then gifted to local children’s homes so the less fortunate than ourselves would at least have something for Christmas.

This was way before Bob Geldof and crew tried to solve the hunger problems in Africa with “Do they know it’s Christmas.” We also benefitted from hand me downs from older relatives; we would eagerly await our twice-yearly parcels of goodies from other families — usually because their parents were a little more modern than ours and we might get something that was not too out of fashion. There was no shame in second hand clothes in those days and, contrary to most assumptions, we were not from a poor household, just a careful one that did not waste anything.

Fast forward to today — or recent years: my daughter spent six years at University steadfastly refusing to use a credit card — much to her own credit. She was assisted once or twice a month by a good friend of mine, now a Consultant, who would take her on a supermarket run, followed by dinner in return for a lift in my daughter’s boyfriend’s car and help up the stairs with the shopping at his digs at the hospital. I was very grateful that she had this local lifeline and I was always very grateful for all he did for her and thanked him at every opportunity.

His reply was that he was paying forward and went on to explain that when he was a hard up medical student he had an older friend who would do the same for him. When he was thanked his reply was that — “I am only paying it forward, like I know you will in time. I know how difficult it can be to survive as a student, I was helped when I was a student, I am now paying forward to you — and I know you in turn will pay forward when you are able. “

I know my daughter was not the only recipient of his kindness.

Here in Portugal, each café — instead of the “suspended coffee” scheme — has an “adopt a vulnerable person scheme.” If you look carefully, you will see at the end of each meal sitting a couple of people arriving who get bread, a bowl of whatever surplus is available and a coffee. The never ask for the menu, they are served immediately and if they are very lucky they get a shot of the local liquor to wash it all down.

A lot of my paying forward tends to be in the family — or extended family. When I left England, all of my white goods — fridges, freezers, washing machines, etc — all went to good homes. Some of my more useable, but unwanted, furniture went to Freecycle and a lot of books and videos and clothes went to car boot sales for a specific Charity.

I would love to hear how others pay forward — perhaps in ways I have not thought of — so please let me know how you pay forward.


  1. Quite a lovely piece, Nicola, thank you!

    I appreciate your examples. I try to pay it forward, in one public way, with this blog. As a young writer, I was mentored and provided many opportunities for achievement and success. Now it’s my turn to help new authors find their voice, and give them international exposure, and help them get established in the right way.

    To do that, though, you cannot profit from the volunteer work of others. That’s why everything I write and publish on this blog, and all the other blogs, is free. No advertising. Nobody pays for access or for exposure.

    I think that’s the only proper way to pay it back. If I were doing this, and collecting advert fees against volunteer writing, it wouldn’t be proper. If I were taking adverts, and paying the authors, then that’s a job — no forwarding notion fits that monetary scheming.

  2. You make an important point there about the difference between paying forward and paying work. I think it highlights one of the other notions about paying forward – you do not keep count. There is never a running tally in the background. Also you give what you can give – be it a platform such as this blog – which in itself is priceless; or you give of your time or your skills, which may just be “making things happen”.

    I will also take the chance to say how much I have and I do appreciate your help, mentorship and friendship over the years.

    1. Hello Love!

      Yes, I think “Paying it Forward” requires no benefit for the one doing the paying — because then the whole dyad changes to something unseemly. If everyone knows upfront “there’s money to be made somewhere” then suspicion and mistrust ensue.

      Mentoring, I think, has been the traditional way to Pay It Forward — but somehow that changed into “internships” where the interns are basically slave labor, working for free, while everyone around them are getting paid and making hay on their sweaty backs.

      The Mentor model, on some level, requires the idea that the Mentor would one day be “replaced” in some real, esoteric, tangential, or virtual, way by the Mentee. You were “training your replacement” and making sure they were up to the task or your legacy was at risk.

      Internships, in many places, are now just disposable labor done only for the resume chits.

  3. Yes – In giving forward you give what you can of yourself. Money totally changes the dyad.

    Mentoring is an interesting issue for me – I have come across it in two ways outside the norm. One in the ex criminal community – borderline gangland – when “troubled” and or “vulnerable” teenagers are given a mentor to act as a life coach for those troublesome teenager years to stand by them when they say “NO” and to help them develop the life skills to escape their backgrounds.

    The second was in the BDSM community where I worked for over ten years. Those new to the community /scene would often be offered so called mentorship by predators. Strictly speaking a mentor in that community is there to be a guide for the “newbie” , to keep themselves safe and of course to develop the life skills an psychological skills to deal with new relationship dynamics. Most old school mentors still believe that physical intimacy between the mentor and the mentee should not take place – yes there should be lessons and education and knowledge sharing but not sexual intimacy. That way one Mentor can guide more than one person at a time. The new wave will however neglect that and many people et hurt in that process.

    Internships under that name are not so common in the UK – they exist in some professions – the Law and medicine for certain – outside of that there exist apprenticeship schemes lasting about five years which offer training in the “crafts” such as carpentry, electrical work, some building trades and engineering and shipbuilding.

    1. I appreciate your mentor examples. Your warnings are keen and important.

      Internships were, traditionally in the USA, supposed to lead directly into a job. Today, they’ve malformed into something like temporary “taste tests” for students to help them figure out what they want to do with their lives. It’s sort an odd thing because the interns now arrive without expectation or loyalty — which makes them immediately expendable and non-vested.

  4. Your internships sound more like the UK “Work experience” or what the French and Portuguese call a “stage” . Those in the UK are on minimum wages – not sure about the “stages” will make enquiries.

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