“My guest is Frank Sinatra.” The man nervously adjusted his chair, turned the microphone to Mr. Sinatra, and said, “Why are you here?”
Sinatra, who was notorious for not doing interviews, proceeded to tell the up-and-coming radio personality about a time he asked his buddy Jackie Gleason to cover a show for him because he had laryngitis. After Jackie did his stand-up routine and worked the crowd for an hour or so, Sinatra then walked him to his car and said, “I owe you one.”
Two years later, knowing what getting an interview with Sinatra could do for his friend Larry King’s budding radio career, Gleason called up Sinatra and said just four words — “This is the one!”
Gleason could have asked Sinatra for anything. A hand when he fell. Money. An introduction to a big shot entertainment executive. Instead, he called in a favor for someone who was deserving of a lift.
When I think about not only someone of character, but also what it takes to carve out a meaningful life, this story always comes to mind.
It’s easy to connect people who play at your level. It’s easy to call in favors for your own personal gain. It’s easy to play tit-for-tat.
As you advance though, if you aren’t doing what you can to lift up the people you see potential in, you’re missing out on adding serious meaning to your days.
Maybe you’re a seasoned entrepreneur and you’ve got a feeling about a young woman who could use a boost.
Maybe you’re a mid-level engineer and you have a strong impression of a kid you think could make some pretty cool things if given an opportunity.
Maybe you’re a veteran writer and you see a future in the words of a fresh new upstart.
You don’t have to pull these people immediately up onto the stage. But make an introduction for them. Think of them when you hear about an opportunity. Name drop the hell out of them in conversations when you’re talking about things that fit their lane.
When I think about my own life, it wasn’t always my friends and family who encouraged me to push through. I’m fortunate to have a few Jackie Gleason’s in my life — people who name-dropped me up the ladder. They went out of their way to proactively back me and their recommendations helped me walk through doors I’d never been able to open by myself. When I asked them how I could pay them back, they all said the same thing — “Pay it forward.” Asking myself who around me could use a boost has made work more meaningful. More fun.
People love to say opportunities are a dime a dozen. But they don’t always grow on trees for everyone. Nine times out of ten, Lady Luck shows her face in the form of recommendations from other people. So by all means, keep asking yourself how you can advance. Continue to push your boundaries and strive towards your goals. Just don’t get so caught up in your own race up the ladder you forget to give the people behind you a lift.
I was once told our lives aren’t measured by how much we gain, but rather how much we help. Take a minute and write out the names of the people who have given you a hand. Then think about how many people would write down your name when doing the same exercise.
If each list isn’t at least close to equal in length, it may be time for you to start thinking of who you can lift instead of worrying about how high you can climb.
This article first appeared on Medium.