Life, Liberty, & Happiness

Send The Elevator Back Down


here is a phrase in the entrepreneurial world called “paying it forward”—the notion that each of us who have had some degree of success likely had individuals who gave us our break; who believed in us when we had not yet earned such trust; and from whom opportunities came that have helped create our success.

Our credo is simply this... when you get to the top of your ladder of success, help someone else (pay it forward).  In some circles, individuals say "when you get to the top floor, don't forget to send the elevator down for someone else."

One of the most important things to do in life, in my opinion, is to help someone else's dream become a reality. I believe it is a privilege and an obligation to support others in achieving their desired success. When someone is new to the field and just starting out, it can be daunting. There is usually so much to learn and understand that having someone to support and encourage us on our way is essential.

Success is a great experience and something that takes time, dedication and work. It also usually takes support from others. No one accomplishes much on his or her own. Even if all that means is we have people who believe in us and cheer us on, it takes a collaborate effort for each one of us to be successful. I've always tried to live by this credo - because I've never forgotten that if certain men and women had not given me a chance, this poor kid from a farm in Mississippi would not have had any shot at success.

I had an incident happen this week that disturbed me to the core.  I watched a man (who will remain nameless - that's not the point) who - with the help of many folks - has climbed the "ladder of success" and has clearly made it to the top.  Yet he simply walked away from an opportunity to pay it forward (and the ask of him was so minimal - simply making time to offer insight or advice). I pray I never become that person.  There is no greater gift we are given by the creator than having the opportunity to help someone else achieve their potential.

I love this quote from Kevin Spacey: "I believe if you have been successful at what you dreamed of doing with your life, then it is your obligation to spend a good portion of your time sending the elevator back down. That was a phrase that Jack Lemmon used to say to me all the time and is something that I have now adopted as my own…All of us can send the elevator back down because it doesn't matter what floor you're on; in life there is always someone below, just waiting for the chance to be invited up. Our job is to make sure the floors we live on are not so high we no longer hear the voices of young people crying out for opportunity and experience that will help shape a better future."

At every opportunity, send the elevator back down. This can be done in many ways. Provide informational interviews. Mentor a new member of the organization. Spend time at a local high school sharing what it takes to be successful. Be a startup's first customer.  Buy a paper from "The Contributor" vendor at the corner. When we help someone reach her or his goals and dreams, we make a world of difference.  It's great to have success - but before you "clock out," make sure you send the elevator back down -- the newest arrivals will appreciate it and you'll leave the world better than you found it.

About Dr. Michael Burcham

Michael is an executive coach, entrepreneur, investor, and strategist with 30 years of experience leading investor-backed, high-growth organizations.

“I built and sold a $40M company with Dr. Burcham as my mentor. This is the thing: if you EVER get the opportunity to learn from this man, from that moment forward, you’ll list him as one of the most influential people in your life, even if you live to be 90. And, you’ll know how lucky you were to have that opportunity and you’ll immediately say YES to any chance to be in his presence again—his wisdom is that impactful.”

Sherry Stewart Deutschmann

Former CEO, Letter Logic

“If you are looking for a trusted mentor and coach for yourself or your leadership team, I highly recommend Michael Burcham. He has worked with me as my executive coach for well over a decade now. Our conversations and his feedback have helped me sharpen my critical thinking skills. He’s a trusted advisor that I can confidentially speak with about any issue—and I know I’ll get valued feedback. I highly recommend him.”

Ryan McGrath

CEO, Asset Living

“Dr. Burcham’s depth and breadth of experience makes even the most ADD entrepreneurial leader sit up and take notes! His coaching skills bring out the ‘best you’ possible. He selflessly shares the good, the bad, and the ugly—leaving you with an authentic and moving experience sure to spur action and professional growth!”

Julie Lenzer

Director, U.S. Department of Commerce


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