Pieces of the Personal Effectiveness Puzzle, #12: Moving Forward Includes Giving Back

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 20, Issue No. 1b
May 15, 2021

By Dan Coughlin


When I was a kid I used to watch a tv series called, The Jeffersons. And one of the mantras of this family was, “Movin’ on up.” These three words were said with great enthusiasm, and it became a mantra for many people.

Work hard, stay focused, and move on up.

It meant make more money, buy a bigger home, have nicer cars, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. And then it included getting your kids through college and taking care of your aging parents. And it includes one more thing…

As you move forward in life it also includes giving back. No one makes it alone. Somewhere in your life someone helped you. A family member, a friend, a neighbor, a teacher, a moderator, a coach, a boss, a colleague. Somewhere someone helped you move forward. But the goal was never just for you to move forward. The goal included you giving back to help others.

How Can You Give Back?

The answer to how can you give back can come in a hundred different forms. Essentially, it means to temporarily let go of your forward movement and turn around and see who you can help and how you can help. It means to step away from your career and from your family and to look around. It means to give your money, but more importantly to give your time and talent and energy, to someone who will never be able to repay you.

Start with a personal inventory. What are you passionate about? What do you do better than anything else that you do? What is your purpose in life? What are your values?

Now write down a list of ways that you can help another person without any expectation of that person being able to pay you back. Then start contacting people to see if you can be of help in some way. And then if they offer to pay you, simply say, “No thank you. If you really insist on paying me, then please pay it forward. Give your time and talent and energy to help another person.”

This dual track of moving forward and giving back creates a continuous loop that will outlive your career and your life. It’s an essential part of being an effective individual.

Over the last 20 years my giving back has generally focused on three groups:

  • People under 17
  • People over 70
  • Young adults who wanted some career advice

For 18 years I’ve taught middle school students at my church 2-3 Sundays a month. Gosh, I have learned a ton from them, and I hope they have gained some value from me. I also coached youth sports for 8 years. So much fun! It was exciting watching boys and girls become men and women.

Over the past few years I have had the privilege to visit with people over 70 who are homebound. Those one-on-one conversations have enriched my life, and hopefully enriched theirs. In the past month I’ve sat with six people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. I’ve learned about what is was like to fight in a global war, build a roofing business from scratch, go on a spiritual journey that lasted 70 years, and so much more.

And every once in a while a younger person anywhere from 20-40 years old will ask me for advice on his or her career. It’s an honor to talk with someone else about something so important as his or her career aspirations. It makes me feel young again, and hopefully helps them on their journey.


Movin’ on up is an important part of life. It’s the fruition of your many years of focused hard work.

Giving back is a critically important part of living an effective life. It’s what enriches your life as you move up, and it allows you opportunities to enrich other people’s lives.

Moving forward without giving back can create a very, very lonely life. Giving back adds layers of meaning and purpose and fulfillment to your life.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at dan@thecoughlincompany.com with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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