Always Pay It Forward

From the classroom to the board room, we all have people who have helped put us in the position that we are in today.

The lesson about how I learned to always pay it forward in my career goes back a half century. Like most good things that my career has produced, I have other people to thank for this lesson. It is a story of harmony and friendship that breaks through racial and socioeconomic barriers, and captures the true essence of what it means to help each other out.

In the early 1970s my mother was a first-year second grade schoolteacher on the south side of Mount Vernon, NY. The city was racially divided at that time, with the majority of the north side being working-class Irish and Italian families, and the south side being predominantly black and Hispanic families. There was my mother, in her early twenties, the daughter of Italian immigrants, choosing to get her career kickstarted on the south side of Mount Vernon as one of the only white teachers in a school whose students and teachers were over 90 percent black and Hispanic. That took a great deal of courage and self-confidence during this era.

In her class was a young black student named Dawn Short. Dawn immediately took a liking to my mother and looked up to her as a role model. Dawn continued to visit my mother as she went through elementary school. The two stayed in touch for many years. Dawn would approach my mother for advice and conversation, and my mother and her developed a close bond that would last for years to come.

Classroom Desks

Even though my mother never told me this, I’m convinced that Dawn helped her get adjusted to life as a teacher just as much as my mother helped Dawn develop into a confident and intelligent young woman. That is a beautiful lesson in itself.

Years later, Dawn would go on to achieve great things in her career. Eventually she rose to become one of the most powerful human resource executives at Sony BMG, and one of the most successful female executives of a Fortune 500 company.

Fast forward to 2005. Yours truly had just graduated from college and was in desperate need of a job. I searched far and wide, but couldn’t get an offer anywhere. I went on job interview after job interview only to keep receiving template style rejection letters in the mail and in my email inbox.

After much lamenting to my mother, she decided to put in a call into Dawn. It didn’t take much convincing at all. Being the selfless person that she is, Dawn arranged for me to interview with the marketing department at Sony BMG. Soon after, I received an offer which I gladly accepted. This became my first full-time job and marked the beginning of my career in marketing services. A year later, I parlayed the Sony BMG job into an agency job, and then a few years later I started my own business.

I have Dawn to thank for helping me get my start in business. She used to call me her little brother and she would look over me as if she were a big sister, which I desperately needed when I was working at Sony BMG, as I had just lost my older sister a year earlier. I’ll never forget the many late night calls I would get from Dawn to check on me and see how I was doing, or all the times she would swing by with a smile and put her arm around me when I needed one.

Matt Rizzetta Mentorship PanelN6A CEO Matt Rizzetta (middle) on a mentorship panel for high school students to "pay it forward."

This is really a lesson in harmony and the importance of always paying it forward. My mother helped Dawn by serving as a maternal presence for her during her formative years, and Dawn paid it forward by helping me get my career started decades later. I’ve always tried to remember this lesson and pay it forward myself whenever I’ve encountered a young person in their career who is in need of a favor.

We all have people in our careers who have paid it forward to us and have put us in the position that we are in today.

Thank you Dawn, for being someone who paid it forward to me. You gave me my start in business, and really are a big sister to me.

Embrace the Pace: The 100 Most Exhilarating Lessons Learned in a Decade of Entrepreneurship, from N6A CEO Matt Rizzetta, is available for pre-order before its official release on March 14, 2020.

Posted by Matt Rizzetta