The Art Of Paying It Forward Without Spending A Dime

We’ve all been there before, caught up in the routine-of-things with little thought for what life has to offer outside of “the daily grind.” Rarely, do we take time to think about the others before us who “paid it forward” in one way or another, granting opportunities that would have otherwise never presented themselves.

When we pay it forward, we commit and act of selflessness that transcends our connection to other humans on the planet, elevating the human experience in a positive way. Whether it’s an act of kindness, faith, or even compassion, it all makes a difference and can potentially set off a chain reaction of reciprocated behavior.

Just imagine a world where a simple gesture could snowball into a global movement; wouldn’t that be something to witness?

Life presents many opportunities to pay it forward, often when you least expect it. But you don’t always have to wait for someone else to initiate a good deed. The truth is, you can be the catalyst to set things in motion, with any person you interact with.

Here are 10 fulfilling ways to pay it forward without spending a dime:

1. Substitute reimbursement with a request to “pay it forward”

You’ve just helped a fellow driver install a spare tire on the side of the road. He/she kindly offers a twenty dollar bill for your time and efforts. The temptation for “cold cash” may be strong, but chances are good you didn’t pull over to make a quick buck. Instead, ask the driver to return the favor for someone else who experiences a similar situation, in the future.

2. Offer mentorship

Regardless of age, profession, or relationship, everyone can benefit from a mentor in some aspect of their life. But finding one can be tricky. Sharing your time, knowledge, and experiences with others following in your footsteps, creates a feedback loop for personal development that strengthens the human experience. As the saying goes, “Be the mentor you wish you had.”  

3. Call a friend, family member, or acquaintance to see how they are doing, and listen

Life is busy. We get it. But everyone can make time for family and friends, right? The funny thing about life, it has a way of coming between you and the people you most want to spend your time with. Again, you’re not alone.

Those who most love you likely thought about you at least once, this very day. So why not give them a call and ask how they are? A simple gesture, it affirms that they are in fact important and top-of-mind, even during life’s busiest moments. Be an ear to talk to; pay it forward without speaking more than a few words.

4. Write positive reviews for small business that you support

These days, reviews are everything. They can make or break even the most successful business. Just look at social media’s impact on the boom of new products and services; it’s all about how many people “like” your business. When you have a stellar experience at a store or service provider, let others know how good it felt while also helping the business serve more people, and do good work in the process.

5. Offer your seat/place in line

As simple as it seems, why is it so rare, to see people give up their place in line… time and competition possibly? Lines are a daily routine, and yet they never get any easier to stand in. Even so, there are those who struggle both physically and emotionally, to stand in lines, to access needed services. Offering up your place in line to someone who could use it, goes a long way in paying it forward. Simple and selfless, it’s sure to brighten someone’s day.

6. Teach someone else a skill you have mastered

Mastering a new skill is a highly rewarding experience for most people, and often motivates continued education. In a world with so many like-minded individuals, there’s always another person trying to pick up the skills that you already have. Why not help others along, saving time and money with their efforts — chances are they will feel inspired to do the same. Think of it as a power to teach and influence through generosity. Now that will put a smile on your face.

7. Spend a day complementing those around you

Could you be positive for an entire a day? What about offering up nothing but compliments to everyone you speak to? Not an easy task! But when you see the good in others you are seeing the good in the world, and helping others do the same. Not to mention, it feels pretty good when you can be the root of someone’s happiness.

8. Donate blood at a local drive

Paying it forward with the “gift of life.” When you are healthy, you have the remarkable power to help someone who is not. Local blood drives make the process as convenient as possible and add immediate aid to the healthcare community. By sharing your experience with your network of friends, you can be a difference maker for someone in need while influencing your peers to get out and donate.

9. Spend some time picking up trash in a public area

Paying it forward has never been easier. Trash is everywhere, and always needs a trashcan to call home. Most people understand that we share this responsibility yet it’s more appealing when they see someone else initiating the action. Next time, try becoming the leader of a cleanup movement in your local community.

10. Facilitate progress in helping someone realize their dreams

“Keep dreaming,” a phrase that we toss around regularly to ease the letdown of reality. But what impact could we make if we all helped one another inch closer to our dreams? Yeah, it could be HUGE. Often, we hold the “golden ticket” to another person’s progress, and with a little generosity, can facilitate the realization of another person’s dreams. Whether it’s providing an invaluable contact or something larger, think about offering it up next time someone shares their dreams with you.

Think of paying it forward as an art form — the art of harnessing compassion, kindness, or faith in society. The more of this art you practice, the more beautiful the world can be. These forms of selflessness are far more impactful on society than we often give credit, and inherently provide food for the soul, long into the future. Even more exciting about “paying it forward,” it doesn’t have to cost a dime. And why not get creative in the process. Here at Designing North, it’s our mission to design a community that lives north of expectation, in the name of elevating the human experience. Be the global count.  

Preserving A Fishery With A Mindset Above Average

With the lobster fishery closed for the season, it was now up to locals to design a community for conservation.

It all began with a young man dressed in flashy swim trunks, sprinting up the beach towards me as I sat in the sand photographing nearby surfers. I have always considered the beach to be my second home; the ocean is a very important part of my life, and I have always been a strong believer that I must be active in protecting the things closest to me. This explains why I was alarmed by this lone runner; it’s not like running on the beach is odd, but for some reason this instance felt different. And boy was I right.

In this moment, I was completely committed to this stretch of beach, as a participant in its beauty and steward for its existence, which allowed me to recognize that this was no ordinary young man out for some exercise.

Living near the coast for so many years has conditioned me to care deeply for it. It’s no longer a choice but rather a natural thought I have or action I take to keep this environment free of conflict. Most often, a donation to a local marine conservation groups does the trick; facilitating a greater impact than I can physically provide. But on this day no such monetary exchange was required.

By the time the runner had stopped he was already waving his hands in the air, almost as if he was trying to flag down someone in the surf — fairly uncommon behavior unless jumping jacks are involved — they were not. I then thought, “is someone in trouble; should I offer help?” The wild arm waving lasted only minutes before a single diver popped his head above the surface like a seal scanning the shoreline.

I spent my childhood on this very coastline, free diving and spearfishing with friends. Yet, scanning through all of those memories I couldn’t recall an instance when I had tried to communicate with someone on the beach, at least forty yards away. Again this situation proved to be different. The two young men appeared to be in-sync with one another; whatever they were up to was intended to be disguised from everyone around them.

Like magnets, the pair continuously moved closer to one another until the young man on the shore was knee deep in the water. Again the diver showed odd behavior in remaining on his stomach when he could clearly stand. At this point myself and a fellow group of four beach-goers were standing, intensely focused on this pairs activity. This beach in particular had a modern tower for state park employees and ranger, yet nobody was home at the time. Coincidence? More like a stroke of luck for these two.

Out of nowhere, two plastic bags were abruptly yanked from a backpack and double-bagged in perfect fashion. Either this guy was a supermarket attendant in his profession or had plenty of experience doing whatever it was he had planned next. Seconds later the diver presented at least two large Spiny Lobster — attempting to hold them below the surface, out of sight from us onlookers.

Pacific Spiny Lobster

My instinct urged me to confront the young men head on, but my lack of legal knowledge restrained this response. Instead I pulled out my phone and visited to verify the exact dates of California’s lobster season. The results read: March 16, 2017. Additional text stated that each count of illegal capture could carry a fine of $1,000 and possible jail time — no wonder these two were acting with such deceitful intent. The day’s activities suddenly fell into perspective.

With the sight of lobster antenna crawling through an opening in the bags, beach-goers began approaching the pair with smiles of intrigue and curiosity. Clearly this attention, although harmless to their mission, was unwanted. With the obvious risk of being spotted by the park rangers the lobster catch was stuffed into a backpack and thrown over the man’s shoulder; followed by a mad dash back down the beach towards the parking lot.

Witnessing this blatant disrespect for not only the law, but also a place I cherish, was more than enough to incite my involvement. As I searched for the park ranger — he had passed by me only twenty minutes prior — I made contact with the only group who was noticeably disturbed by the brazen heist of a highly regulated marine asset. They too were ready to take action, with the mindset that we all share a responsibility in protecting our local environment.

Our physical presence on the beach, just outside the state park tower, served as the flare needed to direct officials to our cause . What began as individual efforts soon progressed to a group cause fueled by a desire to act beyond expectations — providing a voice to the environment that we call home. This wasn’t a new scenario for the on-duty rangers. In fact, as soon as they heard of our account they assembled their search crew within seconds with eyes already over the beach exit; it was time to let them get to work on foot and by air.

As I returned to my car I couldn’t help but fixate on what had transpired; thinking about everything else that could have been done to stop the day’s unfortunate loss, the moment they trespassed on our coastal environment. I asked myself, if it were an elephant being slaughtered, or a bear being trapped, would everyone have paid attention — am I missing some unidentified threshold for tolerance? In a time when poaching and wildlife crime is considered a global crisis, there’s no room to turn a blind eye, not even for a pair of irresponsible teenagers who seemed to fit their surroundings well.

As frustration eased, I wrapped my head around a lesson to walk away with, and share with you:

Not one person HAD to pay attention to these people as they commit their crime — but a few of us were compelled to do so. We went beyond what anyone would have expected us to — the ‘designing north’ mindset. This mindset is in you too, in ways you may have already discovered or will eventually find.

Although I may never know whether or not my actions served as a voice for the voiceless, I am certain that they brightened the day for the law-enforcing professionals I collaborated with. The feeling of camaraderie and sense of pride that I would want, if I were in their shoes, is exactly what this experience provided.

Healthy marine life, healthy marine ecosystem, and a happy coastal community; it just takes a few good people to make a world of a difference. And why not be one of the few. Many people go beyond what is expected of them: in their career, how they live, the relationships they nurture, or through just a simple random act of kindness – we call it   ‘designing north’.

Do you know someone that is ‘designing north’? Maybe it’s you? Tell us. We’re looking for the global count.

TDNP: Buffalo’s Ice Creamcycle Dude

Why is James Karagiannis designing north*?

It’s summer. It’s hot. If you’re a child, there is perhaps no more welcome sound than that of the Ice Cream Man’s bell ringing or music blaring. Can you remember hearing that sound, then rushing into the house to gather any and all change? In the secret drawer, under the sofa cushions, on your dad’s bureau – frantically searching?

James Karagiannis, better known in Buffalo, New York as the Ice Creamcycle Dude, cruises the streets of Buffalo eliciting just that reaction. Except some of his customers are short of spare change.

James frequents disadvantaged neighborhoods, bucking others’ “irrational fear of the inner city.” Though the children are dying for an icy treat just like kids in more upscale neighborhoods, they often can’t afford it. As a kind, but small businessman, it crushed James to see the disappointment on their faces, yet he knew he couldn’t afford to give away the goodies to all the needy children.

So like any good entrepreneur worth his salt, he developed a solution. He began raising funds so that he could give away ice cream to the kids when needed. He created a social contract with the children. Before receiving the treat, the creamcycle recipient had to write a thank-you note to the benefactor, creating a connection between donor and recipient.

Happy children. Happy donors. Happy Ice Creamcycle Dude. Happy community.

*Many people in this world “add a little extra” to whatever they do: their career, how they live, the relationships they nurture, or just a random act of kindness – and we consider that *designing north* – designing your life and living it just north of the average bell curve.

James is designing north. Are you or someone you know? Tweet us. We’re looking for the global count.

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The Designing North Project: Bob Votruba – One Million Acts of Kindness

Why is Bob Votruba designing north*?

For most of us, reading headlines about mass killings elicits gasps of horror. The mental images sit with us for a while, and we find ourselves contemplating how on Earth any human being could do such a thing to other human beings. Eventually, the routine of daily life begins to soften the hard edges of those images, until finally they dissolve from our daily consciousness.

No so for Bob Votruba.

Mr. Votruba was so aghast at the horror of the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting in which 32 innocent people were massacred, that he was changed forever. Or at least for the last eight years and counting.

For Mr. Votruba, the tragedy became an epiphany. He quit his job as a 35 year veteran in the home building business, sold his major possessions, and set out on a journey – more of a pilgrimage or odyssey really – to promote his new life’s mission.

“One Million Acts of Kindness is a goal, a lifetime goal, for each and every person who’s young enough. Anybody under the age of 30 mathematically can still personally perform one million acts of kindness through little things, some of them bigger things, and what I like to call ‘kind acts from the heart.’” [Quote from]

He now travels the country in his bus, spreading his message and bestowing kindnesses upon others – an inspiration to us all.

Who knows? Perhaps your own small act of kindness will soften a hard heart at a desperate moment some day.

*Many people in this world “add a little extra” to whatever they do: their career, how they live, the relationships they nurture, or just a random act of kindness – and we consider that *designing north* – designing your life and living it just north of the average bell curve.

Bob is designing north. Are you or someone you know? Tell us. We’re looking for the global count.

Not a subscriber? Jump on board.


The Designing North Project: Darren Swallow – A Living Hero

Why is Darren Swallow designing north*?

It was the day before Memorial Day, and the Wingate Nursing Home in Wilbraham, Massachusetts had no flag pole on which to wave the star and stripes. When an employee explained this to her disabled veteran boyfriend, former Army Specialist Darren Swallow, he took up the cause. He wasn’t asked, he wasn’t looking for attention, he simply wanted to honor his fallen comrades who had paid the ultimate price for freedom.

He stood for nine hours at attention, flag pole in hand, to display his respect for those soldiers our country has lost over the decades. From 3:30 a.m. until Memorial Day afternoon, he honored fellow Americans – despite the rain.

In this time of political and global unrest, this man reminded us that we are all Americans.

Read more about Darren’s story here.

*Many people in this world “add a little extra” to whatever they do: their career, how they live, the relationships they nurture, or just a random act of kindness – and we consider that *designing north* – designing your life and living it just north of the average bell curve.

Darren is designing north. Are you or someone you know? Tell us. We’re looking for the global count.

Not a subscriber? Jump on board.


The Designing North Project: Marty Burbank and Seon Chun-Burbank

Why are Marty and Seon designing north*?

The pair worked hard to achieve their dreams. And the path was not exactly paved for them. Both Marty and Seon were the first in their families to graduate from college – there was no long legacy of higher education to draft from.

Seon earned two masters degrees and a doctorate degree and serves as the early childhood education faculty chair at Vanguard University in southern California. Marty holds a law degree and served in the U.S. Navy.

Their lifelong dream was to buy a sailboat to indulge their love of the water. They were close to making that dream a reality when they attended a church sermon on charity. Instead of sailing in their own futures, they changed course and decided to help a group of 26 English-language learning kindergarteners sail to a future that will include college.

The pair committed to funding each student’s college education (two years of community college + two years at a California state university). The price? About $1,000,000.  The worth? Priceless.

Read more about Marty and Seon’s story here.

*Many people in this world “add a little extra” to whatever they do: their career, how they live, the relationships they nurture, or just a random act of kindness – and we consider that *designing north* – designing your life and living it just north of the average bell curve.

Marty and Seon are designing north. Are you or someone you know? Tell us. We’re looking for the global count.

Not a subscriber? Jump on board.


The Designing North Project: Nancy Jundi

Why is Nancy Jundi designing north*?

So often we think that we have to be heroic to make a real difference in the world. Yet the reality is probably just the opposite. This story of a young woman, Nancy Jundi, taking time out of her day to connect with a little girl is priceless. In a matter of minutes she likely infused a lifetime of confidence in a young stranger. Nancy is an ordinary person who for a moment became heroic in the eyes of a little girl.

Her story, in her own words as she told it on Facebook:

Stopped for coffee this morning at 7 eleven (don’t judge) and when a little girl saw me she hid behind her mother and screamed.

When she started crying I felt really bad and had no idea what I’d done. Her mother bent down to comfort her and asked what happened. The little girl whispered something and then the mother turned to look at me.

“She thinks you’re Wonder Woman,” whispered the mom in broken English. “You’re her favorite…Could you…I’m so sorry…”


So I bent down and had the sweetest most encouraging conversation with a 4 year old that I ever ever had outside of my own nieces.

“Why aren’t you wearing your uniform?” Sofia asked. “Well, I work with non super heroes for most of the day – even though we do super hero stuff on the computer.”

“So you fight the bad guys on the computer?” she asked.

“Sometimes, yes, but we also build some really cool stuff, too.”

“But when do you wear your boots and tiara? When do you fight crime with your bracelets?” she wondered.

“Lots. Lots and lots. I love my boots – and I’ll tell you a secret, even when you can’t see my tiara, I’m wearing a crown. It’s like my Invisible Jet. Wanna touch it?”

She froze. She was so excited. She touched my head and smiled. She said, “You have hair just like mine!”

So I asked her if she’d like my crown. “I have more, promise, but I want you to have this one.” She was so happy. So, so happy.

She hugged me, her mom thanked me and I was late for work. Because that mattered. And until something in this world tells her differently, she’ll carry herself like she’s wearing that crown.

And hopefully, that crown will help her tell the world to stick it, if and when it ever tells her she’s anything other than worthy.

Oh, God. How I love you. How thankful I am for what you give me in a day.

Go be super heroes, friends.

*Many people in this world “add a little extra” to whatever they do: their career, how they live, the relationships they nurture, or just a random act of kindness – and we consider that *designing north* – designing your life and living it just north of the average bell curve.

Nancy Jundi is designing north. Are you or someone you know? Tell us. We’re looking for the global count.

Her Life, Our Future: How Linked Foundation Found Their Way

Why is Dorothy Largay designing north*?

She’s a technophilanthropist on a mission to change the lives of women living in poverty in Latin America.

Don’t let the diminutive figure of former director of worldwide leadership development at Apple, Inc. fool you.

Despite her petite frame and soft voice, Dorothy Largay is nothing but high-density energy. And we are all blessed that she is directing both that intrinsic verve and her financial resources to make the world a better place.

After receiving a ‘windfall’, both she and her husband, former Google Vice President of Engineering Wayne Rosing, decided to focus their talents and treasure on the things that interested them most. For Dorothy, that meant launching sustainable and scalable health initiatives in Latin America, and for Wayne, it meant developing a global network of telescopes to advance astronomy.

Because of Dorothy’s Linked Foundation and its dynamic partners, thousands of women and their families now have access to basic health needs through their rural pharmacies models.

Dorothy treated the foundation like a start-up. It was 24/7 to start, but is now chugging smoothly along, thanks to hard work, a great team, learning from mistakes, and sharing successes.

“My husband and I have a very nice life, but we wanted to keep it simple – uncomplicated. We didn’t want to spend our time managing our ‘things’. That has zero interest to me – too much complexity. We were excited about the potential to make real change in our own lifetimes.”

Read Dorothy’s 10-year Linked Foundation anniversary interview written by Designing North’s Head of Marketing Julie Farrell here.

Check out more on Linked Foundation’s initiatives here.

*Many people in this world “add a little extra” to whatever they do: their career, how they live, the relationships they nurture, or just a random act of kindness — and we consider that *designing north* — designing your life and living it just north of the average bell curve.

Dorothy Largay is designing north. Are you or someone you know? Tell us. We’re looking for the global count.

The Designing North Project

If you look closely, there is a question on each and every one of our business cards here at Designing North Studios. It is quite faint; but it’s a question for you.

Are you one of those people that adds that tiny bit of extra to whatever you do? You know, the kind that curls the bow tips on your already beautifully wrapped package; adds that powerful chart to the client report even though it wasn’t really required; doesn’t mind waiting the extra 15 seconds to hold the door for someone you even don’t know; puts the shopping cart back in it’s correct spot versus hitching it to the nearest curb — thoughtful, mindful, convinced that it’s life’s details that make all the difference? If you are, then you’re likely to be discovered for The Designing North Project.

We’re conducting a little side gig over here that really makes us smile.  We are on a mission to find, celebrate, and perhaps even collaborate, with those who are *designing north* in their everyday lives.  As a group of strategic designers and creative thinkers, adding that little bit of extra, just north of good work, is what Designing North Studios is all about.  As we all started working together, revealing the same set of values, same mindset, we knew we weren’t alone. Many people in this world “add a little extra” to whatever they do: their career, how they live, the relationships they nurture, even how they wrap a gift — and we consider that *designing north* — designing your life and living it just north of the average bell curve. When people do this, it adds happiness, success, peace, and love to the global experience– and that’s the biggest UX of all!  Imagine if everyone lived that way.  And so we wondered.

That’s when we decided to start the side gig (vs. the client gig) and we call it: The Designing North Project. Cause we want to know who else is living the mindset, spreading the good work, giving a little extra – we want the global count. We can’t really do it alone though, so now that we have some momentum – and few folks to share with you – we’re hoping you’ll share too.  If you, or someone you know is Designing North, drop us a line with a photo and a story that starts with: I am, She is, He is, We are, They are…  and help us spread the word; continue the global count.  We think there’s more of us than we could have ever imagined.

We are Designing North.  Are you?


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