Sunday, January 12, 2014

Open to Expression

Have you ever wondered what kind of impact you have had on the world? Likely, it is more than you think, especially when you imagine the millions of small moments with people we have over our lifetimes, and many times we never know the result of those interactions, leaving them lost to the winds of time. Quite possibly, many of the seemingly innocuous moments, as we view them, bear more meaning than we may ever know. What is a simple forgettable act on one's part may indeed be a life changing moment for the other.

I am reminded of the potential in small moments each year about this time.

In the mid-1990s, many things changed in my life. I was newly married; I had moved to a new town and started a new job. Within a year, all three of those changes had taken a turn for the worst. My marriage was falling apart. I hated my job, and I had trouble acclimating to my new town. I had shut myself off from friends and family because I did not want them to know the truth about the marriage, leaving me with no support system on which to lean. Each day, I felt like I was walking a tightrope, carefully stepping through the hours and wondering when I would fall.

Somewhere in here, I received a telephone call from an acquaintance, asking me to interview for a new business that was opening in town. I met with him as well as with the founder of this new business, a man with a gentle charisma and undeniable presence. Let's just call him Peter, for the sake of privacy and storytelling.

I had never met Peter before, nor even heard of him, though he was well-known in the community by others, and apparently well-respected. We met for a standard job interview, or so I thought, though he never asked me any questions. He and the other gentleman (the acquaintance I spoke of earlier) talked to each other while I sat at the end of the table, waiting for a question to come my way. Peter began wrapping up the meeting and asked me to call him with my salary requirements.

"Don't you want to ask me any questions?" I inquired, puzzled.

"No, we already know everything about you," he replied. That was it. I was out the door and walked back into my miserable existence.

That weekend, my thoughts were fraught with indecision. I had wanted to quit my current job, true, but I also wanted to go back to college. I was scared of taking a job at this start-up company because of the risk -- what if it failed? I wanted to leave my marriage, but where would I go? Trying to discuss the job-or-college decision with my husband that weekend only proved to be kindling for more fiery arguments. By Monday morning, I was exhausted, undecided, alone, and lost. I did not know what was going to happen to my life, but I feared it was not going to be good.

It's still a blur to me, how I walked into my manager's office that morning and resigned. I don't remember driving to the college to register for classes (which began the next day), but there I stood with a class schedule and books in my arms. I had decided to go to college and forego the job offer from Peter. I called him to say 'thanks, but no thanks.'

"Rita, we support your educational pursuits," he said. "If you want to work for us part time, please do. We want you on our team." My jaw dropped. I could not believe the words this stranger was saying to me. At a time when I felt most distraught, this stranger said six life-changing words to me, "We want you on our team." For the first time in over a year of pure emotional hell, he gave me this singular treasured gift -- hope.

Six words changed my life.

As it turned out, about six weeks later, I did start working part time for the new business, being welcomed into the fold of new co-workers like a long-lost friend. The work environment was energetic and supportive. The weight of heavy emotion in my life was lifting, and I embraced that feeling of hope. Sixteen years later, I still work for this company, still looking at the positive changes in my life since that moment in utter and thankful awe.

And yet, I never told Peter how his words affected me. Likely, those words were not important to him, but were normal comments in his day-to-day life and nothing out of the ordinary. He may not even remember saying them. I was reminded of the importance of small moments like this when my friend, Jennifer, posted a video from Drew Dudley this week, where he says, "Maybe the biggest impact you have had on someone's life is a moment you don't remember." Dudley's six-minute video is a great description of how our lives can impact others, even when we don't realize it.

The story I've told here is one my friends and colleagues have heard before, as I often retell it as an example of our company philosophy to 'take care of each other.' My recitation of the tale is peppered with humorous anecdotes of the years working with this larger-than-life character, Peter. The part of the story that I don't tell, and even my friends do not know until this moment, is how close I was to the edge. That day, I had decided to give college a try for a few weeks, but if I couldn't see even a dim light at the end of this hellish tunnel known as my life, I was planning to disappear. I had stashed cash and important papers under the carpet in the trunk of my car, along with a notebook detailing what I would need to pack in a hurry. My plan was sketchy, but if my life did not turn around soon, I was driving to wherever the car carried me and starting a new life, completely severing myself from this one.

But six words changed everything.
A good day: My boss flying over the lake he loved.

And now we are here again, in mid-January, when this story of Peter always revisits me. Nine years ago, Peter was flying his twin-engine plane home after work, trying to beat a thunderstorm because he wanted to get home to take his wife out for her birthday. During his descent, the clouds opened up with a sudden downpour which made the grass landing strip very slick. Unable to stop the plane, he slid into the trees beyond the end of the runway and drifted out of our lives forever.

There are millions of stories like this out there, and I'll bet those reading this will have a similarly meaningful story of how one moment made all the difference. The flow of energy goes both ways, though. Just as others have affected us and not known it, we have affected others. Our words and actions, however small they may seem to us in the moment, have the potential to move mountains. For me, I have learned to tell people when they have made a difference in my life. I owe it to them to let them know that they mattered. And isn't that what we all want? To know that we mattered?

With the adoption of the word 'Open' for my 2014, I want to include being open to expressing thanks, gratitude, and appreciation for those small moments that made a difference. I want to let these people know that they mattered, even if they don't remember why.

For W.K.G., 1954 - 2005

7 comments:

  1. Such a powerful tale.
    So pleased you moved on to live such a positive life.
    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you, R. I have been fortunate to know some inspiring people in this life, and hope to honor them.

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  2. Powerful storytellers change the world too, my friend. Keep telling your stories and inspiring us!!

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  3. Hi Rita,
    I subscribed to your Red Shoes when you started wearing them (via Creative Courage) and I am so glad I did!
    Lately, for some reasons, I have not read so many posts, but I have read a few of them now, tonight. I will continue tomorrow; I don´t want to read more than a couple at a time as your posts really affects me.
    You are a wonderful writer, but more importantly (to me), is that your topics goes straight to my heart. You write about the important stuff in life, so generously. You make me remember similar or different occasions and your make me remind myself of continue to strive to be a "better person". I wish I could write this in Swedish to you; my English looks drab and grey; in Swedish so many more hues would express what I want to say...
    I just now realize that "Open" has worked for me too, for a while; without a bit more of openness on my part I would never had subscibed to a blog written by someone I do not know outside Creative Courage!
    I will stop rambling now; KRAM (hug in Swedish, a big one!) from Anna Stina Sandelius (I comment as "Anonymous" as I have not been able to get any of the other choices work for me...)

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    1. Oh, Anna! So touched by your words and honored that you take time to read my little ramblings here. I have happy tears in my eyes while reading your words, which mean so much to me. Thank you for taking the time to stop by here, and for writing this beautiful post. My heart is so full. xoxo

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