A co-worker of mine retired recently. I signed her card and went to her retirement gathering and made silly jokes and hugged her. But when I got back to my desk…I realized that I had things I wanted to say to her. So I sent her an email:
“When I first came to [this job], like with any job, I was nervous because I tend to be an outcast at every job I have because I have some eclectic tastes and habits…but you made me feel very welcome and at home here and I will always be grateful for that. You have such a loving and sweet spirit and I am so glad that I got a chance to know you.”
She sent me a lovely reply:
“One always hopes that they make a good impression with people as they travel through life. I never think that I do much. You have helped me understand that it is sometimes the little things that mean more than originally thought. Thank you for being a friend and coworker. Best luck in your future.”
It struck me that this lovely woman really did think that she didn’t do anything memorable or have any effect on people’s lives. And it reminded me of myself…because I thought that for a long time too. So I immediately wrote her back again:
“You and I are cut from very similar, if not the same, cloth. We don’t make the huge, sweeping gestures…so we belittle the impact we make on other people’s lives. But after some time, you realize that those little things all eventually add up…and we make impressions on people’s hearts that they never forget. I’ll take that over a grand gesture any day.”
Now don’t get me wrong…I love the people who make grand gestures and do huge things. Everyone who tries to do for someone else is appreciated by me. I love generous people. I just also want the people who do the little things to realize that they too make an impact on people.
I was a wallflower in school. Only a few friends and never really part of a group. I walked away from high school thinking that nobody there would ever remember me after a couple of years. 15 years later, I got an email from a girl in my class who told me all about how she never forgot how sweet and friendly I was to her and how I always made her feel welcome and as if she always had a friend in me. I never thought she and I were that close…but I liked her. And I just never realized I’d left any kind of impression on her. I was so happy to find out that I did.
A cousin of mine that I always loved but never really had a lot in common with…came to my bridal shower a few years ago. We played a game where you had to pick some candies out of a bowl and for each candy you had, you had to “say something about the bride”. When it came her turn, she talked about how much she loved me and how much fun we had as kids and how she loved what a good person I was and that she was so glad we were family…and she cried through the whole thing. This touched me so deeply that I still tear up any time I talk about that moment. I had no idea that I’d had that effect on her. I thought I was just her annoying, younger cousin.
Past coworkers have told me several years later that I inspired them to do something just by being myself and doing the things that I did that were different from everyone else.
Another cousin told me that I had inspired him to love certain kinds of music that he really enjoyed and that he’d picked it all up from me…and I had no idea he even knew what kind of music I listened to. But he said I brought that music into his life and he thanked me for it. I never even knew.
So…yeah. These little things that you do…whether it’s a purposeful thing you did for someone or just living by example, you never know who you might be inspiring or encouraging or leaving a strong imprint on. The little things matter. Do not belittle or discount the things that you do for, or share with, other people. They count. And if you are lucky like I have been, someday those people will tell you about the impression you left and let you know that you added something to their life. For me, there is nothing more rewarding.