Then on Sunday, when we were out at a walk to raise awareness about Bladder Cancer, supporting our good friend Bryan, Jim and I ran into Ed, an old colleague of ours. The impact was huge.
Ed taught with Jim, early in Jim’s career. He was the only bread winner in his family, and to make ends meet he had a little side job of selling and installing built-in vacuum cleaning systems. Early in our marriage, when our kids were really little, we hired Ed to install one of those systems in our tiny, new-to-us, home.
Ed and his wife Lorraine, have an adoptive daughter, Jennifer. I don’t recall how, on that evening thirty some years ago, the conversation turned to adoption, but I do recall this exact part of it:
Ed: If Jennifer ever wants to find her birth mother, I will help her. I have something I want to say to that woman.
Me: (Silence. Maybe even a bit of breath holding.)
Ed: I’ll tell you what I’d tell her. I’d tell her, “Thank you, for giving me the most precious gift in the world”
I have to say, I had tears in my eyes. I was speechless. This was likely the first time I had realized that a person could choose their perspective. Those few seconds of conversation had an enormous impact on me.
When I saw Ed last weekend, I reminded him of that conversation from over thirty years ago. I told him what an impact it has had on my life. Ed thanked me for reminding him and we had a most wonderful conversation about our lives and how we impact one another.
Each of us impacts our world many times each day. It is easy to pretend this is not so. It is easy to imagine that sometimes we just operate in a bubble, and that if we mind our own business, we will have no impact on others. This is simply not the truth. We each have impact. Each thing we do has impact. The secret is to be aware of our impact on others and on situations. We become more confident, and more humble, when we recognize that each thing we do, or do not do, has an impact.
When I first became aware of this, I found myself feeling a bit paralyzed. Knowing everything I might do has an impact, caused me to assess each of my actions. When I thought about going to any event, I realized that whether I arrived early or late, gently or loudly, stressed or calm, thoughtful or spontaneous, bearing gifts or just a smile, right on time or not at all, I would have some impact.
The choices we make matter. How we live matters. How we show up, matters.
It’s overwhelming stuff.
Some relief comes with noticing that having impact does not mean we have to judge our impact. We do not have to figure out if it will be positive or negative. We do not even have to be fully responsible for our impact. We simply need to acknowledge that no matter how we act, we will create an impact.
I can think back to many times when I have disagreed with someone, sometimes in a professional setting, sometimes at home, and I have become silent. I have not offered my opinion. I always assumed that by doing this, I was not having an impact on the situation. I thought I was being Switzerland. In some cases, I even thought I was really good at this. I thought I was hiding my feelings with great skill. I now recognize that even my silence, my Swiss-like behaviour, had an impact. My feelings were likely leaking out of me as easily as air moves through the holes of Swiss cheese. I’m trying not to judge or assume what that impact might have been. It could have caused the other person to create a story in their head to explain my withdrawal. It could have been a relief to them that I was not talking. It could have given someone else a chance to speak. There are endless things it could have been. But the one thing I know for sure it was not, was nothing.
On Sunday, as Ed and I continued to talk, he told me that even though he was grateful to Jennifer’s birth mother for allowing he and Lorraine the joy of adopting their baby, as the years went on he began to understand the impact it must have had on her, a young woman who had just surrendered her child. He said, ‘We were so wrapped up in our own delight at finally having a baby, I never once stopped to think about the toll it had on her.’
Ed then shocked me when he told me, ‘I did get to thank her, you know. In fact, Lorraine and I became very good friends with her. Did you know she spoke at Lorraine’s Celebration of Life this past year?’
No, I had not known. But somehow, I was not surprised.
Ed understands impact.
When Jim and I chose to support Bryan by participating in the walk for Bladder Cancer Awareness we had an impact. When Greg and Cara joined us, they had an impact. When Bryan and Lynda were delighted to see us, it had an impact. When Bryan’s oncologist showed up at the event, that had an impact.
I’m beginning to recognize that while I may not always know the impact of my actions, I can at least always be aware that each of my actions will certainly have one.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What impact am I having?’
Elizabeth is a certified, professional Life and Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to notice your impact.