A while ago I had the opportunity to appear very briefly on a local TV station’s 10 o’clock newscast. At the time I was president of the board of a local nonprofit, and I was asked to speak about the work of the organization in a news story. As is my habit, while I watched the broadcast I was checking my e-mail. Shortly after the segment aired I received an email with the subject line reading, “You Star, You.”
“How flattering,” I thought to myself. And, of course, it does feel good to have that tiny bit of notoriety that comes from being on broadcast television. But after a moment of basking in my thirty seconds of fame, I thought about what really makes someone a star. It’s not being on TV, or being famous–or infamous. It’s the people who do something that make someone’s life a little easier or better.
In his research that inspired the book, The Power of Purpose, Richard Leider interviewed people in their eighties to discover what they most feared. It’s not death–or even speaking in public. It’s the fear of not having mattered, of not having made a difference with their lives.
While it was fun being on television and having people comment on seeing me, much more meaningful to me was this email I received from a participant in a workshop I had led:
When I was at MDP with you, back in 2005 I think, you showed me how to use the centering technique to focus. Since then, I have used it numerous times to prepare myself for discussions, critical conversations, meetings, etc. I found it to be so useful that I started using it outside of work. I coach a swim team in the evenings, so I decided to teach my older swimmers how to do it. After a few tries, they really started to improve in race situations.
Last fall, I was at a swim meet in Syracuse and I overheard a mother talking about how her son was having all kinds of anxiety issues and could not focus at meets or at school. He was failing tests in school and not making the gold cut times to go to the championship meets. I talked to her and demonstrated your technique with her. She immediately saw the benefit and asked me to show her son (a 15 year old). I talked to him, demonstrated the technique, had him try it, and encouraged him to center before his races and before exams, etc. I wished him luck and left for home.
Last spring, I saw him at the district championship meet. He had made the gold cut times and was on the honor roll at school. Thanks to our encounter and your technique, we have made a huge difference in one young man's life.
I’m lucky that Mark let me know that 10 minutes of my time had a ripple effect. It doesn’t matter to me that this young man will never know me. I know that I made a difference and that means everything to me. In fact, when I’m having a tough day and am not sure that anything I’m doing really matters, I re-read Mark’s email and it gives me confidence to trust that what I do will make a difference, even if I may not ever know it.
Who has made a difference for you? Take the time to write a note or call them to let them know that what they did for you mattered. Let them know that they are a star!