The Impact of Your Work
My mother passed away about two weeks ago, on Good Friday to be exact. Don’t worry this isn’t a morbid or sad reflection on deep things. I actually want to share some great things I learned from the days following her death.
People tend to want to know why someone died; at least I’ve been asked those kinds of questions a lot in the last week. With my mom there weren’t any warning signs and she hadn’t been struggling with a long-term illness. She died sometime in the night and was found by my father that morning with a very peaceful expression on her face. It was the way most of us hope to go.
Dad’s OK too. One of the things my parents gave me was a strong faith in God and the certainty that there’s more to our existence than what happens to us on the earth. So, Dad sort of moved from having Mom there with him every day to the confidence that she’s simply changed her long-term mailing address. He (and I) miss her being with us at times but we know that even this is temporary.
One of the best things about these weeks have been the many messages we’ve received about the impact mom had on the people in her life. One of the most surprising actually came from a fellow who actually worked at the funeral home that helped us with her burial. This man (I’ll call him Tim) walked up to my brothers and I as we were going in to plan the funeral and informed us that my mother had been his daughter’s kindergarten teacher. Tim went on to tell us that he and his wife believed my mother was the best teacher their daughter ever had and that she had actually become an elementary school teacher like my mom.
The irony of a funeral is that it’s the one place in life where you could, theoretically, learn what kind of impact your life had on the world. I’ve seen lots of cartoon depictions of people on their deathbed sharing their last moment regrets about their lives. They’re usually satirical statements about accumulating more stuff, spending more time on the Internet or social media, or any of the things that we recognize as trivial about life in our more sober moments. But in the week between my mother’s death and the end of her funeral we learned how impactful my mother’s efforts to love and care for others had been.
America has become so focused on the power of a job to provide you with financial access to many things – some important and some trivial. I’m not so foolish as to think that making a living isn’t important; providing for the monetary needs of yourself and your family (if you have one) is an important thing your work allows you to do. But we rarely think about how our work gives us a platform for making an impact on the world.
But too rarely do we consider our work as an opportunity or platform for crafting the impact we have on the world. This morning I met with an Executive Coaching client to plan how she would use her team’s recent Strengths Analysis results to craft goals for the coming fiscal quarter. Her own results affirmed her outstanding ability to organize her team and develop strategies for all of them achieving team and individual goals. Ironically, she was somewhat sad that she hadn’t scored higher as an Influencer of People and was asking how she might do a better job at that.
It was ironic because this client had originally asked for my help because she wanted to develop a healthy and growing service mentality in her team that started with serving each other as the first step toward serving clients well. In the past six months she’s instituted changes that applaud individual strengths and successes, look for ways to serve each other in their respective work and life challenges, and underpinned all of it with an attitude of humility that in effect says, “I need you if we are going to become great at what we do”. All the while she has practiced what she’s preached – being humble and open and encouraging to the members of her team. Oh, and they’re exceeding company goals and expectations as a result.
Yet, my client didn’t recognize how much influence she’s had on the personal and professional lives of the employees in her team. Her initial goals of becoming a healthier, better performing team had originated in her own self-focused desire to be a healthier and more impactful person. As a result, she’s making a difference in the lives of a dozen people who happen to be under her leadership. And, in turn those lives are impacting the lives of the clients, family members and friends with whom they interact each day.
My point is this – Each day gives you an opportunity to define the impact of your work and your life. Just as small stones thrown into a pond create far reaching circles, even the smallest aspects of how you do what you do can affect people, even people who are unseen and unknown by you, in powerful ways.
I’m so grateful that I was given a chance to tell my mother how important and positive the impact of her life had been on mine and other people I knew in our community. Perhaps that’s a second lesson I learned from my recent years with my mom – It’s always a good thing to tell someone about the positive impact they’ve had on your own life and to express your gratitude for that gift. You never know if or when you might run out of chances to say “Thank You”.