Doing These Four Things and You Will Make Impact In Your World and Leave a Lasting Legacy.
In the middle of my city sits a volcano. Inactive for nearly 300,000 years, it’s one of the many things I love about my quirky hometown of Portland Oregon. It’s called Mount Tabor, and if you climb the hefty 280 steps to the top, an inspiring view of the downtown cityscape is your reward. Peppered with towering Douglas Firs, luscious grass, and picnicking areas, the park is a beautiful place to sit, think and contemplate life.
Years ago I was at a crossroad. I was considering going back to school to become a counselor. Helping people had long been my passion, however going back to school would be an arduous task. I already had a career, a family and the responsibilities that go along with being an adult. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my calling was to be a therapist. I took a hike up Mount Tabor and found a bench that looked down the side of the mountain. As I sat there, I noticed a placard embedded in the foundation that held the bench in place. It read, “In Loving Memory of Larry Stahlnecker from his family and friends.” I thought to myself, “What will my placard say? What will be my contribution?” It was then I decided to go back to school.
There is deep within me the desire to make an imprint on the world that leaves a lasting legacy. Most humans share a deep emotional need for significance. At some level, we want to contribute to the greater good. Even so, if you’re like me, reality tends to thwart your effort to make a difference, and you feel like your best endeavors go unnoticed. When the need for significance goes unmet, there is the tendency to fall into despair. Our hearts tell us that there is more than to life than the instant gratification, click-bate, and malignant narcissism that feeds our timelines on social media. We become painfully aware that life is but whispers in the vastness of history. This fact makes the toll of insignificance all the more detestable. The pandemic of anxiety and depression that permeates our culture isn’t only a neurochemical imbalance; it is a fear of being alone, going unnoticed and unable to influence our world.
Ultimately, we believe we lack “impact,” the ability to make a difference. The truth is that within each of us is the capacity to affect our world in positive ways.
Think back to an individual who has had a considerable positive effect on your life. As you visualize this person ask, “What is it about them?” Was it something they said or was it something they did? Was it a combination? I would wager that the significance they had in your life came as a result of their character. As I consider this for myself, I remember the people who have had the greatest positive influence were people of substantial character. It’s taken me years to understand this concept fully, and through working with my counselor, attending recovery groups and working with others, I learned that true positive impact flows from my character. It’s about the “who I am” not the “what I am” that matters most.
There are four areas in my life that I continually strive to improve. My experience is when I practice these virtues I am more likely to make a positive impact on others.
1. Practice kindness: Everyday there are small opportunities that allow each of us the ability to influence others. From simply smiling at a stranger, saying thank you to your servers to giving a compliment to someone you love. Kindness flows from a generous spirit because kindness is a gift. It costs you nothing, and at the same time, your words and actions are opportunities to change lives. As the 13th-century poet, Rumi said, “Your acts of kindness are iridescent wings of divine love, which linger and continue to uplift others long after your sharing.” In other words, our kindness spreads throughout eternity.
2. Choose words wisely: King Solomon said, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” This quote reminds me of an experience I had with my dad. My father was an in the public school system and on many occasions we would be walking in a store, or some public place and a former student would stop us to say hello. On one such an occasion, a student of my father was talking and remarked that something my dad had said years ago inspired the student to change the direction of his life. Now as a grown man the student expressed gratitude for the words my father spoke. As we walked away, my dad turned toward me, whispering, “You just never know what’s going on in someone’s life and what words are going to stay with them.”
3. Be authentic: Michael Hyatt, New York Times Bestseller and author of “Platform – Get Noticed in a Noisy World” put it this way: “People will only trust you if you are willing to pull back the curtain of your life and give them a peek inside.” Authenticity is difficult because it requires letting someone examine your flaws and shortcomings. In one of my men’s groups, a member shared a significant struggle in his life. I could see the fear in his eyes as he shared, but the other members shifted and also started to share at a deeper level. When the group came to an end, these men had bonded as brothers. They continued their friendships well beyond the confines of the group, all because one man had the courage to be authentic.
4. Make things happen: There are two types of people: those who talk about what they’re going to do and those who do it. Individuals who have a positive impact are doers and are willing to do what others are not. They get up early, work late into the night pounding away at their craft. They show up; they make it happen. To quote Thomas Edison, “Vision Without Execution Is Just Hallucination.” Your dreams will never make an impact without hard work and follow-through.
There will come a day for all of us when our ability to live with purpose has passed, and the sum-total who we are is finally etched in stone. I challenge you to aspire to impact your world in positive ways that leave a lasting impact. I love the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” What do you want your placard to say?
Discussion Question: What do you want to be remembered for?