“A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far reaching.”
When my friends come and visit me in Colorado they are typically lost in a gaze toward the west at our amazing Rocky Mountains. We love the mountains, we love the ocean, we love the enormity of it all. I mean, have you ever seen someone staring at, taking pictures of, and sending postcards home about a blade of grass?
It’s our human nature to underappreciate the small things and moments in life.
I mean, no one (that I know) has ever come to Colorado, looked at the mountains, and said, “Wow, that example of glaciation and erosion taking millions of years, and trillions of grains of earth to form is magnificent.”
So, it’s 10:04 a.m. MST, how have you changed the world today? As in, before right now.
And yes, I am talking about the world, that large globe with the oceans, continents, people and all.
A few months ago on a consulting gig in New Mexico about designing purposeful customer experiences, when I asked that question, the most common reaction was… silence. I guess they expected the typical consultant’s lecture/sales pitch for why they should buy a book. But this is how we start every engagement with any organization.
The response that came in a close second was, “I haven’t + [nervous laughter].” Then, I asked it again, “how have you changed the world today?” At this point they knew they weren’t getting off the hook (maybe because I said I was going to have each person share).
They started delving deep and truly reflecting on the little moments in their mornings. Buying coffee at a local coffee shop, smiling at a stranger in the parking lot, or simply deciding to come to work. One participant shared, “I got my kids ready for school.” When I asked how that act changed the world, she went on to say that by getting her kids to school she initiated the first step in them contributing to this world, finding their passions, and learning to interact positively with others. She said, “who knows what they will become in this world because they went to school today.” Imagine if we consistently thought of our routines and actions in that light.
It is in these routine, small, and seemingly mundane moments that we can truly see and trace our individual capacity for global change. I am not talking about the sometimes superficial “changing the world” phrase we throw around a lot; I am talking about real and traceable impact.
I didn’t always understand this capacity. I always thought I had to start some large, visible, resource-driven global movement to achieve true global change.
When I started work here at Colorado State University, one of the first e-mails I received was from someone I thought I had never met in my life. The gist of the message was, “Zach, thank you for helping me get to where I am right now, I am truly living my dream, and I just needed to thank you.”
I immediately thought, “who is this and what do they want from me?” I wrote back explaining that I was unsure about who exactly they were, and that I thought she had the wrong person.
She replied and told me this story: She explained that in July, 2004, I happened to serve as her Orientation Leader at James Madison University when she was a first-year student there. Apparently, she was pretty upset because she wasn’t excited about her major (she came in as an accounting major), and while I was showing them around, evidently, I asked, “So, what would you do everyday of your life if you could get paid for it?” She went on to talk about her love for writing. Personally, I don’t remember this, but she said that I walked her to the journalism department and told her that she could potentially major in journalism. That was it. I went on my way and she went on hers.
According to her, this was about a 4 minute interaction, that I did not remember or think about it ever again… until I got that e-mail.
She now writes for a major magazine in New York City, has created a close circle of friends, is involved in her community, is following her passion and living her dream of writing every day for a living, and is actually in the process of planning a wedding to someone she met there.
She attributed where she is in life to a 4 minute conversation that frankly I have no recollection of. This is what impact looks like, realistically. I use this example to demonstrate to my current staff that every conversation, and every moment matters.
We may not see or feel our significance in this world, but every day, and in each moment we are making a lasting impact. The impact has two outcomes: it can be positive OR negative.
The beauty of it all is you can choose.