Thursday, May 19, 2011

You Never Know

Most of the time, we go through life without an appreciation of how our presence effects others. We're busy doing all the things we must do to get through the day, the week, the month, the year. Usually, we're hurdling through space at break-neck speed to get to somewhere, anywhere. Along the way, we end up bumping into others, often without taking notice. Most of the time, we're too self-centered to see the connections and relevance. We think we propelled ourselves with little or no help from others, and we have little or no effect on them either. And yet, without exception, those intersections yield a variance in our course and within the lives of those we touch. Okay, enough conjecture and theory, here's example.

My past life as a marketing exec at TNT.
Pictured from left: Me, Tom Wages and Laura Dames.
   In 1995, I resigned my job at Turner Broadcasting. I had been at Turner for five years, and although successful by every measure, I was growing discontented and unhappy. Some might call it burn out, and surely that was part of it. I traveled frequently, was under constant pressure to meet deadlines, spent way too much time going from meeting to meeting, and was working in Marketing and Advertising, which was not exactly my bliss. I loved my colleagues and made many friends there, but something was missing. Ultimately, I quit to develop my skills as a writer. It was a very difficult decision to make, stepping off the edge of the known into the unknown, but I knew I had to do it.
   The decisive moment came when I was on a flight to New York. I nodded off upon the gentle rocking of the jetway taxi, and when I awoke mid-air, the thought crystalized with urgency: I've just got to quit my job now! Accepting my fate was exhilarating and terrifying. I had always wanted to write, but I had not taken the traditional path of attending journalism school, or getting my masters or Ph.D. in literature. I majored in English and then went straight to work in advertising, finding that the most compatible and lucrative means of supporting myself. So to leave behind a paycheck, insurance, 401K, stock options and the corporate ladder was a major step into the abyss. Still, I knew I had to go and follow my bliss. (And if this sounds familiar, yes, this was my first Do Over Life.)
  When I left TNT at the end of February, my job as Director of Advertising had yet to be filled. I hoped to train my replacement and make the transition a smooth one, but that was not the case. I loaded my trusty 1982 BMW 320i with my portable, manual typewriter, an early version of the macbook (which weighed almost as much as the portable typewriter) and an assortment of books and CDs and headed south. First stop, Seacrest Beach. Then on to New Orleans, and finally, San Miguel, Mexico. I traveled for two months before returning to Atlanta.
   When I got back, my old job was still unfilled, but it never occurred to me to pull the Prodigal Daughter routine and ask to return to the Turner fold. Although I still had no concrete means of supporting myself, I knew my decision to leave was sound.
  Soon I heard that my replacement had been named. I met her and we talked for a while about the job and then went our separate ways. Turner became my best client for my freelance writing and my replacement went on to enjoy a great run there. We hadn't had reason to connect in all these years.
   This weekend, while I was visiting a dear friend from my Turner days, a call came in from my TNT replacement, who is now running another cable network. As my friend chatted with her about a business proposal, she mentioned I was visiting. A moment later, my friend relayed a message: "She says to thank you for providing her with the big break in her career."
  I laughed. Imagine that! I left Turner because of my long-held desire to write, but I never imagined the implications my departure would have on someone else's career. If I had stayed there, my replacement would not have found her bliss. She would not be where she is today. No doubt, she'd still be successful, but in different way. I suppose if I wasn't happy with the way my life turned out, I might look at her success and say, "Well, that could have been me," but that was not the life I wanted, nor the path I chose. So I was thrilled to hear of her success and that my decision helped her—without my even knowing it. Nor did I take in this knowledge with a sense of self-importance. Rather, it was humbling to think that by following my instincts about what was right for me, I had set in motion a series of events. Perhaps other people left in my wake were not so positively effected. I will never know. But the sense that what we do in this life does effect others in so many ways gives me pause and encourages me to step lightly and with mindful deliberation.
   We don't know whose life we touch, for better or for worse.The best we can do is attend to our actions with the knowledge that we do constantly effect others. Our actions are stones that create ripples in a pond. We cannot control how the ripples will spread, but we must acknowledge that they will  be created and they will spread. The ripples will continue out to the shore, overlapping and connecting us all in seen and unseen ways. No matter how self-centered and unaware we are, our actions will effect others. We cannot control those outcomes, but we can make decisions for ourselves that are true in purpose and compassionate in nature. Give it some thought. Whose life will you touch today?

1 comment:

  1. pretty amazing! I work with kids and I often see how just a bad morning at home can ruin their whole day. Sometimes it's just a gesture or a smile that can touch a life. The world would be a nicer place if compassion was commonplace. ONE life affects SO many.