I am someone who thrives on trying to make a difference for others. Some days, I just focus on making a difference but there are no words spoken about it. That is okay. From day to day the difference can be small, and I am simply hoping that over time the difference will add up to something that is big and notable. Other times, there will be a singular event that makes a difference to someone and I get to know right away.
It’s not every day I get either type of feedback—the cumulative or the immediate. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to get both.
It started even before my run, and I run early. I’ve run with the same dear friend nearly every Tuesday going back more than two years and most Tuesdays going back more than four. On the weeks we can’t fit in a run on Tuesday, we often find a way to adapt our schedules and fit in a run on another day. Last week she shared with me a heartbreaking diagnosis for her three year old dog. Over the years I have written words of thanks, words of encouragement, and words of congratulations. Last week, I put pen to paper (yes, I really did before typing it up) and wrote words about dealing with grief that will come at some point. Even my words acknowledged I can’t fix the grief, but I can be present. The type of presence that is needed will be determined by my friend. I have not put any words to a tune in a long time. So, not only did I share the words (put on a background that ended up in my phone photo album for no apparent reason), but I also used my friend’s acoustic guitar for a little accompaniment. It was an emotional moment before our run, and she was thankful. I am blessed to be surrounded by friends who are empathetic and who join together to make each other’s days brighter. This is part of my purpose for being alive.
Then, at the close of the day, when clearing some email, I found a note in my Inbox. It was from the last PhD student for whom I had been an academic advisor at the school of public health before I moved to the business school within the university for which I work. I had been at his dissertation defense just the day before. He thanked me for introducing him to a particular research area and for being a good mentor. I actually hadn’t expected such thanks. I had handed him off to another advisor when I switched schools. I had sometimes taken a long time to get back to him. But he saw the glass being half full rather than half empty. Rather than looking at what I had not done, he noticed what I had introduced him to, what I had pointed out while he was working on his dissertation, and what advice I had been able to give him. In other words, he focused on my presence rather than on my absence, and being acknowledged as a mentor is always humbling.
I realize not every day will be accompanied by two events as poignant as yesterday. But days like yesterday are the days that allow me to clearly see the return on the investment I make in my efforts to brighten others’ worlds.