This is a post about how to be influential in your day to day life. It’s not about grandiose plans or monumental moments, but rather about living simply with an awareness to those around you. Small pebbles, cast daily, create big impact.
People Always Hope to Right a Wrong
I get asked this question almost every day in various ways. Sometimes it’s subtle than others and the people asking range from humble to egomaniacal. Regardless, the question is an honest one and burrows itself in inquiries about improving routine and strategy.
The denominator is always, “Jake, I’m wondering how to be influential?”
This is a fair question – an important question, really. It is not an insincere or selfish thought to think about when you remove selfish motivation and observe the question itself. Being influential is a thought we should wake up to find racing through our minds each morning. We can live a life where a difference occurs when we ask this question and align our steps to action. But the lens through which we’ll discuss how to be influential must remain rooted in honest motivation, or it is not just useless but harmful at best. A life about giving instead of receiving, and about improving the lives of others, rather than improving one’s life at the expense of another is our reward. We soon find the path to being influential for others uncovers a life where we receive more than we could give or hope to receive as a result.
I was on my way to NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) based in Anaheim, when halfway through my flight from Toronto, two flight attendants made their way down our aisle with their food and beverage cart asking “Can I interest you in a drink or snack?” as they opened and closed the sliding cupboards at dizzying speeds. Approaching my section, I watched one of the attendants effortlessly spill some water on a gentleman’s lap in the row across from me. “Whoops…” The attendant was embarrassed and the gentleman equally displeased. The principle he failed to realize, at that moment, is that people always hope to right a wrong. And boy, did he ever miss it. He proceeded to verbally lash out, leaving her and those in proximity both uncomfortable and quiet. He even sarcastically asked for “a new pair of pants” as our attendant sheepishly inquired if he would still be interested in a drink or snack.
What he missed was the opportunity to show grace. Had he smiled, suggesting that he preferred being cooled down with air, rather than liquid, he likely would have won favor from the ashamed flight attendant and those in proximity. Surely, she would have hoped to right her wrong and treat him fairly with an upgrade because he had saved her face and given her room to provide him a service. Letting the attendant cover her mistake would have made the uncomfortable moment pleasant. Instead, he left her humiliated and reduced. She likely thought, “You jerk, I’m glad I spilled water on you. I guess it found it’s way to your lap for a reason.”
As she turned to serve me while still trying to recover, I quickly smiled and said, “Full-time job, isn’t it?” A look of relief came over her and her colleagues face. “What was your name?” I asked. “Maria”, she said with a soft smile. Maria looked no more than 45 years old and was thin with dark hair and soft eyes. “Hey Maria, my name is Jake. How long have you been doing this job?” Maria shot back, “Twenty years.”, slowly regaining confidence. “Twenty years? You must have started when you were 18!” I said, honestly surprised by her young appearance and looking to lift her spirit. “You just made my day!” she said after softly laughing and smirking beyond her control. “I mean it Maria, and I bet your colleague… sorry, what was your name and how long have you been working?”, I asked, addressing Maria’s colleague. With a smile, she responded, “Julia and about 4 years.”, “Oh, I bet you have learned a lot while working with a seasoned pro like Maria,” I volunteered. “You bet. I still spill water all the time!” she retorted, allowing a few nearby ease-dropping passengers to quietly volunteer a chuckle of support. “Well, I bet you don’t do it as gracefully as Maria just yet.”, I said, holding a warm grin.
What the gentleman across the aisle didn’t see outside of the subtle inconvenience he experienced – one I’m almost positive he didn’t even feel through his jeans – was an opportunity to be influential instead of inconvenienced. People are often an inconvenience when life is about Me and what I want in a world where I can get things from You, rather than a place where I get to serve You. Most of us look for large moments to be influential, but we miss the little moments to demonstrate qualities rarely seen, such as mercy. Before I could enter back into the chapter of my book (a book that likely influenced my thinking beyond what I would normally do, referenced at the bottom of this post) Maria returned to my seat with a complimentary beverage and offered a quiet, “Thank you, Jake, you’re the best.”
I received the right to the wrong she hoped to correct with an unforgiving passenger. I received the opportunity to be influential when the nearby passengers shyly received their snack, passing on the chance to support Maria in her mistake. Don’t we wish people would do this for us when we need it most? We can all be this way in life if we’re present and attentive. If we can learn to make our knee-jerk reactions ones that show love, rather than displeasure, we’ll be amazed at the scope of our influence.
As I began exiting the plane after several hours flying over America, the gentleman who had been seated behind me, travelling with his four year old son and wife – who had been attacking my back with his knee the entire flight, dealing with his squirming son – dropped his baggage in the aisle directly in front of me. This quickly brought the rush of eager passengers ready to exit the plane to a screeching halt behind me. Inconvenient to say the least. I bent over to help him collect the debris of luggage and toys gravity had left scattered everywhere, to which he quickly said under his breath, “Thank you, you really are the best.”
Help others who find themselves in the midst of distress. Help people who made a blunder, feel great again. You have the power to pull them out of it. Offer a smile and word of encouragement to someone downcast. Offer a helping hand to the person in front, beside or behind you, whose life debris just hit the ground and scattered everywhere. If you want to make a big difference over the course of your life, a little difference today is all you can start with. Be intentional about being present for anyone who might need you, wherever today finds you. It doesn’t take any skill to start today, just a willing heart. It’s you that will become someone great when you feed the greatness inside of you, one small act of service at a time. You never know when Maria will need your encouragement, or a father nearby was gently impacted by your courage. I just hope you’re not too busy with inconvenience when life’s water lands in your lap.