Who made a difference in your life, or at least in a situation you faced? Do they know it? The response to my column on how small gestures can make a big difference was wonderful. The emails and/or posts with people sharing their stories suggested my own experiences and the experiences of others are much the same. In most cases, the person who made the difference is probably unaware of their impact. It is important to help people not underestimate the difference they are making even if they will never hear from the person whose life they touched.
Teachers are a group that comes to mind. In my talks, I often ask the group to think of their teachers. I then ask if they recall a teacher (or maybe more than one) who had a positive impact on them. One hundred percent of the hands go up. When possible, the group shares their stories. I then ask if the teacher is aware of the impact they had. Often, due to the situation, the teacher may not be aware of their impact. The same is true for parents of children who are in school. Is there a teacher who made or is making a positive difference in your child’s life? Does more than one teacher fit that description? If possible, drop the teacher or teachers a note expressing your appreciation. When meeting with principals, I encourage them to set aside a time each day to call parents with good news about their child. This often leads to the parents commending the teacher. This then provides the principal with the opportunity to share good news with the teacher.
There were a few teachers who had a big impact on me. I struggled in school. My grades were never very good. I still cannot spell well. It was not until the third grade that I could read. My third-grade teacher taught me to read. Each day she brought the sports page from the Chicago Tribune into class. She knew I liked sports. She then spent time with me on the sports page. I knew Miss James cared about me; she didn’t have to go the extra mile to engage me, but she did.
In sixth grade, Mr. Fry was my teacher. He knew I had trouble sitting still. He seemed to know how to keep me occupied. He also had a nice way of correcting me. I could tell even though he was correcting me, he still liked me.
Because it was years before I recognized the impact Miss James and Mr. Fry had, they never knew the difference they made in my life.
In high school, my soccer coach was Coach King. He had the same qualities as Miss James and Mr. Fry. He gave us the sense that he cared. Coach King was a teacher of students with special needs. My senior year, he let me help him in his class as a student aide. It was then that I realized I also wanted to teach children with special needs—and I did for a while before I got into healthcare. In my talks and in some of my books, I share my Coach King story. (I have even written about him in this column.) Years ago, I was giving a talk at a hospital in Easley, South Carolina. They requested I share the Coach King story. When I finished, Coach King walked on the stage. They had located him and flown him and his wife to South Carolina. Coach King had no idea how much he impacted my life, and it was wonderful to let him know.
Liz Jazwiec is a well-respected nurse. She has written books on leadership, engagement, and service excellence and has had a great impact. She shares a story about a time that her mother was in an intensive care unit. As she sat by her mother’s bedside at a hospital in which she did not work, she had with her a can of soda. A nurse walked by as she was opening the can of soda and gave her a quick glance. Liz at first thought she was breaking a rule. Very quickly the nurse appeared with a cup filled with ice. Liz shares that she knows firsthand how busy nurses are. Yet the nurse realized that even though that cup of ice would not make a clinical difference with Liz’s mother, it impacted Liz. The fact that she took the time to bring the ice meant so much.
I do a lot of flying. It is natural to think of all the times when things didn’t go as planned. It helps me to remind myself that the ticketing people, pilots, and flight attendants don’t enjoy delays or cancellations either. When departing the plane, I always thank the flight attendants. The expression on their faces tells me it is not the norm.
Please take time to remember someone (or more than one “someone”) who made and/or makes a difference in your life. Drop them a note. When out and about, let people know you appreciate them. And don’t underestimate the difference you are making by letting people know the impact they have had on your life.