Reach up, reach back

Jan 26, 2021

“You don’t remember me, do you?”

I was having dinner in a distant city where I had traveled to be the keynote speaker at a conference the next day. I looked up to see a young woman standing with three small children and her husband, all smiling down at me.

“I’m so sorry. I’m afraid I don’t,” I sheepishly replied, standing to shake their hands. “That’s ok,” the woman replied, “I worked for you fourteen years ago, when I was a junior project manager.” This reference enabled me to place our connection in the time when I served as CEO of a technology services company.

 “It was my first job out of college,” she said, “and in that role, I was given the opportunity to lead my first project. Even though it was small, the project was successful and after it was complete, you wrote me an email.” By now, I was beginning to wonder where this story was going.

“In the email,” she continued, “you congratulated me, and then you said you were certain that one day, I would be a great leader. I wanted you to know how much that email meant to me.”

She then reached into her purse and drew out a ragged, coffee-stained piece of paper. As she held it up, she said, “This is that email. I’ve carried it with me for fourteen years.”

I was stunned. And deeply humbled. I didn’t remember this young woman, nor did I remember writing that email, but I knew this encounter was a moment I would never forget. 

Long after they left my table, I wondered how something so small as an email, could have had such an impact? And even more, how many opportunities like this had I passed by in my busy drive for achievement?

I decided that night to spend the rest of my life finding greatness in the people around me and doing all I could to help it grow. I set a goal: one person, every week, for the rest of my life. After fifteen years of emails, cards, and voice messages I can't imagine missing a single week.

Would you consider joining me?

Just imagine the impact we could have if each of us planted one seed of hope, one spark of encouragement in the heart of another every week. 

If you’re ready, here are a few suggestions to get you started:

1.     Be on the lookout – greatness is usually all around us, but we’re so busy we don’t see it. Instead of waiting for it to happen, go in search of it. Set a goal to find at least one person every week who goes beyond what’s expected, who gives unselfishly to someone who’s struggling, or who demonstrates kindness in a moment of tension. If you look for it, I promise you will find it.

2.     Call it out – Make the time to say something, or write something, or even record something that will be meaningful to the person. Remember, an email that took only minutes to write, impacted the young woman in my story for more than a decade.  No matter how busy you are, you can find ten minutes.

3.     Leave a lasting mark – Goals are important, but achievements always fade. Keep reaching up, but don't forget to reach back and help someone else. At the end of your life you won't be asking, "Did I win?" You'll be asking, “Did I make a difference?” Every time you plant a seed of greatness in someone, the answer to that question will be yes.


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