On a recent Monday morning, Roswitha and I made our weekly stop at Mar Vista Cottages to pick up a few dozen eggs. There were none at the entrance, so I drove to the main office to see if they had some they’d not put out yet. Fact is, they did.
Renata, co-owner of Mar Vista, is the exuberant sort who thoroughly enjoys engaging with people. This particular morning she was unusually high-spirited. Mar Vista had been the site of a most special event over the weekend, a wedding. To hear Renata describe it, was clearly a beautiful occasion.
I thought, what a great thing to be able to do . . . to contribute to a life-changing event; a weekend that a bride and a groom, their families and all their guests will never forget. Renata obviously delighted in having an opportunity to help make it all happen. I suspect events like this stay in her heart for a long time. How fortunate Renata and her husband, Tom, are to own an establishment that guests will always remember fondly. To make a difference. And to know it!
Sometimes, though, we can make a difference and not know it.
In the late 1960’s and early 70’s I was sales manager for a large San Diego printing firm. Chuck and Rosie Kimball owned NKS Ltd., a design & photography firm, and were very good clients. From time to time I’d invite them to lunch. Usually only one of them could join me, most often Rosie. The other would mind the shop. In 1977, I moved to Colorado and about a year later to Northern California. I lost track of the Kimballs.
In the mid-80’s I received a phone call. It was Rosie. I’d not thought of her or Chuck for years.
“Joel,” she began. “It took me awhile to track you down, but I had to call and say thank you.”
“It’s great to hear from you, Rosie,” I responded. “But what are you thanking me for?”
“Do you remember the last time we had lunch together, at the Reuben E. Lee? I mentioned that I wasn’t real happy with what I was doing and I expressed the fact that Chuck and I were having problems. Then you asked me a question, a simple question; what was important to me? How did I want to live my life?
“I thought about it for a long time; five. ten minutes, maybe more. And you stayed quiet. You let me figure things out.
“Joel, my dream was all about family. I wanted to spend my life being close to my kids and grandkids. Chuck and I are still friends, but we’re divorced. I’ve worked hard and now own a compound of homes in San Diego. I have 4 homes, I live in one and my three children live in each of the others. I don’t think I’d ever have given myself the permission to do what I’ve done if you’d not asked the question. So, I wanted you to know, and to thank you!”
I’m a bit luckier than some. I’ve been made aware of a few differences I’ve contributed to. Not only because of Rosie’s call, which was significantly eye-opening, but also as a result of a folder I created years ago to track feedback when I was a consultant.
But I had no idea I’d made a difference in Rosie’s life, and that’s just it. How many other differences might be out there about which I knew nothing? Every time we interact with someone there’s the possibility of making a difference. Sometimes, as I learned from Rosie, it could happen simply by listening.
The difference might be insignificant. Or life changing. It could be a good difference, or a bad one. Or none at all. But who we are and what we do, wittingly or unwittingly, has the potential of making an impact.
Simply by being sensitive and thoughtful, paying attention, asking questions, being a good listener, you just might be the person who does make a difference, who makes someone’s life a little better.
You may never know that you’ve made that difference. I certainly didn’t with Rosie. I’m not sure that matters, though. Know it or not, it’s certainly a nice way to be remembered.