Do you ever wonder about the legacy you are leaving? The impact you have on others? Do you care? Is it something you think about?
It is something I ponder a lot as I contemplate my impact on the world. When you grow up in total dysfunction, it is easy to feel different and isolated from others. You look into the windows of other people’s lives, see loving families, stable comfortable lives and think ‘hmmmm, that would be nice. Despite growing up in chaos, I secretly, in my heart of hearts, desired to make a huge impact on the world.
For me that was going to be as an award winning influential journalist breaking important, world changing stories. Think George Negus, Ray Martin, Jana Wendt.
It did not quite work out the way I planned. I remember the day I realised my dream was total joke. I was standing on the deck of my little flat in Bellevue Hill, Sydney (not as fancy as it sounds, we lived over a bottle shop, which was handy at the time) in the pouring rain, sobbing, heartbroken that my dream had ended. I had no personal development, did not believe in myself at all so did not have the capacity at the time to be grateful for the lessons I had learnt and use them for bigger and better things. It took me 20 more years to have that light bulb moment.
Shattered, broken and a complete mess, I moved back to Brisbane, tail between my legs to start again.
Starting again was something I was really good at. In my 40s, I do not take as long to listen to my inner whisper; if something is not right or not working, I am quick to move on. There’s no point suffering needlessly!
With my dreams in tatters, I gave up on the idea that I would influence those around me on a large scale – no one would ever be touched by the thoughts and actions of Annette.
Over the past couple of years, two of the people who helped me on my journey of life have died – Robin Williams and David Bowie. Both significant mavens of their eras. Mavericks of comedy and music. Individuals with foibles, flaws and incredible charisma. They both have had an incredible impact on me … and millions of others.
I wonder when they started out if they realised the influence they would have on people (people they would never meet) and the influence they would have on our culture?
When both men died, I was moved to tears. Tears for men I had NEVER met. I did not know them personally. They did not know me … nor did they realise the influence they had on me, the pain they helped ease me through. The joy that filled my heart when I would crack up to Robin Williams as Mork, or his powerful performance in Dead Poet’s Society or David Bowie’s Sorrow, which I imagined he was singing to me because he understood the depth of my pain, or the admiration for his chameleon-like ability to change and adapt.
That is influence.
In a warped way, I coveted that influence. I wanted to touch people like they had.
But like all things, there is a spectrum of influence. Famous people are at the far end. You can still be influential on your spectrum, in your community, in your world. We all start at the lower end – how far we move up the spectrum depends on our courage to stand out.
Talking this confession through with my friend, I had an epiphany. You do not need to be world famous to touch people, to make a difference. A random act of kindness has a ripple effect that goes beyond a single action. Sharing your story of triumph or courage or knowledge inspires and educates those around you. Coveting fame, like jealousy and revenge, cheapens the impact you can have on those around … even those you do not ever realise you have touched.
So often someone does something for you, teaches you a valuable lesson and connects with you without even realising what they have done or how they have helped shape your actions. As humans, we are reticent to really open up to people outside our inner circle for fear of appearing weak or soft. It’s all about keeping that ‘professional’ façade. I think that is why so many people shy away from using PR as a tool to raise their profile and stand out, especially with the nasty tall poppy syndrome lurking over our heads. Being vulnerable is scary. I think there is room for vulnerability in business.
Now imagine the amazing feeling of telling someone – that someone who probably does not even realised the impact they have had on your life – of how they helped you. I did this recently to a person who I believe saved my life over 25 years ago. His belief in me reignited my belief in myself, giving me the courage to leave an abusive relationship and never look back. I wrote to him telling him what he had done for me. His response brought tears to my eyes – he did not realise how powerful his kindness and friendship had been; he was just being a good person. But he was instrumental in changing the course of my life. That warrants acknowledgement.
There are two things I want you to do – thank someone who has influenced you and never underestimate the power you have to do good … because whether you want fame or covert fame, every day, just by going after your dreams, you are shining the light on the path for someone else.
Share your story. Let is shape you, not define you.