Winter. It’s interesting how reflecting upon the current season can jog memories. I did not put “think about winter” on my calendar; these thoughts came to me while I was doing little parts of my daily routine.
This morning while applying (many coats) of mascara, I started thinking about winter and how much of Ohio winter remains before we can enjoy warm days. Right before I was about to coach myself up on what there is to enjoy about winter (a stretch for me), a memory came to mind.
In order to understand this small memory, I will need to go back a few years prior to give you context. We lost my dad to Leukemia when he was thirty three years old. It used to be that when I told people about this I started with how old I was – I was six years old. But something in me changed when I turned thirty four and had officially lived to see more years than my dad. Suddenly, I could more fully appreciate how young he was when he died. I also used to focus on how much was taken from me and how hard that was for me as a kid. It was. It was hard. But now when I think about it, I spend more time imagining how hard that must have been for all of the adults. My dad. My mom.
So, after my dad passed in February of my 1st grade year, life was different. We were all different. And when second grade came around, I was walking in regular school life and yet life wasn’t regular. My second grade teacher was mean. I don’t know how else to put it. She was not kind, and as an adult and educator looking back, I do not approve of the way she managed her classroom. There were times when the entire class was told to put their “names on the board” as a punishment. There was a time when I didn’t have my glue and scissors, so she sent me in the hall because I was unprepared and told me to figure it out. So, I sat there, sobbing, tearing construction paper and licking it to try to get it to stick together until thankfully a substitute teacher walked by and helped me.
This particular teacher told my mom during conferences that I would always be a C student in math. Apparently, this teacher thought she could see the future, and she was less than impressed by mine.
And X marks the spot where my fear of math and limiting beliefs about it began. It began with a teacher.
That context is important to know, so you can fully appreciate my memory this morning.
When I was in 7th grade, everything was, well, rough. I was teased for being too skinny. I was teased for wearing wrestling shoes to school…a fun competitive dance trend that was not on trend in public school. I was called a “freezer” for not being physical with boys. You get the point. Seventh grade for lack of a better word – sucked.
So, I cried a lot about school. I also cried a lot about my math class because it felt hard and was made doubly hard by the fact that my teacher was very rigid and scary and made me feel stupid when she called on me in class.
One day in the middle of winter, I turned the page in my math notebook and picked up my pencil to take notes. To my surprise, there was already writing on that page, and it wasn’t my own. It was my mom’s.
I wish we had cellphones at the time, so I could cherish a picture of it, but this note included drawings and encouragement. The note contained warm thoughts about all of the goodness that spring would bring and remarks about the good she saw in me.
It’s a bit emotional to write about this because here’s what I know: My mom – a single parent, working around the clock to care for two kids, took the time to think of me, write me a note, and draw me some pictures.
I’m thirty eight years old. I remember this story like it was yesterday. I also remember all of those other stories I shared like they happened yesterday too.
Because the truth is, we are always making an impact. Positive or negative.
We make an immense impact with our words. With our actions. With our work. With our follow-through. Even when we are not trying to be impactful, we are impacting others.
We can choose to be overwhelmed and intimidated by that.
Or we can see it as an opportunity.
What if there is someone in our orbit today who needs a small, hand-written note? Someone who needs us to draw them a picture? Someone who needs words of hope in a text message? Someone who needs us to pick up the phone and call them to share all of the good things we’ve been noticing about them? Someone who simply needs to know and feel that we are in it with them. Whatever “it” may be.
What if someone’s long winter could be altered with one small act of kindness? A small act that would take very little effort on our part?
That is a big part of leadership. Leadership is looking deeply at humans and our impact on them. Leadership is action. Leadership transcends titles, positions, age…
Imagine how the world would change if we all simply cared a bit more and did something with that care every day. Imagine if we all leaned into our own capacity for leadership.
It starts with us. It starts with something small and actionable.
And it grows with practice.