The past year, in my life as a professor, I asked myself daily before I walked into each class what my goal was. That kept it real for me. It helped me to get out of my own way, forget my to-do lists, and set the tone for each session. The goal, always, was to engage my students, share knowledge, and if possible, impact them—if only one of them—in some positive and meaningful way. Ideally, over the course of the semester, my objective was to inspire students to be lifelong learners, but I was cognizant that it if I wanted to make a longer- term impact, I had to focus on daily lessons.
At the end of each of my days teaching, I reflected. Did I share information that inspired students? Did I engage them in learning new ideas and concepts? Did I get them jazzed up about an idea, a cause, a topic, an author? Did I positively influence one of them to think, believe, or aspire to something new? Some days, no. But being aware of my ambition inspired me to give 110% each class, and resulted in keeping me innovative and flexible. The plan each day was to be open to adapting the curriculum depending on where each class was academically, and sometimes emotionally. I wanted to make classes worthwhile for the students, which in turn made them meaningful for me.
The point of it all
My goals in the classroom made me reflect on my goals in my corporate career. There had certainly been times that my relationships with clients and investment in projects was more about revenue and deliverables versus my desire to make an impact. There was something about teaching—the all-in, always-on aspect of it to engage and inspire students—that had reminded me of what mattered most when it came to relationships and partnerships. In that respect, teaching had made an impact on my professional life: while revenue and deliverables satisfy the transactional aspect of business, what matters most is the impact and value you bring to those you interact with.
Whether it clicks for us in the moment, or in retrospect, it is usually that one experience, that one partnership, that one tête-à-tête that can change a person’s life, or at least motivate them to examine the route they are pursuing. Throughout my own life, it has been my professors, mentors, bosses, students, or friends who have shared a story with me, advice, or a comment that has fueled me through a stage in my development. Years back, when I was at a turning point in my life, my mom asked, “Is this what you want for your life?” The answer was no. That comment propelled me to get back on the right route, which powered me into the next chapter of my life. Impact often inspires action.
We live in a world in which connections have become a numbers game for some; it’s not uncommon for professionals to tally up the connections that they have amassed and note the number of people who have read or liked their articles on social media. In the end, though, it is the relationships we form with our connections that matter, not the number of contacts we accrue.
The professionals that have impacted me the most deeply are so busy living their passion that they are not calculating the facts and figures of the people who admire them. They are immersed in making a difference, whether that involves delivering babies, helping people to manage their finances, advising patients through illness, selling houses, or assisting students to learn and grow. They give what they are doing their all without any interest in fame and followers. When we genuinely connect with others, we have the opportunity to impact one another, which is perhaps the greatest reward of all.
Making a difference
What happens when you choose to make an impact in all you that you do? It empowers you to invest in your daily experiences and interactions a bit more, which in turn fosters more meaningful days. How to get started? Check in with yourself at the start of each day. Ask yourself what your goals are for all that you have scheduled, whether it’s face to face meetings, phone conversations, planning, creating, or research. If you want to make an impact, be clear on how and why. Your intention often informs the way you approach all that you do.
Check in with yourself at the end of each day. Were your interactions impactful? Did you add value to a project, person, or partnership in some way? Did you add value to your own life? Were you authentic or staged? Did you make any meaningful connections? How will you nurture them? Understanding what you aim to accomplish is the surest plan to map out a course to get there, and reflecting on your actions each day enables you to learn, grow, and when necessary, adapt.