There’s a great infographic by Anna Vital on the Funders and Founders website. It shows that the average person will meet 80,000 people in a lifetime but truly impact only 200. But, to achieve real scale — to impact not hundreds but hundreds of millions of people — you need to create something.
I like the infographic, but I don’t completely agree. I’m not sure you can compare the impact of inventing a product or service with the impact of a close personal connection. I know when Steve Jobs died it was sad, but when my grandfather died it was transformative.
The difference is impact.
I’ve always been fueled more by depth of connection than by quantity of connections. For me, the knots that I’ve tied through slumber parties and family stories over lunch are stronger and more important to me than someone who appreciates my writing but doesn’t know me as a person. Maybe that’s why I’m ok with my blog being read mostly by people who know me in real-life and why the idea of writing the great American novel is just interesting.
Even so, building connections is hard. It takes time and effort and even if you really want to do it well it’s easy to make mistakes. In my own life there have been times when I’ve gotten lost in my own life, in the day-to-day business of going to work and feeding the kids and falling into bed exhausted. There are times when I played Candy Crush instead of writing that quick note or making that phone call. You know the call, right? You saw something and said, “Oh my goodness, that is so like Jane — I really should reach out and tell her how much she means to me,” but then the light turned green and you drove on and you forgot.
Don’t worry I forget, too.
Lately, I’ve been trying not to forget. I’ve been trying to tell people in the moment and in little ways that they are important to me. I announced at lunch that I loved how our family has hung together during hard times. I told my in-laws how thankful I am for them. I posted on a friend’s facebook post how much she would be missed if she was gone. I told my husband that he is the best thing that ever happened to me. Twice. I hugged my kids and took selfies, even though they act they don’t like it — like it’s weird.
Ok, it is weird.
It’s weird to sit down with someone and be open and honest about what they mean to you and the value they bring to your life. Sometimes people look at me a little strangely when I do it — like they aren’t sure it is sincere or they don’t know what to say. But more often than not there is a look of thanks and you can almost feel the braiding of line. Strand by strand a connection is made based on nothing more than the honest reflection of another person’s worth in the world and in your life.
Yesterday, I reminded a beautiful woman how inspirational she has been to me. As a child I watched her strength and courage as she struggled as a single mother. I just looked at her reiterated that she was my hero and that she had given me a lifelong appreciation for the challenging role faced by single parents. Her eyes filled with tears as she told me that the first time I told her that message it had given her the self-confidence to see herself differently, to think of herself as more. We hugged and I told her that I loved her.
So, I get it. I understand that if I made something that changed the life of millions of people it would be bigger. But I don’t care about bigger. I care about moments when people feel like they can be more. I care about knowing that when I send a note or text or an IM to tell someone that I was thinking of them that it can improve their mood or give them enough energy to take on a hard moment. I care that when someone thinks of me they smile. I care about tying knots that can hold a sail fast in a storm, real connections that are based not on the whims of circumstance but on intentional effort, respect and appreciation.
I care about building those connections, because in the end those are the only connections that matter.