The Big Impact We Don’t Realize We Make Every Day


“Don’t underestimate the impact your words, actions, and energy have on people. A small act can impact others in bigger ways than you’ll ever know.” ~Kat Quach

One thing we all share is the desire to leave a legacy behind. The desire to show that our life was worth something, that we achieved something, that we were important in some way.

We tend to focus on big achievements and the pursuit of activities that will leave something tangible behind. A charitable contribution, financial assistance for future generations, artwork, statues, monuments, even gravestones. But what if our impact can be felt in a way that is far more simplistic but just as important?

Many years ago, I experienced a fairly serious episode of depression. I’d just turned thirty, and my life hadn’t turned out remotely close to how I thought it would. I wasn’t happy with my job, I was reeling from a series of bereavements, and my marriage had ended a couple of years before. I felt like a failure.

I had been burning the candle at both ends, desperately trying to find ways to make myself feel happier, but if anything, I just felt worse. Feeling useless and inadequate with no idea of what my purpose was, I slumped into a severe depression. I just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.

It truly did appear that I had hit rock bottom.

Fortunately, I had the support of some good people around me and a tiny flicker of strength, suggesting that I wasn’t quite ready to stop living. I focused on getting some help and, with the aid of antidepressants, I was able to gather enough energy to start seeing a counselor and begin the process of addressing the issues in my life.

It was not a quick fix. It took time and was an incredibly painful process, but I persisted, and as the months progressed, I was able to stop taking the antidepressants.

As I started emerging from this fog of despair, I felt well enough to go out on a night out with some friends. I was in a bar when I met a girl I knew from school. We were having a nice chat. I hadn’t seen her for a few years, so there was a lot to catch up with.

After a while she told me that she wanted to thank me because I had saved her life when she was in her mid-teens. This was a surprise to me; I didn’t know what she was talking about.

She then proceeded to remind me that during that period she had been going through a very difficult time and had attempted suicide. Many of her peers had been less than understanding, and she had felt increasingly isolated.

She told me that the turning point came when I went to sit beside her on the bus one day and chatted with her. We didn’t talk about anything in particular, but the mere act of me sitting next to her and just being with her made her feel as if she had an ally. She concluded that she didn’t think she would be here, married with two children, if I hadn’t been kind to her.

I was astounded by this story. I remembered hearing about her suicide attempt; it was much talked about. And I also remembered how sad I’d felt about her despair. I hadn’t recalled my simple act of sitting beside her, and even if I had, I never would have imagined the scale of the impact it would have on her.

I found myself crying as I processed the profound significance her story held for me. What a gift to hear this at a time when I was feeling as if I had so little worth. I told her how I was feeling and that I had been struggling with depression, and she simply said, “Well, perhaps you needed to hear this from me.”

After that night, there was a difference in me. On one level, I was still enduring the constant slog of navigating my way through this episode of depression, but on another level, I was starting to feel a different energy as I began to truly understand the impact of our actions on others.

Up until that point I had perhaps focused more on the power of negative actions and believed that only grand gestures could have a positive influence. In fact, one of the contributing factors to my depressive state had been a feeling of impotence and powerlessness.

I reflected on how little action had been required on my part in this scenario. I hadn’t made any dramatic moves to help my fellow student, and we didn’t even discuss her circumstances, but according to her, just having someone be with her was enough.

The realization of the significance of that small act, the positive effect that such a simple gesture had elicited, was inspiring, particularly so because in telling me about it she herself had given a gift that would transform me.

I had always been someone who liked to help others, but this feedback focused my mind on doing so in a more mindful way.

It spurred me on to get a new job, one where I felt as if I was in a better position to help others. I felt more patient with my elderly relatives, as I realized how much it could brighten their day to have someone visit them or take them out for a trip. It gave me the impetus to keep learning about myself, to become more aware of my potential and influence.

Perhaps you are now waiting for me to tell you about my many accomplishments since that time, but that’s not how this story goes. My most important accomplishment, to be compassionate, is a work in progress.

It doesn’t always work. I still lose my temper occasionally or I feel a bit grumpy at times, but I try to remain mindful of my behavior knowing that it will have an impact on others.

I’m not suggesting that you have to go out and find someone in despair so you can save them. Sometimes the smallest act, such as smiling at another person as you pass them in the street or being understanding when the customer in front of you in a shop is being really slow, can make a huge difference to their day.

We often don’t understand what is going on in someone’s life, and it really doesn’t take much effort to be patient and kind.

Perhaps if we were to focus less on the grand prestige of awards and recognition and more on the smaller acts of being kind and compassionate, we could start to see the ripples of positive change that spread out from our actions. That is a legacy I believe is worth leaving.

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