Monday, August 5, 2013

The Smallest Moments Make the Biggest Difference

by Jeff Haden, Ghostwriter, Speaker, Inc. Magazine Columnist: Linked In:

The smallest moments almost always make the biggest difference - whether in our lives or in the lives of others.

In college I needed a history course to meet general studies requirements.

I closed my eyes and chose a European history class. As I recall there were three textbooks assigned. I think I bought one of them.

By then I had figured out that if I showed up for every class, regardless of the subject, and paid attention I could easily get a B, occasionally even an A. Doing the reading wasn’t necessary (yeah, I took a pragmatic approach to college. I bet you did too, at least some of the time).

The professor was Dr. Philip Riley, now retired. The class was a 200-level overview that students tend to dislike and professors probably dislike more, but somehow he made it interesting. During his lectures I actually found myself thinking, "I’d like to know more about that ...".

So one evening I actually opened my textbook. I eased it closed soon after, taking care not to lessen its value on the used book market (is anything less readable than a textbook?).

But the thought nagged at me. I read all the time when I was growing up but had stopped reading during college (how ironic is that?). I realized I missed reading. So I stopped by Dr. Riley’s office, something I never did with any other professor.

"I like history," I said to him, "but I can't get through 'history books. Can you recommend a few that are maybe a little more reader-friendly?" (I know; I'm sure I came across as quite the intellectual).

Fortunately he took no offense. Among other books he recommended Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory. And I remembered why I liked to read.

He also gave me great advice. "Remember," he said, "read for pleasure. If you pick up a book and don’t like it, put it down. Never read what you think you should read. Never feel inadequate if you don’t like what you’re 'supposed' to read. Reading is personal. Your opinion is the only opinion that matters."

While I certainly can’t draw a straight line from here to there - I took a 20-year detour in manufacturing - Dr. Riley is a major reason I’m now a writer. Without him I’m not sure I would have found a love for history ... and for great books ... and for great writing (a skill I appreciate but have yet to achieve).

A few years ago I sent him a note of thanks. He replied, "As you well know the best education is always self-inflicted, so you deserve the credit here, not your tottering old professor."

Dr. Riley is an incredibly smart man, but in this instance he’s wrong. What we are today is largely due to the words and actions of other people. Most of those words or actions were, at the time, small and seemingly inconsequential.

Only when we look back can we connect the dots.

That also means we never know when our words or actions might make an impact on someone else: an employee, a customer, a supplier ... all it takes is a little encouragement, a little acceptance, a little praise: small moments insignificant to us but possibly life-changing for the other person - even if they don't realize it at the time.

Dr. Riley didn't know what my future might hold. In a way it didn't matter.I asked for help, and he took the time to listen and encourage. That's all it took to make a huge difference in my life.

I hope I've made a similar impact on another person. If I haven't, it's not too late: Every small moment for me can be a huge moment for someone else - especially if I remember to treat it that way.

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(Photo courtesy flick user Moyan Brenn)

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