In the US high school graduation parties are a big thing. The year I graduated I had many parties to make an appearance at to show my support and congratulations for all of my friends and classmates who were graduating as well. On the day of my own graduation party, I went to the party of a girl I had known since elementary school, and as it was not very busy I was able to talk with my friend and her mom for awhile without the distraction of others. I remember vividly how as we were talking about graduating, my friend’s mom started tearing up, saying how proud she was of me and how she was so happy of the things I had overcome.
And I hated it. I hated that someone else felt that strongly about my life and the experiences I had had. If anyone should be proud, if anyone should cry, it should be me. At that point in my life, I thought, how dare you pretend to understand my life and feel this intensely emotional about whatever it is that I have done in my past or will do in my future.
At that time in my life, three long years ago, I didn’t understand how much we have the potential to influence the people around us. For a long time I wanted to be a positive influence for people, but I thought it had to come through some grand gesture–that I would need to become more well known or write a book or do something to change the world in order for people to be influenced by me.
But recently I have realized that this assumption about the influence we have on others was quite wrong.
In the last few weeks I have had multiple people tell me (out of the blue) that I influenced them to do something. Each time I heard this I was surprised. I wasn’t trying to influence anyone, I was just going about and living life as I saw fit. How could I influence anyone by just being me?
One of my friends who is here in Japan with me is always talking about grand plans about what he wants to do in the future. Last week he said I was the reason he decided to hitchhike to Osaka. Of course, this was a shocker because he knows I think this is a terrible idea. So I asked him, “How on earth did I influence you to do that? You know I think it will get you killed!”
And his response really illuminated and solidified my new understanding about how it is that we are capable of influencing others just by being ourselves.
He said that he was impressed that after talking about pastry school and talking about going to school in Japan after graduating, that I made concrete steps to make that happen–that my words are backed up by actions and I don’t talk about things I don’t intend to followthrough with. And through watching how I live my life, he was influenced to act similarly.
And I think that that is so impressive. Without writing a book, or being the best at anything, or becoming famous, or trying to impart wisdom on others, I am capable–just by being me–of influencing others.
That is a very strong motivation for me to keep trying to live my life according to my own goals and intentions; that I can become the positive role model I have always wanted to be just by focusing on bettering myself and not worrying or thinking about trying to reach out to others.
I think back to my time in high school and how many people encouraged me and congratulated me, who experienced pride and sadness and triumph as I struggled and came out on the other side much healthier and happier than before. Now, instead of feeling anger toward people who didn’t have all the details but thought they were influenced by me, I feel happy that in some small way I was able to touch the lives of the people around me, and that maybe through the influence of my life those people will live their lives or experience certain things in a different (and hopefully positive) way.
I hope that I can live my life continuing to influence the people I meet in positive ways, and also that other people realize how much each of their actions has the potential to influence the people around them.