The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
The Invisible People
All of us have a handful of individuals that did something truly spectacular for us. A mentor who provided invaluable guidance in your career. An Aunt who sent you cash at the precise moment you found yourself short. A coach who helped you find your pace. Parents who sacrificed their education so they could fund yours. A music teacher who helped you find your groove.
I suspect most of us recognized their generosity of time and resources and acknowledged their contributions and then moved on.
But what about the others who unknowingly enabled your success? The others whose names you don’t even know. The others whose faces you would never recognize. The others whom, as a collective, did more than any single contributor you do know. The others who are actually responsible for your success today!
Have you seen them? The individuals who silently served you. Those who invested in you without thought of payback? I didn’t. Until today.
I was showing my kids a video of a recent talk where I was giving thanks to a handful of individuals who sowed into my life where today I reap the benefits. It hit me that in addition to these key people there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of others who collectively made me who I am. I never acknowledged them. I never said thanks. I forgot them. I was blind.
Today, that changes. What about you?
The praying ladies. As college freshman, a handful of us musicians decided to visit nursing homes to play songs. These beautifully gray ladies shared with us that they had been praying for us. Yes, for 20+ years they prayed for hours daily for the students at our university. It was in college when my spiritual eyes awakened and I believe they had something to do with it.
The den moms. I was active in Cub Scouts and I know there were mothers who tolerated us hyperactive youngsters and helped us find our way. I don’t remember any names or faces, but they loved us to maturity as we learned how to build fires and tie knots. This experience paved my way to become an army engineer officer.
The coaches. I played youth soccer for many years and can only recall one coach. But I know each one of them helped develop me into a pretty decent striker over the years. Soccer became important to me as I entered high school, where I needed all the sport-induced self-esteem I could get. Success on the pitch was the foundation for my vision and participation on TeamUSA.
The sidelines. I have run hundreds of races and have never failed to finish. There were times when I was ready to shred my racing bib, but there were always those darned people on the sidelines exhorting me to finish. Be it a downtown 5K run, cycling up the Swiss Alps, or an Ironman, I owe my finishes to those cheering me on who did not even know my name.
The cleaners. I have occupied many offices throughout my career and have spent early mornings and late nights in them. I spoke with many of the people who cleaned those offices, and with others, I just exchanged pleasantries. In each case, they were part of the team that helped our organizations achieve success. Their kind words and cleaning skills helped me keep my office uncluttered so I had the right environment for success. All those awards they dusted hanging on the walls belong to them as much as to my visible team.
The administrative assistants. Of course I loved all assistants I engaged with regularly, but what about all the others in the background? These are the people that make organizations and people hum, the glue that keeps momentum flowing and collaboration happening. I know my success is enabled by all of them.
The swimmer. I have always struggled with efficient swimming. I was doing requisite laps at a hotel pool one day when the person next lane over spoke to me as we were taking a break between sets. He gave me a tip on my breathing technique that helped improve my stroke and I became faster. While I remain slow, I am no longer last out of the water.
The counselor. In sixth grade, I went to this week long “High Trails” camp in the Colorado Mountains. I don’t recall this particular counselor’s name or face, only that I did have a crush on her. I was experimenting with poetry and she encouraged me to keep writing and to share my heart. This blog and my books are a result of her words.
Teams. I always try to remember everyone’s name, but as my teams grew to 100 and then 1,000, I was no longer able to recognize everyone. But I know—oh, but I know — that all of our achievements were not because of me or even my direct reports. It was all about the team, especially those who toiled behind the scenes and made things happen. Achievements where we have leveraged technology to enable superior business and clinical outcomes are because of them.
It is the invisible that make you visible.
Who are the invisible people in your life?
I bet there are thousands. Find some and give them thanks. Practice the kind of humility that acknowledges your success has never been about you, but is the result of the invisibles whom enabled you to be who you are and rise to your level of training, stewardship, and vision.
Do you want to multiply your significance, your impact to the world? Do you want your life to matter? Be invisible to someone.
Genuine satisfaction comes from serving those who will never know you helped them, nor have the ability to give back. The invisibles.