On my grandfather’s 100th birthday, he was asked many times about his secret to longevity. He answered the question each time quite readily, attributing his long life to the fact that in his later years, he ate a bowl of Total breakfast cereal every morning, followed by a whiskey chaser. He said it kept his blood moving. While I am in no position to question whether Total and whiskey equate to the fountain of youth, I do know that his staying active and having a purpose contributed to Grandpa’s long life.
Grandpa was always busy. In terms of his career, he reinvented himself three times. From the time he returned from WWI, when he was in his early-to-mid-20s, until he was 55 or so, he operated the dairy farm that had been in the family for several generations. Then he moved into his second career as a house painter. He painted houses until he was 85, when he started his third career, refinishing furniture. He did that for about 10 years before finally retiring.
It wasn’t just the work that kept Grandpa’s vitality intact. He really cared about people. And he was a born storyteller. He would engage with those around him in a way that I haven’t seen very often in life. While he worked hard, he also spent a good deal of energy talking with his customers, whether he was delivering their milk, painting their homes or selling them a piece of newly restored furniture. He had a certain knowing way — an awareness that he could make a difference in a person’s life, even if it was just by sharing some of his common-sense wisdom through a funny story. It was his gift.
Every person has a gift. What is yours? You may not feel as though you have one, but you do. Look back over the past year and think about instances when you may have mentored another person, when you may have encouraged someone who was feeling down, or when you offered support to someone who needed it. In each of those instances, you were providing a gift to that individual. For example, as a lawyer, you have skills and expertise through which you have undoubtedly made a significant impact on someone’s life. Or, perhaps you have an avocation that provides you with an opportunity to touch others in an important way. Maybe you are a good listener. Sometimes one of the greatest gifts is just allowing another individual to be heard.
At the holiday season, it is hard to miss a showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on television. That film is the perfect illustration of how we can influence the life of another, sometimes without ever knowing it. As Clarence the angel said to George Bailey, “Strange, isn’t it George? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be an “influencer” to be influential. The act of sharing your gift doesn’t have to be anything monumental. It can be something as small as offering a smile to someone who appears to be lonely or opening a door for someone laden with packages. Often we have no idea how our actions impact others. Something that we consider to be insignificant can turn out to be a life-changer for someone else.
People who share their gifts to help others often view the world not as it is, but as how it could be. They feel empowered to make a difference — and do so — even if it is just for one person at a time. In the upcoming new year, take some time to think about your unique gifts and how you can use them to change the life of someone else for the better. In doing so, you can bring purpose and meaning into your own life as well.•
Jonna Kane MacDougall is assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law. A professional career/life coach, MacDougall can be contacted at 317-775-1804 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.