Yesterday I said goodbye to an old friend and work colleague who left this world way too soon. Today I sit looking out over the ocean at a horizon that goes on forever and thinking about what’s next. This wasn’t someone I spent a lot of time with after our career paths diverged, and it had been too long since I had seen him in person, but he was one of those special people who made your day with even the smallest contact, an unexpected run-in or Facebook comment as impactful as a lengthy visit. He always left you smiling, and the world feels a little bit emptier without him.
For some reason, this year has brought with it a lot of self-reflection for me, so please pardon the dramatic tone and introspection. I’ve been calling it my YOLO year (i.e., “you only live once” for those who are unfamiliar with the term), and I’m not sure what sparked it, but I know that moments like these keep it going. I’m still my cautious, practical self, so it’s not like I’m jumping out of planes (yet), but I am spending more time saying “yes” instead of “maybe”, catching myself before overthinking my lists of pros and cons, and minimizing the extensive cost-benefit analyses.
Most importantly, I’ve tried to stop worrying about whether I’m good enough and instead braved some new challenges. I have been rewarded with unexpected experiences, awards, and new friends. And I have realized how much time I have wasted over years of second-guessing myself and limiting my experiences through self-doubt. It’s a tough habit to break, but I’m trying.
A few weeks ago, I went to my college reunion. While I loved the school, I was a shy and self-conscious co-ed. During those years, I worried a lot about my appearance and my many missteps, but at the reunion, walls of old photographs captured my classmates caught in many an embarrassing moment sporting universally horrible 80’s haircuts and fashion and showed me just how well I had actually fit in. Long chats with old friends reminded me of who I was and who I am, and I learned that I had more of an impact on others than I ever knew, through some of the smallest interactions. I wish I had been able to see this at the time.
Afterwards, I followed up with one particular friend to thank him, not just for being a highlight of my reunion visits, but also for always being welcoming to me during college though I was a shy girl and he was a popular guy. Like my friend who was memorialized this week, his natural kindness had a significant impact on me, and my YOLO attitude encouraged me to risk embarrassment and let him know. This gesture, in turn, had a positive impact on him, and even started an unexpected conversation that deepened our friendship further.
While in the past, most people only directly impacted small numbers of individuals through personal interactions, recent years have given us all the opportunity to impact millions in minutes through the internet. Unfortunately, it has brought out the worst in some and has given support to destructive voices that would otherwise have remained isolated. I have been so saddened by the negative impact of social media on our society, so disheartened by those who feel compelled to share outrageous videos and nasty comments, so concerned for those I know who have been personally attacked online. I worry about the children who are becoming desensitized to this behavior, and who can’t comprehend the idea that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
We all make more of an impact through our day-to-day words and actions than we can know, with potentially infinite ripple effects that can spread joy or anger, love or hate. Let’s stop wasting time with criticism and negativity, both towards others and towards ourselves. As the saying goes, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” My friend’s passing reminded me we only get one chance at this life, and we don’t know when it will be over. How do you want to be remembered? Choose to make others feel good. You might even feel better yourself.
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at email@example.com.