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  • Writer's pictureDelphia Simmons

What We Do

I have always loved the movie It’s a Wonderful Life; the title, Jimmy Stewart’s acting, and especially the overall message which has stuck with me for decades.

 

I was in my youth the first time I ever saw this classic. Back then, there were not nearly as many movie options, so my five sisters and I gathered in the den around the small TV whenever we saw it listed in the TV Guide

 

One of my favorite moments comes near the end when the main character, played by Stewart, realizes that he has been given another chance to live the life he had threatened to end just a few minutes before meeting his guardian angel. His angel had shown him what life would be like if he had never been born. He had seen how wonderfully impactful his life was. Suddenly, the problems driving him to question his value no longer mattered; the bigger picture of his life was in view. 

 

In this second half of life, I realize there are more opportunities and more understanding around sharing what has been learned with others. Our life experiences are our teachers. From the obvious impact of bringing a child into the world, to the very subtle decisions and choices to show kindness and gratitude, offer an apology or forgiveness, and where and how we invest our time; each of these choices sets more in motion than we can see without actively pausing to pay attention to our lives. There are knowns and unknowns and what is known is only known in part.

 

For me, self-reflection is almost as important as eating and reading. I even go so far as to allow myself to imagine having never been born and the impact my absence might have had on the lives of others. As a leader of impact measurement in my job, I know the importance of constantly examining how and why things work together. I believe it has a similar value in our personal lives. Everything touches everything and it is okay to let things emerge while giving attention to how they come together.

 

Some situations cause me to question my relevance, especially when I compare what I want to do with what I can do. But it all matters, both what we get done, and what we aspire to, and are still dreaming of doing. Our dreams contribute to the bigger dream and are passed on to and can inspire others. Imagine what you do means more than you can know.

This is one way to fight against the easy urge to think or play small. But this shift in thinking doesn’t happen easily. Even though I have come to know that one of my core values is offering meaningful contributions, I’m still affected by the illusion of separateness, that I’m just one person, and that what I do matters very little.

 

Time and practice have taught me better. The daily decisions we make in our jobs and lives seem small and insignificant, but they never are. The words of French philosopher Michel Foucault also help me to remember to think about the future impact of my actions.

 

“People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.” I don’t know where I first read Foucault’s words, some 20 years ago, but they’re now aligned with every choice I make. I live hoping what I choose to do will be part of some greater good to the world around me or maybe even to humanity. Of course, just like the Stewart character, I’d love to know my life’s impact with some certainty. Who wouldn’t, right? 

 

But the reality is we can only trust and move. The visible is difficult to miss while the invisible has to be believed to be seen. It’s like being at the initial starting point of dominos toppling then branching off in all directions, eventually over a horizon and out of sight. Maybe that’s the only certainty of our living: we are constantly, through our choices, shaping and changing one another, together, our doing, our loves, and our decisions. Living life open to this fact can be pretty wonderful if we’re willing to pay attention. 

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