The email was sitting in my inbox with the subject line, “Who you are makes a difference”. I thought to myself, “Great, another one of those schmaltzy forwards.” However, I felt compelled to click on it and give it a quick read through, since a client had sent it to me.

Within the contents of the email, a true story unfolded about a New York City teacher who decided to honor her students by letting each of them know how they had made a difference in her class.

One by one she called each student up to the front of the room, telling each of them how they uniquely made a difference. After she spoke, she pinned a small blue ribbon on each child, with the words, “Who I am makes a difference”.

Shortly after the ceremony, she became inspired to facilitate a class project to determine the impact of acknowledgement on individuals. She gave each student three ribbons and challenged the class to “pay their ribbons forward”. Each student agreed to collect the results of their “make a difference” project and report back one week later.

One student gave the first ribbon to an executive of a company and thanked him for helping him plan his future career. Afterwards, the executive reflected and decided to present the second ribbon to his boss, whom many employees considered to be an irritable and self-absorbed person.

The executive approached his boss and said, “This kid is doing a class project and he asked me to pass this ribbon on to someone who has made a difference in my life. I’d like to present this ribbon to you, because your creative input has made a huge difference in the success of this organization.” The boss was surprised and touched by being awarded the ribbon.

As the boss drove home from work he wondered who he would give the remaining ribbon to. As soon as he pulled in the driveway he knew. He walked into the living room where his son was sitting in the corner watching TV.

He asked his son if he could speak with him. His son nodded. “Son, I know I’m often busy and distracted with work and when I talk to you it’s usually to complain about something or to tell you what to do… but I want you to know that out of all the people in the world you and your mom mean everything to me.

Who you are makes a difference to me.” With those words his son began to cry. His son then shared that earlier that day he had written a note after deciding to take his life that night after his parents went to bed. The young man paused, looked at his father and said, “That letter upstairs, I don’t think I’ll need it after all.”

Do you acknowledge the impact you’ve had on others?

This story made me think about how I often fail to acknowledge the impact that others have had on my life, as well as the impact I’ve had on other people’s lives.

I found myself thinking of all the individuals who have made a difference in my life from my childhood until now, reflecting on the specific ways that they influenced and guided me. It added an interesting twist to also think about the ways I might have impacted others’ lives. This was a bit of a stretch for me.

It felt uncomfortable to focus on my strengths. But once I acknowledged my contributions, I realized that this was an undeniable universal principle. Others impact us, and we impact others.

I was also fascinated by the reciprocal nature; most of the people who have made a difference in my life would also probably say I’ve made a difference in their lives as well.

I’m reminded of a scene in It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic, where the character George Bailey contemplates suicide because he failed to live up to his lofty dreams and ambitions to travel and see the world.

Instead of traveling, George spent his life running the local Savings and Loan and giving to the people in his local community of Bedford Falls. As he stands on a bridge above the river he is visited by Clarence, a Christmas angel who is on a mission to earn his wings by proving to George the impact he has had on other people’s lives.

Clarence gives George the opportunity to witness the lives of his family, friends and community members as if he had never been born. George is startled by what he sees and comes to understand that he truly has made a difference.

How many of us are like George Bailey, downplaying our contributions because we believe that they aren’t significant or impressive enough? What if we were to live our lives from the sacred place of knowing that we have inherent value and that our uniqueness makes a difference?

How would this way of being affect our interactions with others? Imagine how this would affect our internal dialogue. Instead of feeling that we had to constantly “do more,” we could come from a place of knowing that we have nothing to prove and that in our own way, we’ve already succeeded. We’ve already made a difference.

Think of someone who has made a difference in your life and let them know

Take a moment to reflect on and honor the ways in which you’ve made a difference in other people’s lives. After you’ve honored your unique contributions, pay it forward. Think of one person that has made a difference in your life. Send them an email, write them a card, write a quick message on a post-it note, or give them a call. Let them know.

Many of us fail to acknowledge the incredible people in our lives that matter most to us. Our spouse, close friends and children often receive the brunt of our bad moods and harsh words spoken under stress, and sometimes they receive the least amount of our precious time.

Yet, in the end, these are the people who matter the most to us.

Author's Bio: 

Leslie Cunningham specializes in working with women entrepreneurs who experience fear and self-doubt in their ability to consistently make more money in their business. The end result that women achieve through following Leslie's advice and expertise is that they are able to permanently get off the emotional financial roller coaster ride and break into six-figures and beyond.