Today’s post is a guest post from my amazing friend and fellow cannonballer, Carol Lynn Rivera. Please make her feel welcome here by leaving a comment!
This has been the hardest opening sentence I’ve ever had to write.
There. It’s out.
I mean, we’re on a blog called “Up Your Impact Factor” and one opening sentence I wrote sounded lamer than the next.
Is this impact?
Is this compelling?
Do I even speak human anymore?
I’m this absurd stream of consciousness. (Thanks, Jenny, for creeping me out by writing what’s spinning around in my head as I try to be “impactful”.)
Ok, so now that you know I’m completely neurotic, that’s basically all you need to know to put you in the right mindset for this post.
Because here’s the thing: I could never do a cannonball.
I guess if you’re not a suburban-american-ite I should tell you that a cannonball is the big splash that the big guys are so good at making when they grab their knees and slam their fat asses into the pool.
I bet you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you can do one. Me? I couldn’t even swim until I was sixteen and the first time I dove into a pool I was 18 and trying to impress a guy and it turned into me sort of falling on my head into the water and gasping for breath for ten minutes afterward. Super impressive.
Why does this even matter?
Well, because I’ve spent a lot of time on the edge of the figurative pool of life, getting splashed by the big guys who did the cool stuff that got everyone clapping and whistling.
I hated being that person. I wanted to make a splash. I wanted people to clap for me.
How’s your cannonball?
If you’re a big splash, then you can probably stop reading. But if you’ve always harbored the secret wish that aliens would come down and quietly abduct all the big shots so that someone could finally notice the little eddy of water rippling around your feet in the pool, then…. Well, then you’re a crazy person like me.
But did you also know that being on the edge of the pool is totally underrated? And that sometimes little ripples can make an impact?
Take it from someone who never made a splash.
It’s All About Appreciating The View
The first time I dove into a pool, all I saw was a blinding gush of water. But as I sat on the edge, I could see the back yard and the people and the trees. It was a wide perspective. I had time to think, without the sound of water rushing to fill my ear drums. I had time to analyze.
Who are these people? Why are they here? What is so important about all this splashing, anyway?
It’s hard to be thoughtful and objective when you’re up close and personal with a mouthful of chlorine. Much like it’s sometimes hard to get your head around a problem, a project or an idea if it’s up your nose (figuratively, of course).
All those big shots were so busy splashing and basking in the applause that they never really had a chance to see what was going on and understand why it even mattered.
I’ve gotten pretty good at analyzing and seeing “the big picture”. Splashers will look to me for my opinion on the arch of their back or the exact angle at which they hit the water and whether next time they should tuck a little more if they want to do better.
Turns out I enjoy watching, learning and understanding. A lot more than I enjoy spitting out dead bugs and chemicals.
And people need the watchers and the listeners. They need the voice of someone who is taking in the whole view and not just the microcosm. They make the big splash but the strength of the impact comes from those of us on the sidelines quietly offering ideas, support and encouragement.
Now you: Think about your skills, however uncelebrated, and how they enhance the bigger picture. You’re not a bump on a log just because you don’t jump headfirst into every fray. You’ve got ideas. You’ve got strengths. Write them down, everything from, “Makes a killer meatball” to “Has an uncanny ability to know the precise moment at which to pass a pen to prospects.” Play to your strengths – not the ones you secretly envy in someone else. Even if nobody claps for you, make sure they’d notice if you were gone.
Sometimes Being A Facilitator Is More Powerful Than Being A Player
Since I never tried to one-up anyone, I never agonized for a single moment about whether or not someone would one-up me. You may think this defies the very nature of competitive entrepreneurship.
But instead of being competitive, I learned to be cooperative. Some of those jumpers had fights about whose splash was bigger. Not brawling-in-the-street fights but the kind that’s friendly until someone has another beer.
Have you ever tried to reason with someone who thinks they’re smarter, bigger, faster, better, and who thinks being right about it is all that matters?
I learned how to be the Switzerland of pool parties. I made friends with everyone. And in turn made them friends with each other (or at least avoided spilled blood). When you’re not busy going head-to-head it’s easier to make reasoned assessments and take rational action.
Whenever there’s a disagreement, people with big splashes come to me. They ask me what I think. They say things like, “Am I wrong?” and “That guy’s crazy, right?” Sometimes it’s a little too melodramatic and I make someone bring me chocolate for sustenance. But mostly I’ve found that there are ways to solve problems that don’t involve chest-puffing and showing off. This is something the chest-puffers rarely figure out.
We un-applauded folks know that sometimes it’s not how impressive you appear but how much of an impression your actions and ideas make.
Now you: Consider the ways that your presence and participation contribute to a positive result (then say that three times fast). Think back on meetings, conference calls or projects. You did more than stare at the fly walking on the whiteboard. Maybe you didn’t shout. But I bet if you subtracted your voice, things wouldn’t have turned out the same. It’s hard, I know, but recognize your contribution no matter how small or how quiet and give yourself credit for it. Give yourself permission to be who you are instead of trying to compete as someone you’re not. Sometimes even silence packs a punch.
You Can Laugh At Other People
Come on, that’s just fun, right?
You Can Laugh At With Other People
Ok, for real? Competition can suck the joy out of life. When you’re busy running, jumping and splashing you can get so completely focused on it that you forget to breathe and enjoy life.
Those guys jumping in the pool were impressive but they also ran out of breath a lot. They zonked out on lounge chairs while everyone else was having a burger and playing Jenga. They were so intent on their purpose that they forgot why they even had a purpose.
When you’re so focused on a goal that you lose the joy in the execution or the “why” in the journey then you even stop hearing the clapping from the sidelines. And eventually, the people around you are going to get bored and go play volleyball with the kids.
Focus is good. Balance is better. The sideliners know this.
Now You: Make a list (yeah, I’m big on lists) of all the things you enjoy about your job and your life. Take that list out whenever you feel any nagging doubts that you’re not playing hard enough or whenever you’re tempted to compare yourself to someone else. You don’t need to do it all/have it all. You just need to be happy with what you’ve got. Choose your happiness, choose your goal and stand by it. Appreciate it. Own it. Don’t let anyone lure you into the deep end of the pool just because it sounds exciting and glamorous. Did you ever see the junk that accumulates at the bottom??
Epilogue: Making Friends With The Ripples
I never did get to be any good at doing a cannonball. I was no match for five bigger, stronger, higher-jumper-er brothers and endless cousins and party guests.
The thing is, I never did have to be any good at doing a cannonball. That wasn’t my impact. Ripples were my impact, the thing I loved and pooh-poohed because it never came with applause or gold stars. I only wanted to make a splash because I didn’t know enough then to realize that there was more to it than… well, a big splash.
Since then, I’ve managed a plink or two. I’ve embraced my ripples and jumped.
And do you know what happened?
Turns out those hotheaded, loudmouthed, attention-grabbers I’d so desperately wished would be whisked off the pool deck by horrible brain-sucking aliens had figured out long before I did that it wasn’t about the splash. They were willing to applaud my ripples, too, as soon as I gave them the chance.
So I’ll leave you with this: if you still harbor secret brain-eating-alien fantasies, it’s time to jump. Appreciate your ripples because until you do, nobody else will, either.
Your impact is you. And there’s nobody else on the planet who can do you like you can. So be the biggest, boldest, proudest, you-est you that you can be, whatever the decibel.
Carol Lynn is a many-hatted marketing professional and owner of creative services company Rahvalor Interactive along with her husband Ralph, where she serves as project manager, bookkeeper, copywriter and sandwich maker. She is also editor and blogger at Web.Search.Social where she offers tips, ideas and inspiration for other business owners and marketers. Carol Lynn has a degree in psychology and education, both of which come in handy when working with clients and blogging. In her spare time she enjoys reading, cooking and drinking mojitos. Connect with Carol Lynn on Twitter and Google+.
Feature photo by Jean Vaillancourt