By: Jeff Haden, a Special to Overdrive
Often the smallest moments made the biggest difference in our lives… Here’s why.
In college, I needed a history course to meet general studies requirements, so I closed my eyes and chose a European history class. The professor was Dr. Philip Riley. The class was an overview course, which students tend to dislike and professors probably dislike more, but he somehow made it interesting. During his lectures, I even found myself thinking, Hey, I’d like to know more about that, so one night I actually opened my textbook. I closed it a few minutes later; few books are less readable than textbooks. Still, it nagged at me. I read all the time when I was growing up but had stopped reading during college–how ironic is that–and I missed it. So I stopped by Dr. Riley’s office, something I never did with any other professor. (I think I even managed to avoid meeting with my advisor other than the day he signed my application to graduate.) “I like history,” I said to Dr. Riley, “but I can’t get through history books. Can you recommend a few that are maybe a little more reader-friendly?” (Yep, I was quite the intellectual.) Fortunately, he took no offense and recommended books such as Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory.
And I remembered why I liked to read.
He also gave me great advice. “Remember,” he said, “you’re reading for pleasure. If you pick up a book and don’t like it, put it down. Never read what you think you should read. Never feel inadequate if you don’t like what you’re ‘supposed’ to like. Reading is personal. Yours is the only opinion that matters.” While I certainly can’t draw a straight line from here to there–I took a 20-year detour in manufacturing–Dr. Riley is a major reason I’m now a writer. Without him, I’m not sure I would have found a love for great books and great writing. A few years ago, I thanked him, and he said, “As you well know, the best education is always self-inflicted, so you deserve the credit here, not your tottering old professor.” The now-retired Dr. Riley is an incredibly smart man, but in this case he’s wrong.
Whatever you are today is largely due to the words and actions of other people. Most of those moments were, at the time, small and seemingly inconsequential. Only when you look back can you connect the dots. That also means you never know when your words or actions might make an impact on someone else. A little encouragement, a little acceptance, a little praise…small actions that are insignificant to you but possibly life changing for another person. Dr. Riley didn’t know what my future might hold. Like all great teachers–and great people–he didn’t care. He simply took the time to listen and encourage, and without knowing made a big difference in my life. It was a small moment to him but a huge moment to me. I like to think I’ve had that kind of impact on another person. I like to think that, but I probably haven’t. It’s not too late, though.
Every small moment for you can be a huge moment for someone else–especially if you treat it that way.