I am writing this article about an incident that happened to me this past weekend at Couples Connections. Our wrap up exercise is a beautiful exchange of gifts between couples. The gift is not meant to be something extravagant or expensive. It is meant to have sentimental value and a story attached that has meaning for the person giving the gift and hopefully for the person receiving it. Often, the gift directly focuses on what the giver thinks and feels about their partner and it is a gesture that expresses those feelings. However, sometimes the gift identifies something that has happened to the giver that represents a turning point or a change that impacts the way they choose to do relationship. This is how I experienced one of the gifts given in this past weekend. I am sharing this story with the gift givers permission.
I Wonder; Does the Work make a Difference
I have to be honest and say that there are times I wonder if the work I do really makes a difference. Sure, I have seen thousands of people experience breakthroughs going through my different programs, and, I have spent thousands of hours counseling and coaching individuals that I believe have received life changing help; however, in my darkest Shadow moments, there is that quiet but firm Shadow voice that questions whether it really makes a difference. I am more than aware of the human condition and how imperfect we are. I know clearly that all the personal development in the world will not keep us from making poor choices and reverting to Shadow behavior that is completely self sabotaging and hurtful to others. And yes, I get it; people will be people and this is a messy journey we are on, but from time to time I really wonder why I am doing this. I look at those choices and that self sabotaging behavior, especially from people that have done lots of personal development and I throw my hands in the air and despair. Maybe worse yet, I consider my own thoughts, behaviors and choices at times and wonder, has all the work I have done over all these years really made a difference in my life. Sometimes, I need to hear a powerful story about how the work really does make a difference so that my faith is renewed. I heard one of those stories this past weekend.
A Small Gesture that made a Difference
One of our participants this past weekend shared with the rest of the group that finding a gift with sentimental value was very difficult. It has not been long since he went through separation and divorce and when he left there was very little that he took with him. He told us that he had one box of possessions that contained some mementos from is past. He was not even sure what was in there but he reached into the box and discovered an envelope with a card in it.
Before revealing the message in the card, he talked about how painful his relationship with his dad had been growing up. He never felt affirmed or acknowledged in that relationship. He also shared with us that he is now estranged from his father. As he focused on the card, he became very emotional and then talked about how he had received the card from me at a leadership Christmas dinner thirteen years ago. What I said to him in that card was, “my wish for everyone that goes through the programs is they make the changes you have made.” It was the kind of message that he never heard from his father and felt that it was important enough to hold onto for thirteen years.
He told me later, that he gave the card to his partner because she had also grown up not receiving much encouragement. He wanted the card to be a clear message that he would be there to give her the encouragement that she is amazing and that she is doing a great job.
This story rocked me to the core. I immediately thought about my doubts about whether my work really makes a difference. With tears in my eyes, I mumbled under my breath, “Terry, you are an idiot.”
I think my point is simple. Of all the thousands of people that have gone through my programs, I have rarely heard the rest of the story. I am not aware of just how big an impact I have made on some of those lives that come through the programs. That is something I want to commit to memory and pull to the surface of my thoughts when I struggle with my doubt.