Being remembered for touching many lives vs. one big thing

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I’m currently reading the book Abroad in Japan which chronicles the life in Japan of the man (Chris Broad) behind the popular YouTube channel of the same name. The chapter Saying Goodbyes taught me something beautiful.

In this chapter, the author recalls how he decided to move on from his life as an English teacher in the rural town of Sakata (it was a hard decision for him) to take his YouTube channel to the next level in a neighboring city. On his last day at the school where he taught, 1200 students and 120 teachers showed up for his farewell. Not only that, dozens of teachers and students visited the airport to see him off the next day. Plus, his closest friends had emotional breakdowns.

Based on his accounts and commentaries about himself, I wouldn’t really describe Broad as the Mother Teresa or Dalai Lama of his little town. He was a normal person doing normal things in a normal town. His only distinction was being the only Brit in Sakata.

His biggest motivation to live in Japan was to explore the land of his dreams. Even in the toughest phases of his work life and of integrating into a totally foreign culture, he prioritized exploration. In doing so, he visited places, had experiences, learned about cultural oddities, and, above all, made acquaintances and friends.

It’s these human connections that enriched his stay in Japan and rewarded him with the gift of being remembered when it was time to say goodbye. It’s what he cherished the most when bidding adieu.

We often live our lives hunting for that one big thing for which we’ll be forever remembered by humankind. Sometimes we’re driven by noble pursuits and sometimes by foolish dreams. But we forget how incredibly rare it is to achieve something so big that you are remembered by hundreds of people let alone thousands or millions. Not only does that require remarkable levels of consistency and patience, but it also requires fair amounts of luck and being at the right place at the right time. And it often comes at the cost of human connections when all our idle time goes into the pursuit of the big.

There’s a much quicker and easier way to be remembered. Go out and have interactions. It could be as simple as ranting about the weather with a stranger or starting small talk with a fellow diner. That’s only possible if we stop taking human connection for granted and start being mindful about it. Be more deliberate about interacting.

As for me, I am rather bad at it. But it’s something I would really like to improve. Wasting time to talk to friends and strangers vs. productively using that time for side projects is a constant battle I fight frequently. But I am not hopeless. I know with sufficient practice, I can strike a balance. It’s just about prioritization.

I’ll end by saying I did have my own being remembered moment when I was leaving Publicis Sapient for the job of my dreams at Automattic. At Sapient, I worked quite hard to build connections, nurture relationships, mentor juniors, and make work interesting again for my frustrated teammates. When it was time to say goodbye, my division lead and project managers organized a farewell party at a fancy restaurant at a time when we were fresh out of the many Covid lockdowns. More than two dozen folks showed up, some of whom are still in touch after 3 years. I will never forget that one departure.

1 thought on “Being remembered for touching many lives vs. one big thing

  1. Interesting read!

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