[Note: this blog post is a goody, but if you are just here for the contest announcement and don’t want to read this post I won’t be offended! The announcement about the contest winner is at the end of this post : ) ]
The night after Thanksgiving, we huddled around a dining room table, lights dimmed and limbs crammed around table legs like too many crayons wedged haphazardly this way and that into the box. A room full of mostly strangers sat in mismatched chairs collected from various areas of the house, all woven together by one birthday boy. We toasted him over margaritas and barbecue, and after a few rambling stories and sentimental words, he arose to give his acceptance speech.
He spoke briefly of his birthday, and then he thanked us for being there for him. He was about to take the leap of working for himself, and he appreciated our support. He told us that he was thankful to have examples out there in his life of people who took big risks and are making it. Of people who were working to make their dreams happen. Of people who helped him gather the courage it took to say no to life as it had always been and defiantly say yes to something completely different.
My face felt like pins and needles slowly poking and prickling their way from my hairline down to my chin. He was looking at me. He was talking about me. I was one of these people to him.
I awkwardly slithered down into my chair, hoping my DNA might become one with the upholstered cushion and therefore no one would ever have to see what a fraud I was. Rather than being the shining example this man was painting me to be, I was really more of the kind of person who forgets to take her shirt off before she gets in the shower, or who becomes a withered up cowering wallflower at networking events. As the conversation (thank God) moved on to other things, it sunk in that someone was reading the things I write. And while this someone couldn’t speak for all the someones out there, he was listening. I had a platform.
A few weeks ago I had a meeting in Buckhead at church on a weekday at 5:30 PM. If you’re from Atlanta you understand that starting a meeting anywhere at 5:30 is like hiring a blind tattoo artist and praying it all works out. So I did what all good Atlantans do, I left two hours early and brought my laptop for entertainment for when (if ever) I arrived. The traffic gods were with me that day, and so I had an hour to kill. I set up shop in the lobby of the church and began editing some photos and returning emails to the soundtrack of the security guard’s Stevie Wonder oldies CD crustily cracking through a desktop radio.
Over the next hour I observed as employees scuttled out of the building on their way home. The security guard mercilessly bounded from one part of the space to the other, calling elevators, opening doors, shaking hands. The daycare in the building let out for the day. All the kids showed the guard their art projects and new shoes as parents shuttled them to awaiting cars. When someone came through the lobby and didn’t require his help, a sense of concern and disappointment covered over his face.
I began to see the security guard as a shepherd, watching over his flock. This lobby was not a lobby, it was his field. He fervidly guided people where they needed to go, he aided in movement from one place to the next, he gave away smiles and high fives to the kids. I watched as parents, kids, and employees alike entered the portal of his domain, the expectant glances and smiles washing over them. He was there everyday, and they loved him. He made their day easier and better, and if he wasn’t in his rightful place in that lobby, their day would be different and less fulfilled. The security guard had a platform.
The security guard, the CEO, the stay-at-home mom, the redhead sinking into her seat at the dining room table: we all have a platform. And the inevitable question that comes along with this revelation is this: what will we do with our platform?
This year has been supercharged with hotheaded debates, stinging criticisms, and rupturing battles of conflicting moral beliefs. There was the refugee crisis, and the racial tension, and the terrorism, and Donald Trump, and that damn blue dress (or was it gold?). And so we nitpicked and we debated and we status updated until we felt we had sliced through the skin of our opposers just enough to leave a lasting mark.
But in a world that is almost certainly far too full of words and typed out ideologies and shared articles from questionable sources, it seems more important that ever to actually do something about the things that keep us awake at night.
I used to look at problems in the world and hope that one day they might be fixed. I’m not talking about global issues of war and famine, but just everyday things, like the fact that when I transferred my church membership to Alpharetta, there were no small groups for girls in my stage of life: out of college, but not yet into the totally incomparable universe of motherhood. It bothered me for a while that there was nowhere I belonged. Poor me.
Then I thought of my friend Christina, a fellow photographer and creativepreneur up here in the suburbs. She hated the fact that the creative community in Atlanta resided exclusively within the city limits, so she and her husband created RoCo, a coworking space, right where we live, committed to fostering the creative community in our neck of the woods. Christina decided to stop complaining about the things that kept her awake at night, and she did something about it.
So I started a small group of my own, and for myriad reasons it’s easily one of the best decisions I made this year.
Because wishing that there was a small group for me, or complaining that I didn’t have a place in the church wasn’t going to change anyone’s life, it wasn’t going to grow community, and it certainly wouldn’t bring people together. Something had to be done in order for those things to transpire. And transpire they did, but first I had to act.
I had to use my platform, and do something about it.
I’m slowly learning something that should have been painfully obvious all along: that everyday we have a chance to make a difference somewhere and to someone, and how much we’re willing to take that chance says pretty much everything about us. That security guard’s actions everyday probably do nothing to solve the refugee crisis or end global hunger, but his platform doesn’t cover the entire world, it covers a small angular space in a building in Buckhead, with a few doors, an elevator and a vinyl couch.
Everyday he uses that platform to make the days of the people he serves brighter, easier and more fun with the utmost reverence and severity, and it’s impossible to measure what his smile and his welcoming presence do for the people he serves. Andy Stanley calls it “doing for one what what you wish you could do for everyone.”
I’m not going to change someone’s political affiliation with even the most compelling of Facebook statuses. I’m not going to solve the mental health crisis in America by spending mornings over coffee thinking about it. But I can do something today that helps someone. I can do for one what I wish I could do for everyone.
We all have a platform. But how we take a platform and make an impact is by doing.
This year I hope you’ll join me in resolving to do more. And no I don’t mean cramming your plate with more obligations or meetings or functions. I mean do more. If you love guns, join the NRA, if you hate guns write to your local representatives. Donate money to a worthy cause. Volunteer. Or at the very very least, do something nice for someone else, because we’re all in this together, and the world doesn’t need another Facebook status or tweet, it doesn’t need another blog post like this one, it needs more people just like me and you, out in the world, using our platform to make an impact and to do good.