Today I walked with my kids to school. I say, “walked with” because they have made it clear they do not require my escort services, but I let them know I need the fresh air, exercise, the undivided time to talk with them and a scheduled “event” to get my day up and running. Since the start of the pandemic, I've needed to create more structure to the day, especially when school was at home and there was no need to "get" to school at all.
A morning walk has been the silver lining for me. So, we walk.
Normally I just double back on the same route after we reach the school, but today I decided to take the long, uphill way home. It adds ten extra minutes to the walk and usually reminds me how out of shape I am once the hill kicks in.
Today—instead—it reminded me that we measure our impact on others all wrong.
On the way up the hill I came upon a family: a mother holding the hands of her two, young sons (possibly twins?) and a father pushing another in a baby carriage. Much to my surprise she seemed to recognize me and said, “Hey, are you the lady I see who always walks to school with your kids?”
“Yes, I do. I took the long way home today.” I smiled and enjoyed my celebrity status for a beat.
Holding onto those two all-boy bundles of energy for dear life, lest they break loose, she continued, “You inspired me, so we are walking.” She told me. “I saw your kids with the umbrellas and I thought . . . those kids—” I forget the rest of what she said, but I’ll imagine something poetic about my kids being able to tolerate unpleasant weather in the future.
I busted in with a, “Well, I heard there’s no bad weather just bad equipment.”
We all laughed and continued in our opposite directions, but that encounter stayed with me for the rest of my walk. “You inspired me.” Echoed around in my ears and it made me think. I thought of how we never know who we are inspiring when we live our lives the way we do. Never assume you don’t matter or that you are not making a difference in this world, the environment, children's health and wellness or whatever you feel passionately about simply because you have not yet met the person who has been inspired by you—even in just one small, but meaningful, way.
Why did this woman being inspired by me, now walking with her kids to school, make me happy? It wasn’t a fleeting comment about my hair or something on the surface. Truly, it had nothing to do with me, but with my beliefs and how I've chosen to live those beliefs out.
I believe kids who walk to school (with or without a parent) are better off: fresh air, some nature, social time together, exercise, gains independence, builds self-confidence and when they get to school they are more content to sit down because they've been walking. Not to mention the Vitamin D, social skills like saying Good Morning to neighbors, and the list goes on.
Sure, you have to wake up a little earlier but you’re talking to a gal who detests mornings, so if I can get into the habit of forcing myself out of bed a little earlier, than anybody can. The payoff is just too good. Not to mention the peace of mind it offers me when I'm running late or cannot drive a child to or from school. They know what to do—how to find their way home. Driving is stressful and any parent who has ever dropped off or picked up at school knowns what a cluster it can be. Stress. Beeping. Honking. Fender benders. Getting all kids—especially young ones—strapped in and sitting down. It’s a logistical pain.
Here’s the other thing that hit me, and this landed in the form of a metaphor: Wall Street vs Main Street. It’s something we’ve heard a lot about in the past several years. How do we measure success, the economy, etc? This felt like a Wall Street vs Main Street moment which, in my mind, is also a parallel to Social Media vs In-person Socializing.
Success on Wall Street and Social Media is measured in broad strokes. There are numbers, peaks and valleys, money to be made, master manipulation and plenty of dubious characters running both—encouraging and ignoring addictive behavior in favor of financial gain. It’s wholly impersonal. It’s extreme and volatile. It’s very difficult to see the forest for the trees when it comes to Wall Street and Social Media. There’s no time and no interest. Things move fast. Emotions are high.
Success on Main Street and In-person Socializing is measured one person at a time. There are people with faces and feelings. There is eye contact and imperfect conversations—awkward silences. There is humanity and the desire to connect, to form a relationship (whether that is the owner of a store or restaurant hoping to earn a loyal customer or a neighbor wanting to be friendly). People are nervous, bombastic, shy, rude and really funny. It’s wholly personal. It’s small and often a slow process—connecting with other human beings, especially strangers. It’s all trees in all their individual characteristics with squirrels and birds and various shaped leaves when it comes to Main Street and In-person Socializing. There’s the need to take time and take an interest. Things move slowly. Emotions are real.
Unfortunately we measure so much by how active we are on social media or how many followers and likes we have. I’m not on social media and have no plans to be anytime soon. I think it’s toxic to humanity. I think it’s the worst thing to has happened to our young people in so many generations—it’s a poisonous flower. It may look good and sell well in the shop, but it’s not something you want to bring home or let your kids touch. It’s a flower I could never sell with a clean conscience. So, I stay away. I encourage others to stay away, especially with so many better ways to spend time.
The feeling of satisfaction that meeting that young family offered me has not evaporated. It didn’t disappear with the next click. It felt so good and healthy and human that it prompted me to write—to tell you! Maybe, that mother won’t be the only one I’ll inspire to step outside and walk with kids or her decision to walk will inspire another family and another. Perhaps I can inspire you too to walk more, but also to reevaluate how you measure your success. Are there ways to live what you believe? Maybe there's one small habit you can form to reflect a passion of yours.
Not enough people are imploring us to ask ourselves: Is social media doing more harm than good in my life? Am I living my life on my own terms or by somebody else’s standards or rules that deeply contrast with mine in a way I can no longer ignore?
Let me tell you—you are inspiring someone right now. You may never meet them, but it is the human part of you that is the inspiration, so embrace that. Know that it doesn’t matter how it is received on social media. Connect with one person, maybe two, in-person and you’ll have a better sense of what is worthwhile. Less is, so often, more. Particularly when it comes to people. When it comes to words, I still have work to do in that department. I write a lot of words. I'll have to accept it as one of my flaws:)
Go take a walk without your phone, all alone—in the big wide real world.
See the forest for the trees. There are some amazing trees out there!!