Hidden impact in the spotlight

It started with something quite common: most of the focus was on the money. And with it, the people bringing in the money. They were the obvious ones. They were the sung heroes of the everyday. If you were not one of them, your work getting some attention was mainly limited to working on something super unusual or so mega stupendous that it simply demanded attention.

And it was happening more and more.

So, I brought it up one day. I found it particularly important for the people who joined more recently, to make them feel like a relevant part of our endeavors and not just a bystander to the great show.

And thus, after a million years (OK, a few months), some other people got acknowledged again.

And I didn’t stop there and it didn’t end there.

By the time I left, less obvious roles and people were brought to attention on several occasions, there was a move towards thinking about the effort that transcended the departments and obvious connections, and there was a generally greater understanding of how everyone, together, contributes to the end goal. It sounds all grandiose, in writing, it seemed a bit more everyday and plain in real life. Nevertheless, it was there. And I was there.

it’s happening in the shadows

When it comes to more inconspicuous change, the story above is one of the most obvious examples of the impact. Not only did every single action lead to some immediate impact (which is often not the case), there was also an obvious bigger effect at the end.

Yet, sometimes, I still cannot help but think that all this is somewhat worthless. That I didn’t do much. That it may sound all grandiose but it’s pretty unremarkable and everyone could do it. That I may have played a part, but the whole thing is so complex and intertwined that who’s to say how big a role I actually played. That maybe I am just fooling myself and becoming one of those people that can spin a story of grandeur out of every stupid little activity they partake in. And I don’t want to be that. And thus it’s not worth talking about (it is an interesting paradox here, that to tell this story, I do have to talk about it, though).

when you dont see your impact

Yes, I am a tad self-critical and reluctant to show hints of self-promotion (to a fault), but critical or not, I am right in a way:

  • Every single action, in itself, was indeed not much. It was far from Earth-shattering. Nobody would write songs about it (nor should they).
  • Every single action did seem pretty inconsequential on its own. Yes, there was a certain immediate answer to it, but far from great.
  • There’s complexity there, so I cannot, ever, clearly and undoubtedly establish the cause-and-effect relationship and the size of the impact. Other people and other forces got involved.

But that’s just the nature of this kind of impact. The hidden, the slow kind of impact.

this one’s not for the glory

Because of it, no one really pays attention to it and many don’t care along the way. And by the time you’ve arrived somewhere, it seems like it had happened almost organically, evolutionary, like no one was there to guide it.

And thus, if you’re looking for accolades and glory, this ain’t it.

They might come or they might not. And sometimes, when they do, it might not be you on the receiving end, but the person who ran the last, most obvious mile, or the one who put the eye of the world on themselves somehow. You might have worked on it for months, preparing the ground for some idea to finally catch on, and then it’s all for nothing.

But it’s also not for nothing.

So this is something that you do because you believe it’s the right thing to do, and you should be OK with it.

when you do hidden important work

This doesn’t mean we cannot get better at recognizing it, though. More aware that there are things (and people doing those things) beyond the spotlight, beyond all the screaming and dancing around. Because even if you’re not doing something for the praise, it is welcome to get validated and acknowledged. Even someone like me, who doesn’t want to draw too much attention, would rather endure it than be unfairly forgotten while others get praised.

But no matter the external validation, we can always acknowledge this kind of impact in and for ourselves. So that, in the darkest of days, we can keep hold of our value and understand our own power.

Because this kind of change can be not just very valuable, it might be the smart and even the only way forward to achieve certain change, such as a change in systems and mentality, for example, in ourselves or in the world around us. It can require a lot of perseverance, a lot of ingenuity, a lot of effort.

And little by little, it can build up to an (unironical) brave new world!

a slow change in the making

By the time I left, there was undoubtedly a behavioral change that I can and should be proud of, despite my inner doubts. I’m not saying I should falsely convince myself that it was all single-handedly my doing, I should stay fair and true when evaluating my impact, as much as I can be. But that’s just it: if I denied the impact, I wouldn’t be fair and true.

And the underlying mentality in the organization, did it change? This one is more difficult to assess. I doubt that work was done, though, and that’s probably the fairest assessment I can give. But even if nothing had ever changed past the behavior, it wouldn’t be too bad. This behavior itself had positive consequences and would likely stick around at least for a while. And that’s still worth something.

when you influence slowly

Shortly before I left, someone, let’s call them Bob, finally realized they wanted to get actively on board with it more actively and directly. And Bob made a somewhat big deal out of their action as if they had just parted the sea for us to finally see the possibilities of a different life on the other side … But in reality, they were just late to the party. What was weird, though, was that certain other people made a big deal out of it as well. Even though that action was no more inspired or important than any before. Those were even the people who were further along on this journey than Bob was. It seems ridiculous because as far as hidden impact goes, my actions were pretty obvious and also very recent. But I guess I wasn’t the right person to receive that much acknowledgment for something so little.

Luckily for me, I was already three-quarters out of the door. So rather than being hurt by the obvious unfairness of it all (which was nothing new, to be honest), and having to decide what to do about it, I found it cynically amusing for its ridiculousness instead. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

The change that you started was slow
So slow, in fact, no one did know
It came in a daze
So they held their praise
It’s said that you reap what you sow


February 26, 2021

Tags: Little actions, Impact, Beyond the obvious, Change, Leadership