Last week I accompanied a dear friend on an assignment she had for grad school — ask four people to speak for 90 seconds into a tape recorder about someone who has had a profound and positive impact on their life.
It was a challenging assignment, especially because the subjects couldn’t be anyone she knew. That meant approaching perfect strangers, recorder in hand, and asking them to articulate very personal feelings without any time to think or rehearse.
The level of trust needed to pull that off is pretty high, and I was skeptical about the kind of results we would get.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, or more pleasantly surprised.
We heard passionate, beautiful and articulate tributes from everyone. The responses were so good and inspiring, we added a fifth. The sincerity of the two youngest participants was especially nice to hear; I was almost shocked by their openness, but maybe I shouldn’t have been.
* A woman in her 60s credited a former boss with giving her the confidence and courage to succeed in the workforce after years as a stay-at-home mother.
* A young man about 20 working at a sandwich shop talked about his mother’s resilience and sense of humor, and how much he respects and admires her.
* An officer at a fire department talked about a no-nonsense lieutenant whose high standards set the tone for everyone at the station.
* A gentleman at a coffee shop cited his mother and how her confidence in him early on kept him writing novels.
* A teenage girl working at a pizza shop initially said she didn’t have anything to say. But then she launched into an eloquent tribute to her father, who had overcome early adversities and gone on to a successful career. His determination, she said, convinced her she can do whatever she sets her mind to.
The assignment left me wondering — who would I talk about, and what would I say, if I were given 90 seconds to talk about someone who has been a profound, positive influence?
It slowly dawned on me that I’d have many people to talk about. And that’s a pretty nice multiple-choice question to ponder.