Tag Archives: trust

What is a “sphere of influence”, Alex?

–News Bulletin–

A-a-ron Rod-gers just won celebrity Jeopardy… so that was kind of awesome. And got me re-hooked on Jeopardy. Which I love love love. Even though I don’t know anything about classic literature or operas of the twenty-fourth and a half century. True story though, one time I took the online Jeopardy test. They never contacted me. I’m convinced that it’s because in a moment of complete and total idiot-level panic I typed in “positron” instead of “proton” for “this positively charged atomic particle…” or something along those lines. Such a ridiculously dumb answer, and for a chemistry major no less. This has been my secret Jeopardy shame for many a year.


Even more secret a shame than the fact that I was all about middle school Quiz Bowl once upon a time and took great delight in the fact that 1) I was the only girl on the team (boom!) and 2) that I wore the most gloriously denim jumper that ever denimed to the competition in 8th grade. Holy crap did I rock that thing. In my own mind anyway. Smart. Denim-clad. Barettes in my hair. Maybe I’ll make that my story if I ever do get on Jeopardy. I hope I can tell it awkwardly enough– lord knows that people with legitimately cool stories at the break never get very far. Just, next time around, it’s proton… proton… proton…



Seth and I are headed to SoCal to visit the Lemas over the long weekend and I’m crazy crazy excited about it. SoCal because that’s where they live. Like all the time. Can you even imagine?

One of the coolest things about the Lemas is that we have never lived any closer to them than whatever the astronomical distance between Michigan and California is (but also never further than the even more astronomical distance between DC and Cali, so we’ve got that). And yet, we’ve remained super close. I’m sure it helped that Chris was Seth’s boss for a good long while… but he’s not any more and we still super love them and I’m pretty sure that was never the only thing. Regardless, as a result of that distance, our relationship is completely and totally travel-fascinating. FASCINATING! We have gotten together to hang out all over this lovely country of ours (plus Mexico!) and that makes any and all of my Lema Memory Montages extra special and fun.

This weekend, I spent a TON of time doing yard work. I got a bug up my butt about needing to remove all the plastic lining from the garden beds in our back yard and replace them with brick and for some reason, I decided that removing all the plastic, trenching the sod, pulling all the weeds, and purchasing, laying, and securing 126 individual 10 lb bricks would be a one person, one day job, most certainly… and when I was done, I was going to maybe mow real quick and use the string trimmer around the trees and along the fence line.

Completely delusional. Also, my hamstrings are still KILLING ME.

But, in my delusional state, I had lots and lots and lots of time for mind-based montages. And the Lemas kept popping in on account of, as I said above, 1) we’re going to see them this weekend and 2) such montages are especially brilliant.

During one such sweat-soaked, sun blasted (because, guys, it got up to like 75 degrees this weekend– snap!!!) montage, I stumbled upon Chris’s notion of “sphere of influence” and realized that finally, after something like7? maybe even 8? years… I think I finally get what it means. Finally! And it’s not even ridiculous at all. In fact, I love it. Just like all love every other thing that is Lema. Of course.

I don’t remember what hotel or what city or what year it was… but once upon a time, long ago and far away, Chris mentioned something about his desire to have influence. To have a sphere of influence, I believe, or at least that’s how it imprinted in my brain. I don’t know that I was necessarily even part of that particular conversation, I may have just overheard something between Chris and Seth, but it was such a weird thing to say (I thought) and such a foreign concept (to me) that I really did just kind of let it tumble through my mind over and over and over again over the last several years.

Like a pebble in the sea, that idea is smooth now.

(And that’s a particularly appropriate metaphor here because I have been to not just two oceans with the Lemas, but also a legitimate sea — The Sea of Cortez.)

Sea of Cortez
Sea of Cortez

At the time, way back when, I knew Chris as Seth’s boss. At a software company. He was different, of course, because he’s from California and really introduced the whole “working from where you are” concept to the company. He put a lot more emphasis on intelligence and value and culture than most (well, any) other “boss” I’d ever known and he super appreciated all of those things about Seth, so naturally, I loved him. At the same time, Chris also had this little side life that I was vaguely aware of… computers, internet, WordPress, something…

And in that arena, influence was his goal.

Sooooo… what? Like he wanted to be the boss of computers and the internet and WordPress or something? Because that’s what influence means, right? Being the boss, in charge, in control, telling people what’s what and how’s how and who’s who.

Not to Chris. And not in reality. Where Chris lived.

Turns out, influence is not synonymous with power or control or position. If it’s forced or mandated or manufactured, it’s not genuine influence at all.

What Chris has taught me is that influence comes from sharing your story, building trust, and cultivating interest.

Chris taught me this not by actually saying any of it (although he probably has, because Chris has basically at one point or another said all the words— kind of like, if you give enough monkeys enough typewriters and enough time, eventually they’ll stumble on a literary masterpiece… but seriously, most of Chris’s words are on purpose insightful, I believe)… nope. He taught me this by doing it. By letting me hang at his beach house for a week as crazy fascinating and ridiculously “California” people came and went to celebrate my husband’s birthday and smoke cigars and play in the sand. Then again when we went on a cruise with a bunch of WordPress folks that scared me (on account of coolness). Sometimes they talked shop, most of the time they laughed and told stories. Built trust, relationships… influence. More recently, Chris transitioned full time into the WordPress world. He’s no longer technically Seth’s boss, but it wasn’t really ever about being Seth’s boss. He and Seth had a relationship that really transcended work roles and that lives on, regardless of what company Chris calls home. And when Chris did join a new company, he did so with a big old sphere of influence spread out in every direction (because that’s what spheres do) and that meant sooooo much more than his new fancy job title, high up position, standing in the company.

Like I said, completely fascinating.

So yeah, being an influencer, that’s a pretty worthy goal. Not a weird one at all. Watching Chris do it was kind of spectacular. And I think building a solid sphere of influence is kind of my goal too. Not power or position. Not fame or fortune or money. Definitely not in the WordPress community (I mean, thank goodness for WordPress, allowing me to blog without understanding a dang thing about it, but therein lies the problem in that sphere, you know?) Not even an appearance on SNL. Rather, to have a sphere of influence because I shared my story, I built trust, and I cultivated interest.

Anyway, I’m off to SoCal… got to go pack a bag! Woot!

The Thing Tim Haight Taught Me, A Long Time Ago

I was in the band starting in 6th grade. I played percussion. I could read music decently well, so I primarily played the bells (the little xylophone-looking thing made out of metal rather than wood) until high school, but also dabbled in drums and other keyed instruments of various sorts (like an actual xylophone).

Any excuse to show off my band uniform– that’s a xylophone, bells on the right. Well, it was a glockenspiel, actually, but same thing.

My freshman year of high school, I officially joined the drumline and played the snare drum when we marched. I don’t know what it’s like to be in any other section of the band because I’ve only experienced what I’ve experienced… but my impression was that drumline was a bit different.

Drumline! My senior year at a football game. See that lady quad player??? The coolest... be impressed by her. Very, very impressed.
Drumline! My senior year at a football game. See that lady quad player??? The coolest… be impressed by her. Very, very impressed.

You see, we had to play cadences (da! dig-a-dig-a-dig-a-da! go!) and keep time while everyone else was marching along between songs. It makes sense, really, since our instruments didn’t require lung capacity (only bladder capacity– those harnesses press down right on your bladder) so we could play and play and play without needing the break everyone else did. Except that meant extra practice, a special drumline coach, and a general level of rowdiness that was disconcerting for a nerdy little goodie-two-shoes like me. Which is what made Tim Haight so scary to me.

Tim was musically gifted, but alternative– to say the least. He didn’t follow the rules and didn’t care if he got in trouble for it (gasp!) and he scared me because people who don’t follow rules and don’t care about the consequences are unpredictable. I made a lot of assumptions about him.

He called me on it one day.

I don’t remember what I had said, done, or assumed or why Tim felt the need to call me on it at that moment, but he said to me, “You know what happens when you assume something, don’t you?”


“You make an ass out of and me.”

Jaw drop, heart stop.

It was a pun (a very, very clever and punny pun!) and it was crazy true.

I had never heard that adage before and I’m sure I reacted to hearing it that time very poorly, but it was a good lesson for me. I’d like to tell you I stopped making assumptions right then and there, but that would be a big fat lie and Tim would probably happen to read this one blog entry and call me on it in front of all of you… so I won’t lie. I do still think of that day from time to time though, and every time I find myself ashamed at the assumptions I continue to make.

Most recently, I’ve found myself making assumptions about other people’s intentions. My therapist called me on it this morning. (I’m not certain, but I suspect Tim may have grown up, changed his name, purchased some khakis, and moved to Marshfield to practice psychology…)

It’s never easy to hear someone else talk about your weaknesses– the things you don’t like about your character, the way you should have acted, the assumptions you shouldn’t have made. But that’s what I pay the good doctor for, so I had to choke it down. And now I’m forced to think about it. Ugh.

Self-awareness can be so obnoxious.

It was a lot easier to live in an assumption-fueled rage.

It shouldn’t be though. Because truly, I pride myself on putting my faith in other people and trusting in them to be doing the things most suitable to their own conscience. At least, I thought I did. But I think when it comes to moments why I feel personally hurt or affronted, I automatically assume that the hurt was intentional. Even though, logically and rationally, I can recognize that that’s probably not the case.

My freshman year of college, I lived in West Wadsworth Hall at Michigan Tech (West Wads!!!) in a hall called Good Intentions… as in what the road to hell is paved with.

The Good Intentions broomball team 2002... cleverly named Cruel Intentions. Because it's the opposite. And opposites are... clever?
The Good Intentions broomball team 2002… cleverly named Cruel Intentions. Because it’s the opposite. And opposites are… clever?

And it’s true. Because despite our best intentions, we still end up inflicting hurt on other people, and no one is immune to that. Myself included. (Waaaahhh!! I’m not perfect!!!!) I have a much easier time forgiving myself for hurting someone with my best intentions, though, than I do forgiving someone else for hurting me– based largely on the assumption that I know their intentions to be malevolent.

(Btw, I really like the words malevolent and benevolent. They’re good words.)

I’d probably be a happier person if I assumed the reverse. If I could think “wow. That hurt. But I trust that to hurt was not the intent, and I can move on” instead.

It’s not nearly as satisfying, of course, because very little feels more satisfying in the short term than self-righteous anger. But it’s probably a lot healthier, emotionally speaking, in the long run. Dang.

I’m certainly not there yet, but having had my assumptions pointed out to me, I can feel something inside me breaking. It makes me feel like I understand why people hold on to power and anger and resentment so desperately though, because it’s painful to let forgiveness and understanding and patience take their place. It’s painful to admit that you were wrong. And nobody likes to be in pain, no matter how temporary.

Tim was older than me and different from me and our paths crossed only briefly, but he was fascinating and he left a mark on my life that I’ll never forget. At 14, I never would have expected his silly words (and a swear word even!) to be so profound, and yet here we are… amazing, isn’t it?

The little girl I adore and my inadvertent attempts to destroy her.

Ahhh, another beautiful Mexican morning.  After a gorgeous breakfast overlooking the Sea of Cortez, my husband and I came back to the villa (I really can’t call it a “room,” because that’s just not what it is…) with those niños I told you about yesterday.  Emily invited me out onto the balcony to journal with her.  How could I resist?

She’s currently sitting across the table from me with paper and pen writing a poem about a strong merman named Draco who played with the mermaid clan (seriously, can’t make this stuff up!), complete with illustrations, while I type this little diddy out for you.

The poem about Draco the merman is probably better, but sorry, you’re stuck with me until Emily gets her own blog.

Anyway, as I look across the table at this sweet girl this morning, I’m reminded 1) of how much I love her and 2) how since I first met her, it seems I’ve made every effort to destroy her.

Yes, I said destroy…

I am ashamed.  But I am going to tell you anyway.

I first met Emily when she was a mere 18 months old.  Communicative, yes.  But 18 months, nevertheless.  That’s ONE.  She was one year old.  (Remember that, it’s important.)

I met Emily the same time I first met her parents and I was suuuuper nervous.  This was my boyfriend’s boss (we weren’t married, or even engaged, at the time– yes, we were living in sin.  You would too if you lived in a place with rents like DC…) and his wife, flying all the way to DC from California.

Boss man.  His wife.  From California, like where people in movies live.  Terrifying.  I was sure they were going to be amazing… and that they were going to realize that I was not.

Turns out, Chris and Melissa were just as awesome.com as I had expected, but in a totally accessible kind of way.  They were just so nice and their little girl was just so sweet that I let my guard down.  I forgot to be nervous for a minute and disaster struck.

Chris and Melissa related to me how much Emily liked things like rocks and sea shells and I got super excited because I also love things like rocks and sea shells.  I love them so much, in fact, that I had several big mason jars full of them in our spare bedroom.  Because I wanted Emily to think I was cool and I wanted to show Chris and Melissa how much they should love me, I decided to go get those jars to play with Emily.

So, in my infinite wisdom and desperation to be liked, I gave a ONE YEAR OLD a GLASS jar full of ROCKS.  Which promptly broke, leaving said ONE YEAR old in the middle of a pile of BROKEN GLASS.

Child endangerment on the first friend date.  Sigh.

And yet, nearly 7 years later, we found ourselves invited to a beach house in Huntington Beach, CA for a week, where Chris and Melissa now let me spend time around BOTH of their children.  Clearly, I had them convinced that my tendency for child endangerment was a fluke.

Except this time, they gave me a fighter kite.  A FIGHTER KITE on a WINDY DAY with two child TARGETS running around the beach below. The good news is, my aim was excellent and I hit one of the targets.  The bad news is, I seriously damaged a child when I hit one of the targets.

The kite went up in the air for all of about 17.6 second before it came straight back to earth like a heat seeking missile locked onto Emily’s eyeball.  Fortunately, Emily is a Trooper with a capital T and she promptly stood up, said, “I’m ok!” and then explained that she was only crying because she was using it as a natural defense mechanism to get the sand out of her eye.  (LOVE HER!)

So the kite attack resulted in a lovely shiner and big old scrape from the outside of Emily’s right eye, across her cheek, and ending at her nose.  On the day before her last day of school.  And now, Emily has this Harry Potter style scar to remind me how I’ve marked her like Voldemort.


Who needs enemies with a friend like me?

And yet, I must be doing something right because the Lemas continue to trust me with their children.  And I must say, I am quite grateful for that because they are incredible!  And while I may be a bit nervous about damaging one or both of these awesome kids again, Chris and Melissa don’t seem terribly worried about it, and their faith in me feels pretty dang good…

Especially in Mexico 😉