People, People, People

So, what is the “real” ‘meaning of life?’ I don’t really know that any of us can say for sure. But I think we can answer this question: what matters post? People. People, people, people. (Say “people, people, people” out loud as a fun Friday activity.)

No matter what we do, where we go, what we experience, ultimately it’s about the people, isn’t it? We define each other’s experiences, for better or worse. It’s about the people we impact, those who impact us, the connections we have with one another, the relationships we build.

Naturally, certain people tend to have greater impact on us than others. It’s actually fascinating if you think about it. Take yourself for example. There are people in this world, be it few or many, whom you have changed. You have helped them grow, helped them learn, inspired them, literally changed them. Isn’t that crazy to think about?

Of course these people are different for each of us. Who we inspire and who we are inspired by varies vastly by the individual. Which, again, is just fascinating to me. Today I want to say a little something about one of the individuals in my life who has inspired me, taught me, changed me.

Many of you know Charles Thomas, who is, for about 5 more hours, Executive Director of the organization I work for, Queen City Forward. He’s taken a new role as Charlotte Program Director for the Knight Foundation and today is his last day with QCF. I’m not going to talk necessarily about him, though. Instead, I’m going to talk about the impact he’s had on me.

Almost exactly one year ago, I was connected to Charles through another favorite person of mine, and the moment I met this guy, I knew I had to be part of QCF and work for him. I was excited to begin my career in the nonprofit world and figured I would learn a lot from him. I was right.

Actually, I wasn’t right, I learned MORE than I could’ve ever imaged. If you know Charles, you know there’s just something about him. There are many different words I could try to use to describe it, but none would quite capture it. There’s a synergy around him that is contagious. (Fun fact of the day– that’s the first time I’ve ever used the word ‘synergy.’)

Charles is incredible, wonderful, inspiring, a true visionary in every way. He’s also a delight to be around and occasional goofball. Although there are many things I learned from him over the past 11 months, I’ll share my favorites:

Break the rules: This might just be the most important thing I’ve learned from Charles. While I am a curious person and adventurer, I’m kind of a rule follower. Not in all capacities, but a lot of them. He’s encouraged me to break the rules in small ways, like parking in no-parking zones, or turning left when you’re not supposed to (apparently the real intention of this post was to exploit Charles to the world as the violator of traffic rules he is), to bigger things, like not always asking permission to do something or start something if you know in your gut you should be doing it.

Challenge yourself: All bosses challenge you, or should challenge you in some way. How else do you grow? Charles is so great at this—challenging others, challenging me. He challenges me to actually TAKE action on goals and dreams I’ve always wanted but never quite had the courage to do. He challenges me to see all sides of something, even when, in my own stubborn way, I think I already have—there’s always more to it, more to learn and see. See the big picture. He challenges me to skip driving the long route just because it’s easier, and instead take the short route, which means turning left into busy traffic on a busy street. (Or maybe the real intention of this post was to show you all how impatient this guy really is when it comes to my driving.) 😉

There’s always more work, more good to be done: I’m one to see the great work that’s been done after a program or project wraps up and think, “wow, go us! We’re the best.” Charles is thinking 1,000 steps ahead to what’s to be done next. Who else can we impact, how else can we have impact? Because, while we as people don’t want to run ourselves ragged, we can all do more. Let’s do it.

Again, these are just a few of the things I’ve learned from Charles. I could go on, but I won’t. As it is, I only chose 3 and this is like the longest post ever.

Charles has changed me. I’m going to miss working with and seeing him on a daily basis, but I hope he knows just how proud I am of him. And I hope (I know) the Knight Foundation realizes just how lucky they are to have him on their team. And now, instead of calling him a boss, I call him a friend.

People, right? People are why we’re here, why we were created—for each other. I challenge you to take a moment to stop and think—who has changed you? And who have you changed? (Probably more people than you even realize.)

You have changed people. And that’s pretty darn cool.

*Also, just take a moment to appreciate the delightful awkwardness of the above photo. I thought about taking a nicer one, or using an existing professional photo of Charles, but this one captures us pretty perfectly.