Two years ago, I took a job in charge of Communications & Development for a local nonprofit. I was eager to use my writing and design skills to make a difference in the community, but things did not turn out as I expected.
I quickly discovered that my colleagues in upper management had the unpleasant habit of yelling and screaming at each other to express their displeasure. It was a highly stressful environment, and I didn’t stay there long because a lot of the screaming was directed at me.
On one such occasion, one of my colleagues accused me of being unkind to “Xavier,” an intern he had hired to create graphic designs. (Because design fell under my department, Xavier required my oversight.) I was stunned by my colleague’s accusation. He was literally shaking, sweating, and pointing at me as he screamed. Although he was both off base and had no authority to do so, he forbade me from speaking with any of his staff without him present.
My next meeting with that colleague went even worse, ending with him crossing my office and reaching for one of his staff to prevent the man from speaking with me. Not one for subtlety, my colleague spat, “I don’t want you talking with him,” as he led his employee from my office.
I sat stunned and questioned whether it was healthy for me to continue working at this particular social service organization. I gave a 6-week notice the next day.
Xavier interned with us for another five weeks. On his last day at the organization, he presented me with the drawing that you see here, labeled Rebekah.
Xavier thanked me for teaching him that it’s okay to make mistakes and that he can always keep trying until he gets a design right. I was blown away by the kindness of his gesture and his honesty. (I was also surprised that this recent college graduate hadn’t learned about the importance of trying variations on a theme in his art program.) I felt honored to know that, even in such challenging circumstances, I had impacted Xavier’s young life and that the lessons he had learned from me might serve him throughout his career in graphic design.
Furthermore, Xavier’s gesture gave me precisely the validation that I needed (that my colleague had the problem, not me). Xavier’s confirmation of our pleasant rapport mattered a lot at the time. That job had taken a huge emotional toll on me, and to hear him say I had made a positive difference in his life gave me immense satisfaction.
To this day, that drawing hangs on my refrigerator, and Xavier stays in touch with me on social media. When I doubt myself, seeing Xavier’s drawing reminds me that I make a positive difference in people’s lives every once in a while.
Xavier’s drawing won’t hang in a museum. And maybe your creative work won’t reach millions either. But if it makes a difference in the life of one person, isn’t that enough?