The one thing people never forget about you

authenticity strength vulnerability

After almost two weeks out of the office on a service and learning trip to El Salvador and Guatemala, I’m back!

I’ve got quite a bit of digging out to do (sorry if I owe you an email - I promise to get back to you as soon as I can!), but the treasure trove of memories I made over the last two weeks makes the angst of working through a mountain of emails worth it.

In addition to unpacking my suitcases and souvenirs, I’ve also been figuratively “unpacking” my trip. I’ve been journaling and reflecting on everything I experienced in the last two weeks, trying to cement the learning I’ve had about others and myself.

And I’ve also been thinking about how to bring some of that learning back to you and to make it relevant to your work and your life, just as I’m applying it to my own.

Here’s one lesson I wanted to share …

On the last night of the El Salvador part of our trip (which was more service-oriented), we did a group debrief and reflection. There were 45 of us on the trip, so this took a little while as we each stood up and spoke, but it was wonderful to hear the thoughts of others and be encouraged to distill our own key takeaways as well.

At the end of my reflection, I shared the Maya Angelou quote: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I shared this particular quote because my hope was that those I encountered during my time in El Salvador knew that I cared about them, honored them, respected them, and wished the best for them even after our tiny amount of time together had ended. I knew that those I met in El Salvador probably wouldn’t remember my very broken Spanish or the ibuprofen or cough medicine I gave them, but they would (hopefully) remember that I showed how much I deeply cared for their health, healing, and happiness. 

I hoped they would remember our hugs, our unspoken connection (since we didn’t share a language), our tears, and our laughter. I hoped that I made them feel cared for and valued, and I hoped that was the feeling that they remembered. 

That was my intent in sharing the Maya Angelou quote - to remind my fellow travelers (and myself) that people would remember the positive way you make them feel even if they didn’t remember your specific words or actions. That’s how I’ve always used and shared that quote.

But it got me thinking ... people don’t just remember how we made them feel in positive ways. 

They don’t only remember the warm fuzzies, the high fives, the words of encouragement, and the moments of connection.

They also remember how we make them feel negatively.

What if people forget exactly what we said or did to make them feel sad, hurt, unvalued, unworthy, incompetent, or undeserving, but the memory of that feeling stays with them? 

How does that impact our work relationships?

How does that impact our team morale?

How does that impact our organizations? 

How does that make it easier for someone to return a call to a recruiter?

How does that create a legacy (and not a good one) of people treating people in hurtful, unprofessional ways - associates who were pushed to the brink now perpetuating that as partners? New leaders engaging in the same unhealthy and distressing behaviors that they endured?

Let’s remember that people remember the positive ways we make them feel - supported, cared about, encouraged, worthy, competent, inspired.

And they remember how they are hurt, upset, offended, distressed, saddened, embarrassed. 

Too many times we forget the scars we leave behind, but I encourage you to remember that people remember how we made them feel. Good or bad. Positive or negative. 

To shift the legal profession and our place in it, let’s not leave a wake of painful feelings. 

Let’s treat every interaction as an opportunity to leave someone with a feeling that we want them to have, with a memory of us that aligns with how we want to show up as a mentor, manager, leader, or colleague.

You have that power in every interaction.

What’s the feeling that you will elicit in someone else that will be remembered? 

And is that the way you want to be remembered? You get to choose how you show up.

Choose wisely and intentionally because you may be giving someone a memory of you that will last long after your interaction with them.

Wishing you (and those you impact) all the best.