If I disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice? Pretty deep question, right? This is the most important question you can ask yourself to measure your essentialness as a leader. Actually, probably as a human being. It may seem like oversimplification, but it is such a critically important one. This is a question that should burden us and stir our emotions daily.
I first heard this in the context of how it applies to a civic club. If the club disappeared tomorrow would the community know? In this particular case, the answer was no. The community would not have noticed, the organization was not making an impact in the lives of others. I do not recall who I heard say it, but the concept of the question stuck and I have applied it to personal leadership ever since.
Before we dive in, let’s clarify something. If you disappeared tomorrow, would people literally notice? Sure, they would. Do not look too far into the literal aspect. I am trying to get to a deeper meaning, that if you disappeared tomorrow would other people’s lives look different? Would the impact you have made on them be so noticeable that their lives would be missing something? Would there be a void in their lives?
Below you will find some perspective on my mindset while writing this post along with my personal reflections on this question.
Speaking of disappearing, that’s just what I did last weekend. I have done this a few times before (with full advance knowledge of and permission from my amazing wife) where I need space. My place of disappearance this time was a cabin in the mountains with a flowing river, a fire, and solitude. Some of my past disappearances have included a backpack, tent, and fishing pole. I call them my personal retreats.
If you are anything like me, the stuff in my head can become overwhelming at times and I need to clear it to function in life. I need to escape the grind of today to see clearly for tomorrow. We are all wired differently. Some people gain energy by being around people, some get lost in a good book, or some cross things off a task list. For me, it is solitude.
It is a selfish, but a necessary process for me to gain clarity and rest. I like to take all that stuff in my head and get it down on big sheets of grid paper with bubble charts and lists of visions, dreams, burdens, and just utter randomness. Some friends of mine call them, “brain dumps.” I am able to create space.
Careful What You Ask For
A must watch for me every holiday season is the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s an absolute classic. George Bailey is without a doubt my favorite fictitious character of all time. Watching the movie was how I started my personal retreat. It set the tone for my thoughts and emotions.
If you have never seen the movie, you are really missing out! It should be required material for every leader.
George is a hometown hero, a community leader in the town of Bedford Falls. The people of the town are dependent on him and flat out adore him. Despite every effort of his, he cannot get outside the walls of his community. Intersection after intersection in his life keeps him there. He feels stuck there, but in reality he has a calling to be there.
In a moment where George’s world is falling apart he says these powerful words, “I wish I had never been born at all.” God sends him a guardian angel named Clarence to give him perspective. Clarence gives George a unique vantage point, one in which none of us will ever actually get the opportunity to see from. What would his family and community be like if he, “had never been born at all.” George saw what it was like to disappear tomorrow. Guess what, people noticed!
What if for just a moment, we could stand outside our world and see what tomorrow looked like if we disappeared? How would our perspective change? Would we be saddened by no one noticing or would we receive tremendous affirmation of the importance of our existence in the lives of others? We would probably live our lives a lot differently if we knew the answer. Wouldn’t we? Perspective is everything.
How To Get Noticed
So…how do we make sure people notice if we disappeared tomorrow? Simple. Live a life worthy of being noticed. Every minute of every day. Live a life seeking to positively influence others.
In our final disappearing act, when we are long gone, it will be others that notice. Our family, friends, and those we have the awesome responsibility of leading in our organizations. People whose lives we have left a mark on.
How do we do this? Love and care for others. Be patient, kind, help carry their burdens, and believe in them. Be their protector. Walk in the door when everyone else walks out. Issue grace and be empathetic. Share with them our most limited resource, our time! Create memorable experiences. Get noticed.
How to Disappear
How do we disappear without a trace? Be envious, toxic, arrogant, rude, harsh, and ungrateful. If we want to disappear, use manipulation, manufacture drama, and drain people with unproductive emotions. Be someone’s greatest critic, their detractor. Serve as a transactional leader, take more than you give.
Magicians make things disappear and you do not even notice. A life lived for yourself can do that as well.
Answer to the Question
There is a beautiful moment at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life where George returns to reality. He wakes up from the nightmare of seeing what other people’s lives would look like if he had never been born at all.
He went off the deep end and said those fateful words because his business had $8,000 disappear due to a mistake of his uncle (and business partners). There were warrants out for his arrest. He was fearful that his reputation and the trust he had built in the community would vanish into thin air.
One by one, people that George had invested in through his lifetime of serving others walked in when everyone else walked out. They literally walked into his house and gave what they could to erase the debt and free George of his burdens. He also got the answer to his question that night, he disappeared and EVERYONE noticed.
Milestones create opportunities for reflection in our lives. They can mess with your mind a little too! This post is being made on my fortieth birthday. This little question of, “if I disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice” weighed heavy on me since my personal retreat and leading up to this milestone. My thoughts for the last week have been focused on the answer to that question.
Have I lived my life in such a way that if I disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice? Am I bettering others and the world I live in? A life like George Bailey lived?
My heart has been consumed with gratitude as well. Gratitude for those that have poured into my life over the last forty years. Those people that if they disappeared tomorrow, I would certainly notice.
There are some that have literally disappeared from this earth, and I notice every day. For me, people like my Paw Paw, former coaches, and community leaders. All of these people have molded and shaped me into the human being I am today. Each of you have had those people in your lives. Be grateful for them.
Wrestle with this question daily. If you disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice?
Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection
Where are the things you are doing in the lives of others that would make them notice your disappearance?