It’s been 28 years since I was voted homecoming king at Augustana College (now Augustana University). I was definitely surprised by the result of that vote. As I think about it years later, I wonder if I have seen any benefit from that title. It didn’t benefit me professionally. It definitely didn’t help me improve my study habits or GPA. And, I certainly didn’t have any added responsibility during that last year of school because of the title. But I have realized that I did learn something from my year as Augustana royalty.
You don’t have to be the best to make a difference. I was definitely not the most popular guy at school. I wasn’t a football player or any other type of collegiate athlete; I was just a regular student. I had served in some leadership roles but wasn’t a great leader by any means. I suppose I was a bit of a flirt, which may have helped my vote because of the 4:1 girl to guy ratio. But, I hope that the result was because I just tried my best to be kind. I wanted everyone to know that they were important to me.
Remember this. You don’t have to be charismatic, popular, or wealthy to make a difference in someone else’s life. Be sure that your loved ones, coworkers, or people you meet throughout the day, know that they are important to you; that they are loved. Say it to them through your words and actions. This is one of many important characteristics of a great leader.
Shrink your circles to do more good. It boils down to this. In my attempt to make as many friends as possible throughout high school and college, I turned my back on some pretty amazing people. My friendships only scratched the surface. I spend much of that time being fake so I wouldn’t have to be vulnerable to people.
Unfortunately, that was a lesson that took way too long to learn. Now that my circles are smaller, I have the opportunity to be real. It allows me to truly connect with people so I can benefit from a support group as well as be a real support to my friends.
Remember this. It only takes one drop of water to create a ripple that reaches far and wide.
Here today, gone tomorrow. Five years following graduation, I was invited to ride in the homecoming parade as an alumni royalty. I thought it would be fun to relive my “glory days” and see old friends and acquaintances. As I rode the parade route, I waved to a crowd of faces that seemed to kindly smile or wave back but were actually quite indifferent to my royalty status. It was then that I realized that we will all be insignificant at some point. I had this idea in my head that my good works and accomplishments in my past, present, and future would be my ticket to eternal recognition as a world changer.
Remember this. In this day of short-term memory, eventually, all movers and shakers will fade out of the public eye. Only in extreme circumstances will our accomplishments or failures change the lives of others forever. So, the lesson here is to never stop trying to grow, improve, or change the world, but don’t dwell on fame or recognition. Live for the moment of personal defeat so you can learn, or live for the success to experience that joy. And then move on. Life keeps moving, don’t get stuck in the past. Be grateful for those memories and accolades, but always move forward. Keep reinventing yourself; always striving to be a better version of yourself.
Listen to my song, "Only You" that takes a look at my struggle with significance and purpose.
Justin Ehrman is a husband, father, author and singer/songwriter.