The other day a woman came up to me at a book signing. In a few minutes, she told me her life story. She had lived most of her life trying to please people. In return, she had received criticism and lots of advice that had not been helpful. Now in her 60s, she was beginning to see that her life was changing. She saw herself in transition.

I asked her, “Do you believe that you can be a person on impact?”

“Yes! I’ve been thinking about that,” she replied.


The Transition To Being A Person of Impact

She is in transition. Her perception of herself is changing. She has finally reached the end of her rope and is deciding to climb back up, and out of the dark hole she’s been in.

Like many people that I’ve known, she has a spouse who denigrates her at every opportunity. Her family also told her that she could not do certain things because she was a middle child. And then there is the cult of beauty that exists in our consumer culture that suggests that women who are not classically beautiful are unable to be successful.

I told her that she is under no obligation to abide by the opinions of others. It takes courage and moral strength to believe in yourself when everyone around you doesn’t.

Every positive, affirming statement that I made to her was greeted with a warm smile and an energetic “I’ve been thinking that too.”

It was one of those moments that I’ll cherish for a long time.


Say, “No More

If you don’t want to live in this trap, then you have to take responsibility for your life. You have to say “no more” to those opinions that are put-downs.  Standing up for yourself may have some emotional benefit, but it will only raise the conflict level. Instead, no more listening to them. Ignore them. If it means defriending them, then that is what it takes. No longer giving credence to people who want to exercise responsibility over your life without having any accountability in return. Say, “No more!”


The First Transition

Instead, you need to think for yourself. Make up your own mind. Thinking for yourself is where taking responsibility for your life begins. When you do start to think for yourself, and not merely following whatever is trending online, you need to be clear about the values that are important to you.

In talking with the woman at the book signing, I discovered that one of her values is self-sufficiency. It was now a driving influence in the transition she is experiencing.

What are the values that, for you, are non-negotiable? What line will you not cross, no matter what the pressure placed on you? Establishing boundaries based on your values is one way to understand their importance.

The second step is to ask if I were to place this value first in my life, what would I do differently today than yesterday? The key to the practicality of this value is saying no to things that before you felt obliged to do. Being able to say NO is one of the great freedoms that comes with thinking like a person of impact.


The Second Transition

If the first transition is to think for yourself, then the second is to take initiative that is an expression of the values that matter to you.

The challenge all of us have who have lived according to other people’s opinions of us is to decide the life we truly want. Not what we want for ourselves, but rather the difference our lives can make to the people we know, to our community and, quite possibly, to the world at large.

We can’t know this until we make a break from the restrictive social conformity of the past. We must spend some time trying some new things.

Discovering your life is much more fun than following someone else’s prescription. Maybe you think that you’d like flipping houses or rescuing abandoned pets. You dig a little into what goes into this, and you discover, you like the idea of it, but not the doing of it.

Keep discovering, and eventually, something will emerge that is your thing. It is the impact that you want to spend your time pursuing. You can’t find it fully by sitting alone in a chair pondering the future.


The Continuing Transition

The other factor involved in taking responsibility to be a person of impact is your life situation. The world is continually changing. It is also in transition. So, to be a person of impact, we have to accept the reality that the difference that we desire to create may change from time to time.

The non-negotiable nature of our values is important because it provides us focus, direction, and boundaries for our lives.

Our purpose can change. Our vision for impact can change. Our relationships can change. The place of our work can change.

The values that are the foundation of our lives should not change. We may learn to express them differently. We may even add new values, always remembering that our values are the bedrock of our identity.


Dr. Ed Brenegar is a Leader for Leaders working with individuals, their teams, organizations and communities who find themselves at a point of transition. Ed has developed an innovative leadership model called, Circle of Impact, that clarifies what the impact of their life or the work of their organization can be. From this perspective, impact is the change that makes a difference that matters. Ed. for over 30 years, has inspired and equipped people and organizations to practice this fresh understanding of leadership. All leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters. Everyone within an organization or a community can, therefore, practice leadership initiative. In so doing, they turn what were once leadership-starved organizations into leader-rich cultures that make a difference that matters.

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