How to win friends and influence people . . .

Joel Sartore at Work . . . pardon the photo theft, Joel!

http://www.joelsartore.com

Whether you know it or not, every day you have an effect on people. It’s really up to you how you’re remembered. I know that sounds cheesy, very “Remember the Golden Rule” kind of a thing, but I’m hoping that what I have to recount will give you pause and make you realize, if you ever have that George Bailey moment you take into consideration just what one little interaction can mean to someone else.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you realize already I’m mentioning Andrea in this post. It’s always strange to realize that you have no idea what an impact you have until you’re gone. There’s a reason that Samuel Clemens used Tom Sawyer’s funeral as a literary device. The downside for me is that the reports of Andrea’s demise are not exaggerated.

I could mention the funeral here, it would fit. There was a myriad of people there. Sure, there was the contingent of people that were at the church simply to show support to me and the kids, that’s a given. That wasn’t the full measure of the response, though. The church, which holds a good many people (just go to any Easter or Christmas mass, you heathens) was filled. Not a scattering of people throughout the church but standing room only. It was a testament to the fact that when she was healthy and able, Andrea spent a ton of time up at the school and the church and wanted to be involved with the people there. She loved it.

But that’s an obvious simile. My story goes back farther, and as always, was an example of how she went above and beyond just because she was doing something nice for me.

A good many years ago I had been a member of the National Press Photographers Association, or NPPA. It helped me learn, gave me opportunities to steal ideas from other shooters, just was a good organization for storytelling. In their monthly magazine they’d run a profile of a National Geographic photographer by the name of Joel Sartore. I was already familiar with Joel’s work, and if you’re not, you should be. I had always wanted to be a Geographic shooter, but I didn’t take that path, I went into television. With kids, a family, travelling most the year and waiting in a tree canopy for a week for a single shot of a pig isn’t in the cards any more, but it would have to be an amazing career. (If you roll your eyes and wonder why I’d be excited, if you can watch Joel’s segment on shooting Grizzlies on Geographic Explorer, talking about the “bear bells” he finds at REI and NOT laugh, well, you’re made of stone) He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska . . . because he wants to. He loves the state, the people, and thinks the Midwest is an amazing place, so I obviously had a soft spot for his work. Just a couple days later our consumer help line – the unit I was now producing and shooting for – got a call from, of all people, Joel. He was having trouble with directory assistance. He had lost dozens of clients because when freelance hires would call to get his number they’d be given a twelve-year-old number. He’d run into people who told him “I had a job that had you written all over it, but . . . just couldn’t find you. Have you moved?”

His wife forced him to call. He thought she was nuts. I, however, jumped at the chance to talk with him and already had contacts with one of the phone companies. I was new to the consumer thing, had a little cockiness, probably came across a bit too confident, and talked with Joel and his son on-camera, talking with his wife off-camera. I won’t bore you with details, but we got the Lincoln phone company’s competition to fix the national database and his phone was his phone number again.

So where my wife comes in is some months later. Joel had done a profile of Nebraska for Nat Geo. The magazine let him use all his unused photos and create an amazing book called “Under a Big Red Sky” for publication by the University Press. It was all I could talk about because a lot of the Northern Nebraska cities I frequented were featured in the book. I kept trying to buy it and Andrea kept blocking me asking me to wait.

What I didn’t know was that Andrea had wandered into the Barnes and Noble in the Crossroads Mall in Omaha specifically to buy the book. They had a few left – it sold well – and noticed that she had missed, by about an hour, a signing by the author. She looked, though, and in a corner of the store, packing books and paperwork up, was Joel, cleaning up after a very long afternoon. She walked over, apologetically asking him if he’d sign her book. She told Joel it was for her husband, someone he’d met awhile back. She wasn’t sure he’d remember me, but Joel’s book was all I would talk about and she was hoping she might convince him to sign it. When she told Joel who her husband was, he lit up. He signed the book, put “my phone is still ringing!” in the inscription and talked with Andrea for a long time inside the store. When I opened it she told me about meeting him in the store, talking with him for a long time, listening to his regaling tales of the pictures in the book. She thought he was funny, intelligent and talented. That was the only contact Joel had with her.

Every year or so, when something changes, I send Joel a note letting him know where I am and asking how he’s doing. As I was getting ready to send out Christmas cards I realized I hadn’t spoken with Joel in over a year. It’s always odd sending a note and starting off with the fact that your life has taken an odd sort of tragic turn. But I told him where our lives had gone, that my wife had passed (remember this, and notice I didn’t use her name) and that we’d moved. I did mention that he’d met her once and that she’d talked about how much she’d liked him.

Joel is busy, mind you. He’s either on assignment or off with his family, both of which are insanely important. But he got right back to me, and indicated that he “remembered Andrea”. The woman who’d found him in the store and asked him to sign, and I know from her description that she wouldn’t have left until he did, he remembered meeting her. She’d had an impact. I may seem a little thing to you, but it’s a big deal to me. It verifies what I keep saying: she was just an amazing, memorable, brilliant woman. A man who I know, but my wife had met only once and gave him pause.

You can meet someone once, simply once, so what impression do you want to give? Andrea met this person, a man who travels the world and sees those amazing people, places and creatures you can only read about, and she made an impact. This man, with his own story, 3 kids, a wife who is battling cancer, and he took the time to talk with this woman who made it a point to show how much she loved me. Did I push as much for her? What impact did I have on someone hoping to get her a present? There is part of me that hopes in the end my thoughts of her go far beyond this simple writing. She met and impacted people everywhere, from a church full of people, to a world-renowned photographer, and the influences pop up in the most amazing places.

What impact to you want to be remembered for? I see and hear stories about this amazing woman, this beautiful person, and I am saddened by the fact that I am no longer part of our story. But when I hear people who met her only briefly speak of her with fondness and I can’t help but be uplifted. I can only hope I have half the impression she did.

Joel Sartore, Photographing your Family

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