(From the May 14, 2009 Grand Haven Tribune)
I don’t think I’ve been particularly influenced by Michelle Obama. Same goes for Rush Limbaugh. Ditto that for the guys who invented Twitter, Senator Edward Kennedy, or Nouriel Roubini (who supposedly predicted the economic crash, meaning he influenced no one, at least not soon enough).
All of these people and more—a total of 100 individuals—are included in the annual TIME 100—The World’s Most Influential People. I’m sure TIME Magazine has a point with some of them. They certainly influence us indirectly with inventions, public policy and other elements of common life they had a hand in. We should not take their contributions to society for granted. To a degree, they are influential. Just not the entertainers; especially not George Clooney. Tiger Woods also has not influenced me, as evidenced by the fact that I have gained no additional influence over my golf ball whenever I play.
The truth is, if someone came up to me and asked me who really influenced me, none of the people on TIME’s list would pop into mind. At the same time, the individuals I would think of would never occur to TIME editors I’m sure. So, I give you: Tim’s Most Influential People.
I’d have to start with my parents. I know some people in TIME helped negotiate world peace and so forth. But I’d have to say learning to tie my shoes and go potty by myself was a more pressing concern when I was growing up. Call me selfish. But where would I be without those skills today? Once I had the shoelaces and bathroom situations mastered, they moved on to other things. They limited my TV watching, probably instilling a life-long love of reading that led to all three of my careers. Their greatest influence was leading me to a faith that has guided every aspect of my life. Not bad for an immigrant and a plumber.
Add to my parents my in-laws. Most people roll their eyes at the mention of in-laws. I got lucky—a second set of parents whose values are consistent with my own mom and dad. Their additional influence has been making me aware of commercial airline flight schedules, investment advice, health issues, and some of the intricacies of auto repair, to name a few. They also had a daughter of whom I’m quite fond.
That daughter is now my wife and arguably one of the most influential people in my life currently. She brings the Food Network to life in our home. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, she pretty much has a vice grip on my aorta. She also gives my heart a workout. After I introduced her to running, she persistently influences me now to get out there and run, usually for more miles than I intend. She also taught me the concept of compromise. For example, if I want to do one thing, and she wants to do another, we “compromise” and do what she wants. I get that now.
The educators in my life can’t be left out. There was the middle school English teacher who hung parts of speech from the ceiling to help us understand and enjoy sentence diagrams. A professor when I was an undergraduate visited me in Washington DC when I was a kid on my own in the big city doing an internship. The chair of my doctoral dissertation committee has a work ethic and patient guidance that directly influence how I engage my own students today.
Speaking of students, they influence me as well. They write papers and do projects that teach me. They inspire me when they go on to jobs that involve innovative application of what they studied in college. And they keep in touch! Just this past month I’ve spoken with current and former students who are working in advertising for Google in Ireland, teaching English in China, serving as executive director of an organization seeking a cure for a rare disease, and starting social media efforts for a major corporation.
Friends and neighbors make the list of Tim’s Most Influential People. They provide help, humor, feedback and perspective at just the right moments in life. Whether in person, on the phone or via email, this network has influenced or confirmed many a decision in my life, from the proper time to apply lawn fertilizer to how to handle an issue at work. Those two things aren’t related, by the way.
There are others who have influenced me and I don’t want to leave them off the list, but I am running out of room. Let me just say that this last group made the impression on me that humility is a good thing. I honor them by not mentioning them here.