Leaving an Impression – Lessons from Otis Redding

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Photo by Piano Piano! Pin

Over the long weekend in the US, the wife and I spent some time down in Los Angeles. We walked past the Grammy museum, and since they had just opened a large Beatles exhibit, and it was a rather hot afternoon to be walking around outside, we decided to go ahead and spend some time there.

Among the many exhibits we enjoyed, including the Beatles one, there was a section celebrating the life and music of Otis Redding. One of the most intriguing bits of memorabilia and video the museum had was a video of Otis performing Try a Little Tenderness in Cleveland. As it turns out, the performance was the last one Otis would ever give, as he and several band members were killed in an airplane crash.

As I watched it, I couldn’t help but feel like the performance was poignant, as well as amazing. It was as if everyone involved almost knew it would be the last performance, even though that was impossible for any one to have known.

Now, obviously, Otis Redding was an amazing performer, and I’m sure that anyone who did get to see him perform live would have walked away feeling like they had seen an amazing show, even when it wasn’t his last one. It’s not like he could have known this was the last, and made some extra effort to make it amazing.

On the other hand, as a performer, he did know that for many in the audience, this would be the one, and only, time they saw him perform, so he would have made the effort all the time to make sure he left them with a good impression. Then, when it turned out to also be his last performance, he left all of us with one last, good, memory.

There’s a life lesson in there. Actually, there are probably a few life lessons in that, but the one that stuck with me as we left the museum that day was this idea of the impression we leave behind? The simple truth of life is that someday, we will be interacting with the people who are important to us for the last time, and most of us will not have any idea that it is the last time. When we do, will we be leaving them with one, final, memory of how important they are to us, or will we be leaving them with a sharp word or deed? I know which one I would rather leave behind, to anyone, but especially to the people I care the most about.

We spend a lot of time, rightfully, concerned with making a good first impression. I don’t want to downplay that at all, it is important to treat everyone with grace, kindness, and compassion. When you don’t start out a connection with another, no matter how short, you never get another chance to make that first impression. Yet, we always know when we are meeting someone for the first time, and can choose what kind of first impression to make on them. With a last impression, that’s a bit tougher. Yes, in some situations we can guess that this is the last opportunity to interact with someone, but much of the time, we don’t know when we are leaving a last impression. We typically assume that we will, of course, interact with people again. But, maybe not. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.

What if you did know this was the last time you would get to talk to someone? What would you want them to know? What would you want to say to them?

Leave them with an impression to last a lifetime, just in case it has to.


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