Be Sure to Leave Your Mark

How an unexpected graduation gift led one woman to leave her mark on the world.

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My first book! Living Kindly

Leigh M. Clark

On the day I graduated from high school, my father gave me a unique gift. While many of the upper middle class students I was graduating with were looking for big extravagant graduation gifts, this was one of the most significant gifts I would ever receive. 

He gave me a pen. 

It wasn’t just any pen. Aside from its fancy blue box, the pen was smooth navy and black swirled with a marble pattern, it felt heavy and cold, like actual stone in my hand. My eyes glistened like the glittering gold lettering on the pen boasting “Waterman,” the prestigious brand name. I knew it meant so much more than just something fancy to write with, though.

My father doesn’t talk a ton, so when he does, I make sure to listen closely. For him, it’s never about words anyway. It’s about the actions. 

What he was saying to me, in the quiet form of a writing utensil, was that he believed in me. He said simply “I hope you go on and continue to write. Be sure to leave your mark.”

What an incredible gift it is to believe in someone. I don’t think there’s an accurate price tag for that. 

I certainly didn’t believe in myself. I think I merely hoped for myself. At 17, with skinny legs and nervous knees knocking, I took the stage to speak to my graduating class. Not because I was the valedictorian but rather because I had convinced the principal that the student body needed to hear from someone average and relatable. I was sure of that much, if nothing else. 

Full of hope, I was off to begin leaving that mark. I’d pack up for college bringing my beautiful pen tucked safely away from the messy parties and spilled beers. I’d write every now and again about my hopes for the future or who I might marry someday. 

I worked on leaving a mark but often still felt average and relatable. I remember seeing an author and motivational speaker at a work conference in Vegas in my early software sales career. He took to the stage and triumphantly declared that we must infuse business with love and genuinely care about our people, not just those who equal profit to us. 

After his presentation, he told the nearly 2000 attendees that if anyone had follow up questions to email him and boldly shared his address. 

The wheels of the plane barely touched the ground by the time my email was drafted. I wanted to know how I could grow up and be like him. I wanted to lead and inspire others through writing and speaking. I asked for advice on how to get there. 

His answer was simple and yet somehow devastating to my hopes of pursuing this passion. He said. “It’s easy. You just have to have a story.”

I definitely didn’t have one of those. There was nothing interesting or adverse about my life then. I was just a young blonde woman in software sales who came from a generally uneventful upbringing. I was working my way up the corporate ladder, but I didn’t even long for middle management. I just loved connecting with my customers. 

It wouldn’t be until more than a decade later when, unbeknownst to me, my story began to emerge. I’d worked my way up in corporate and was a director of marketing at a software company when the recession hit and took my job with it. 

After a tail spin into self pity, I emerged re-employed but changed. There was nothing interesting about me because it was all about me. How was I truly impacting others outside of work?

What started as a simple act of kindness one holiday season, would soon have me pulling open the desk drawer that had warped from time and humidity. Reaching to the back, I felt the smooth edge of the  blue box that held that pen my father gave me. I opened the case, picked up the pen, and I started, once again, to write. 

Soon, after a chance encounter with Arianna Huffington, I began sharing the acts of kindness I was organizing in the community on Huffington Post. I carefully inspected my intentions to ensure they were to make an impact and reach more people. 

The initiative grew and became a nonprofit called Kindleigh that has now gone on to impact millions across the globe through leading and inspiring others to give back in their communities and to support a wide array of causes.  

My professional career began to more closely align with my philanthropic goals – moving into working for global software brands that are not only on the forefront of technology, but are profoundly committed to social change and corporate responsibility. 

I had learned so much about getting beyond the desire to blend in and, instead, embracing the boldness it would take to stand out. Not for attention’s sake but to make a significant impact. 

It was almost time to put my voice into the world in a bigger way. I began to write my first book, about personal evolution and living generously, when the pandemic struck. Life would never be the same. 

Like so many others, I would lose loved ones to Covid. Young ones, like my beautiful 48-year-old cousin Colleen, who not only left behind her husband and children, but also her ability to continue leaving her mark on the world.

Through this process, I realized the world didn’t need another book about how to thrive as an individual; we needed to learn to survive as humankind. We had realized through this experience that we needed one another more than we recognized and to cherish the relationships that were so precious to us.

It’s when I realized my story was not mine at all. My story was about impacting others…with kindness. 

I decided to put my original book back up on a shelf and make this an opportunity to shine the light on others. I went off to the internet and began searching for others, like myself, who had centered their purpose on spreading kindness to others. I sought to find those who were illuminating the world, even through the darkest days.  I had an idea how we could all join forces.

As I got to know these individuals, one by one, my heart swelled with the best feeling. You see, serving others has become one of the greatest joys of my life. Creating is always easiest when you’re joyful. The black ink flowed from my trusty pen, or “mighty sword” as literature would have it. Months would pass, the pages began to pile up, as something beautiful was becoming real. 

Just yesterday, I went to the mailbox and saw a yellow padded envelope had arrived from Amazon.   

I walked into the office, tore through the yellow paper and bubble wrap, and pulled out a book. With light radiating from the center of its multi-colored cover, it reads simply “Living Kindly: Bold Conversations on the Power of Kindness.” The book features those thirteen global voices I had found on my search, and on how  kindness has left its mark on them or on the lives they’ve touched. What I held in my hand, was the very first book I’d ever published, a smile washed over my face.

My desk drawer slid open with a more graceful ease than it ever had in the years prior. With both hands, I hinged the box open, picked up the pen, opened the book to its inside cover and began to write…

“Dad, thank you for the pen. I finally made a mark, and I think I’m starting to believe in me the way you always have. All my love, Leigh.”

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