The small picture

My niece, a bright and beautiful first-year college student, sent me a card in gratitude for a rather modest birthday gift I’d sent her.

In the note, after she thanked me for helping a starving artist make ends meet, she mentioned she had thought about me a few days before while passing a miniature golf course. She recalled, as did I, a few occasions when I took her and her brother to play miniature golf when they were youngsters.

I’m not sure how many times I’d taken them, but apparently it made something of an impression on her. Those gestures, generally viewed as rather insignificant by me, loom a bit larger in her consciousness, it turns out.

It’s easy to get caught up in believing that we have to do really big, important things to make an impact in our business and personal lives or to make people remember us. We figure that the high-profile job, the awards, the glitzy publicity or some splashy gesture of generosity will make us happy, loved and successful.

Oddly enough, I find that it’s usually the little things that make the most long-lasting impression on me. The last car I bought was from a salesman who came across as a really down-to-earth guy who wasn’t desperate to make the sale. I had decided what I wanted, could have bought it at a lot of places, and maybe even hammered out a slightly better deal.

He listened to what I wanted and expected and did whatever he could to meet my requirements. I went away feeling like I got a fair deal, and he earned his commission. I expect to give him a chance to sell me another one next time around.

I have found that some of the things I’ve done that required minimum effort ended up getting the biggest bang. A short news story about a municipal meeting written in about 20 minutes raised a lot of hackles and attracted a fair amount of praise. A column about an old-timer in the food business was another that sparked a warm response.

The grand gestures have their value, in life and in business, but it seems that over the long haul, it’s the little things you do on a day-to-day basis that add up to make the biggest difference. Ask my niece.