Speeding Things Along

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a catalyst as, “a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions than otherwise possible.” One of the most memorable compliments I ever received was when someone told me I was, “a catalyst, like sugar.” I’ll never forget that—it both surprised and pleased me very much.

Regardless of our specific personality type, each of us serves as a catalyst of sorts under the right conditions. Perhaps our impact is most obvious in our capacity as a volunteer or with our students or social circle, but somewhere, for each of us we possess a certain, magic quality that helps make things happen—even if we can’t exactly pinpoint what it is that we do–personal influence and chemistry is unpredictable and not to be underestimated. By this, I don’t mean that everyone has to possess the usual charisma people wax on about in military heroes or certain entertainers. Rather, accomplishing goals and assisting in a team effort is often sped up through the contributions of many an under-the-radar personality.

Malcolm Gladwell’s sensational book The Tipping Point explores how ideas spread through society. In it, he identifies a variety of individual types who each play a critical role in whether or how a concept gains popularity. What Gladwell discusses applies equally to our own lives. While it’s true that without the catalyst, certain reactions might occur anyway (although it would take a lot longer), we need to grasp that a catalyst alone accomplishes nothing—the other reagents must be present in order for the chemical transformation to ensue. (Let the record reflect: I am giving credit to all the necessary elements.) But back to those catalysts…

So, without becoming egomaniacs, I’d like you to reflect upon where you play the role of a catalyst? Who are you helping transform? How are you doing this?

It is necessary for Re-booters to understand and respect the role we play in the lives of others. There are many, many things that would not occur without our involvement—we speed things along. The reason this is important for us to recognize is that once we appreciate this, we can better finesse how we play this role. I’m sure you can think of examples where well meaning people turn on too much of whatever good quality they have. Overwhelming others with our sparkle can douse the flame as readily as not providing the necessary oxygen. We are most effective when we understand what we are doing.

This doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes. This doesn’t mean we will always feel like contributing. Or be petty or tired or question what the point in trying so hard really is. Because we will. But just because we may see futility in the effort doesn’t mean that our cooperation isn’t needed by those who believe otherwise. Sometimes, just showing up for another, making the effort because they want us to may be sufficient reason for us to step up to the plate, to add our special something to the mix, and watch as the elements combine.

Obviously, I’m not a chemist, nor do I play one on tv, so I apologize for any bastardization I have made of real, honest, hard working chemical reactions. I’m trying to make a point, but I don’t know if I’ve succeeded on that front, either. Please bear with me as I check with Management…

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One Response to “Speeding Things Along”

  1. grasshopper Says:

    love this! It’s well-written…and as an ex-chemist, I think it was a thoughtful, and accurately expressed analogy. 🙂

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