I squirmed as a thousand pinkish-orange fish nibbled at my bare feet. Apparently this was supposed to be a relaxing "massage," but it felt like tickle torture instead. We were at the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka, with nothing but ocean ahead for 6,000 miles to Antarctica. As I dangled my limbs in the warm water and contemplated a future without toes, I wondered, How the hell did I get here?
The previous week, we had searched for snake charmers, devoured curry and egg hoppers, visited Buddhist temples, met with cinnamon farmers, taken shots of some sketchy moonshine out of a bathtub in the jungle, seen hatching babies at a sea turtle sanctuary, and taken shelter with monkeys in a mangrove forest after getting caught in a torrential downpour in a rowboat.
But we weren’t there to have adventures––that was just a bonus. In fact, years later, reminiscing about that trip, those moments barely get a mention. We were there to work with soldiers from both sides of the Sri Lankan civil war, many of whom had lost their hearing during the 15-year conflict.
What we reminisce about is the family that traveled 20 hours on a bus to the military base in Colombo where we were stationed. We remember crying with them as they witnessed their four-year-old daughter hearing for the first time—something they never thought possible.
We talk about our dance-off to “Thriller” with a 13-year-old boy who could suddenly reconnect with his peers and the world around him. He wanted to be a performer like the ones he saw on TV, and being able to hear again meant everything to him.
We talk about the two guys in their early thirties who had previously been enemies but found common ground that day when sharing their experiences of the war.
We remember being humbled by the impact of seeing a hundred-year-old man as he suddenly became full of personality after not having sound in his life for 50 years.
These are just four stories out of more than 2,000 on that trip. We were lucky enough to touch their lives, and they touched ours—and there’s no telling how much good may have flowed from those connections.
That four-year-old girl has now gone through years of school that she would have missed entirely if she were still unable to hear. The family might remember that moment as one that changed the course of their future, and pay it forward.
The teenager may have gone onto a life in the arts, inspiring others to follow their dreams despite facing obstacles.
Perhaps the soldiers gained a new perspective about their enemies and have been able to spread kindness to others who had been on opposite sides of the war.
The elderly man was able to reconnect with his family—I wonder what wisdom he was able to impart to the four generations below him, that might have otherwise been lost to history.
That’s the ripple effect in action. Just like the ripples of a small pebble move outward and grow, acts of giving and kindness can spread and impact the lives of many others for generations to come.
As I stared out at the endless sea, fish making a snack of my feet, I realized that someone else’s ripple effect had brought me to Sri Lanka in the first place. A viral video had inspired the concept of LSTN, and even though I didn’t know the woman in the video—or the person who had made the video, or the one who had given her the hearing aid—I was carrying their impact forward and making it my own. Even when they were gone, they would live on through that ripple, just as I would through those touched by my experiences, and so forth.
My work focuses heavily on your life, but in the end, it’s about way more. The richer you are in experiences, the more you have to give to others. The more joy, love, and wisdom you cultivate for yourself, the more you spread in the world. You become valuable to others when you share your experiences with them, thus creating opportunities for them to build their own experiential wealth.
When you’re gone, the only thing that remains behind is what you’ve given to others. That’s how you can live forever: through the impact you have on other people. In the end, serving others is the most powerful way to feel your life is well spent.
About Bridget Hilton
Bridget Hilton creates tools to help teams and leaders connect in the workplace through rich experiences and shared goals. Her keynote helps Fortune 500 companies navigate topics of mental health and wellness, burnout, employee belonging and connection, inspiration, motivation, and goal setting. Her book Experiential Billionaire and card deck Treasure Maps is out now. She is located in Los Angeles, CA and is booking keynotes and workshops worldwide now.