Thanksgiving is one of the few times a year I pause from my normal routine of sarcasm and savor moments, memories, friends and family. I suppose that’s the point of it all, but it’s easy to take things for granted and “suffer” through another holiday with annoying family members.

Water RippleSo, surprising to those who know me, being tagged by Ike Pigott in Kami Hyuse’s “Thanks for the Influence” meme is a welcome project as the holiday approaches.

And for the record, I have been promoted from eighth generation meme tag-ee to second generation (Kami started, tagged Ike, who tagged me.) so I’m moving up in the world. For that, I am thankful!

Kami’s original question:

Who had a big influence on you and how did that affect the direction of your life or career?

Would it surprise you to know I can think of about 30 people? I think we all can. But here are the top folks whose ripples continue to guide my ship, in no particular order:

  1. Robert J. “Jake” Bell – Quirky old bird from Carlisle, Ky., and legendary Southeastern Conference basketball official Jake Bell was my boss and the athletic director at Georgetown College, where I cut my teeth as a sports information director and PR hack. His military-like meeting regimens (Never more than an hour, never late, always with a typed agenda that we stuck to.) and odd-ball sayings helped shape my professional habits and leadership skills. I still say, “If it happens once, shame on it. If it happens twice, shame on you,” because of him.
  2. Randy Stacy – My first real boss, Randy was (and is) the sports information director at Morehead State University, my alma mater. He took a snot-nosed sports columnist for the student newspaper and offered me a $36 per week work study. My career in sports was born and the next 11 years of my life went down the tubes. (Joke) Randy tolerated a lot from me but cleaned me up, polished me as much as he could and let me loose on the world. I’m sure he regrets it, but Randy’s patience and willingness to trust me to handle a lot of responsibility at a young age are the primary reason I have an insatiable work ethic to this day.
  3. Hank Newsome – When Hank, the resident computer guru in my little hometown (a gangly, 13-year-old) showed me how download games from the only bulletin board in Eastern Kentucky, I forced my mother to cash in savings bonds and buy my first computer. I’ve been addicted to them ever since and, while I was too extroverted to spend hours behind one becoming a programmer, the computer (and Internet) have been integral parts of my existence for 20 years now. Sadly, I have no idea where Hank is these days, but I still think of the hours we spent on the phone, him coaching me through Basic programming and motherboard circuitry.
  4. My mom – Sara Falls George found herself at age 25 with a three-year-old son, a husband who abandoned her and a world that wasn’t always fair to women, particularly of the single mom kind. She sacrificed more than I probably know just to keep me fed. She always made sure I went to church and stayed motivated to do well in school. How she did it, I’ll never know. Every day I look at my son and realize how much work it takes to be a parent, I think about my mother and how she had to do it all by herself. It blows my mind.
  5. Her mom – Anna Lee O’Briant was my Geike (a word I made up for her when little and pronounced GIKE-ee) and probably the person I miss most on Thanksgiving. A predecessor of my mother’s amazing fortitude, Geike was too abandoned by her husband at an early age, only with two kids, not just one. She became a business leader, a church elder and even ran for mayor of her little town of Logan, W.Va., in the 1960s when women just didn’t do that. She taught me to be kind to others, regardless of their shortcomings, racism was ignorant and that no one on the planet makes crescent rolls like her.Perhaps the greatest lesson she taught me was that no one owes you anything. Despite years of medical problems with rheumatory arthritis, a near-death experience with pneumonia, breast cancer and various other ailments, she penned a book called “Rx: Tea But No Sympathy,” which my mother’s print shop published in small circulation in the late 1980s. While I’m bastardizing the eloquence of her prose, the point of it was, “Don’t feel sorry for me. I will be fine.” I took it to mean that life may kick your ass from time to time. So you get up, dust yourself off and get back in the ring. When I’m frustrated or depressed, I just think of her and my spirits lift. I only wish she were still around because tomorrow, I’d be able to give her a hug. And eat her crescent rolls.

Thankfulness extends beyond those described. Joe Dean Jr., Shelby Whitfield, Mike Dawahare, my Uncle Bo, Bill Cronin, Dr. Dallas Branch and any number of co-workers throughout my professional life have influenced me. My current boss, Dan Burgess, and boss’s bosses, Todd Spencer and the now retired Dave Wilkins, as well as the wily old codger of Doe Anderson, Ray Radford, deserve a lot of credit. They’ve taken a guy who watched ballgames for a living and taught me a lot about advertising, public relations and marketing. To them, I’m indebted. For them, I’m grateful.

And I’m also thankful for the influence of my online influencers. Todd Defren, Chris Heuer, Brian Solis, Jeremy Pepper, Jeremiah Owyang, Chris Brogan, Valeria Maltoni, Ike, Kami … (I recently promised not to be a link whore. I should stop.) I’ve been gobbling up every ounce of knowledge you’ve been willing to share over the last couple of years. Suffice to say, you share a lot … meaning I’m really freakin’ smart now. And not a bit humble.

Thanks for tagging me, Ike. It’s good to stop and thank folks now and then.

So, whose influence are you thankful for? Valeria Maltoni, Todd Earwood, Derek Edmond, Chris Brogan and Nick Huhn? (You should check out Nick’s blog everyone. It’s new and he’s brilliant.)

IMAGE: Water Ripple by Oranje on Flickr.

[tags]Thanksgiving, thankful, influence, meme, Jason Falls, Ike Pigott, Kami Hyuse[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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