Mover and Shaker: Is That You?

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Ever feel certain you know the definition of an idiom, but when you start to describe it on paper, you discover that you’re not really sure of its definition? That’s how I was with mover and shaker, a phrase coined by poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy in his poem, “Ode.” The phrase might seem familiar if you’ve seen Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). Here is the first stanza ala Wikipedia:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Before I get to the definition, let me ask you this: who would you consider to be a mover and shaker (past or present)? Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft? Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook? Oprah Winfrey? Margaret Thatcher? Abraham Lincoln? Any famous actor, producer, or writer?

Often we take our cues from those on whom society shines a spotlight. So, before I looked up the definition of mover and shaker, I had a preconceived idea that certain qualities were prerequisites. A mover and a shaker, I assumed, had to be

• Confident
• Strong
• A squeaky wheel
• An extrovert
• A winner or someone determine to win at all costs
• Pushy
• Competitive
• Driven
• Highly motivated
• Exceptional
• A corporate CEO
• A celebrity
• A leader on a national level

A mover and shaker, according to, is

A person who is active or influential in some field of endeavor

Note that the definition only includes two adjectives: active and influential.

You might keep that thought in mind as I briefly move on. I was talking to my sister-in-law the other day about my nephew, who is in the midst of a national scholarship competition, having already won our state competition. My first thought was, how was he planning to crush the competition? I know. I sound like a stage mom, ready to scream at a kid to go out there and dominate! Intimidate! And my sister-in-law mentioned that she tried to instill within him the need to have the eye of the tiger. “But,” she said, “he’s not very competitive. He just wants to get through his presentation.” In other words, he’s fine whether he wins or loses.

So after that exchange, I wondered whether or not a quiet person could be considered a mover and shaker. As I pondered this, I thought of Rosa Parks, who didn’t say a whole lot, but whose decision to remain seated on a bus influenced many people.

I also thought about my parents, who always told me I could do anything I set my mind to do. They worked hard to make sure I received a good education and didn’t date the wrong people. 🙂 Neither is a corporate CEO or a leader on a national level. But they’ve done their best to guide me. So in my book that would qualify them as active and influential, even though they’re not celebrities.

Another person I thought about was my nephew, who sometimes slips songs on my computer that he wants me to enjoy. That’s influential. He’s also active about telling me corny jokes.

Okay. I know what you’re thinking. I’m totally clueless about the notion of being a mover and shaker. All of the examples I’ve given don’t seem powerful or huge. But I would say, “That depends on your definition of powerful.” Is a sunset or a sunrise powerful? Neither adds to your bank account. And both occur whether you notice them or not. But maybe when you notice, you’re inspired to write a sonnet or forgive someone or simply go on living. If that’s not powerful, I don’t know what is. It’s the same with the people in our lives.


Maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift in regard to mover and shaker. Think about the people who have been quietly influential in your life, who influenced you to follow the career path you’re now on. Perhaps you’re that person, one who seeks the good in others or who works quietly behind the scenes to help others succeed. Or, perhaps you help persuade others to consider the impact their actions have on the environment. Maybe you’re an advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves.

Your actions have weight and meaning. Even if you don’t have a talk show or haven’t been asked to guest host for someone else’s talk show, you are a mover and shaker. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Salt shaker and sunrise from Wikipedia. Moving van from

40 thoughts on “Mover and Shaker: Is That You?

  1. I would definitely not regard myself as a mover and shaker. I prefer that description: quietly influential. It is only as I have gotten older that I have recognised the people who have helped shape me. I never knew it at the time, it is only in hindsight that I recognise their contribution.

    • Well, Andy, I thought of you and Jill when I wrote this post. Remember how you talked about your great-aunt?

      You’re a mover and shaker to your kids!

  2. I really like that description, it’s much better than the one I have (or I guess now, used to have!).

    I worked at Bloomberg after university, and the Movers and Shakers was anyone moving up the graduate scheme and into the next department. We had to go and stand on a stage and high five our new managers whilst the CEO announced the ‘Moverrrrsss and Shakers!’ on the mike, listing out each of our names. An incredibly awkward experience for everyone involved (is it any wonder I ran away from the place as soon as I could?!).

    I much prefer your idea of someone who quietly influences and shapes others, especially since we live in a world that focuses more on extroverts.

  3. Another fine example of how the genius of writers is appropriated by the world at large and twisted to mean something else. I would say that phrase taken from the poem means exactly the opposite of what it has now become. Earlier on in the verse it says ‘we are the world-losers and world-forsakers’ – hardly what Celine describes in her post above!
    In fact, the second verse of the poem attributes us creatives with phenomenal power –

    With wonderful deathless ditties
    We build up the world’s great cities,
    And out of a fabulous story
    We fashion an empire’s glory:
    One man with a dream, at pleasure,
    Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
    And three with a new song’s measure
    Can trample an empire down

    So, thanks for pointing it out Linda – we are movers and shakers and how do we move and shake?By being alone and contemplative besides rivers and seas! (And of course on the dance floor, when we’ve had too many drinkies!)

  4. Linda, YOU are a mover and shaker in my life 🙂 And I love seeing the second verse of that poem! Onward, creatives! Let’s move and shake this world to its core. Or just give it a little shimmy.

    • Thank you, Laura. 🙂 I like the idea of shimmying. So yes, onward with our fiction! Maybe someday a kid will write and say that we were the movers and shakers in his or her life.

  5. This is a great post, Linda! For me, the quiet influences have always had the biggest impact. Like you, I see my parents as movers and shakers. They’ve definitely played a roll in the person I am today and for that, I’m very thankful.

    • I thought of you when I wrote this post, because of the way you turned over your blog to other writers. So you’re definitely a mover and a shaker!

  6. I tend to hear the term in regards to corporate settings. The ‘movers and shakers’ of the company were the ones that went up the ladder. So I always thought of it as ambitious, go-getting, and those who take the initiative. Though my definition for that setting changed to those who would crush others beneath their feet. That’s why I fully agree that we should shift our thoughts on the phrase. Makes no sense that you can only be called a ‘mover and shaker’ if you change the entire world.

  7. Love this! Well, I am a mover in that I move from my bedroom to the kitchen. And I am a shaker in that the skin in my upper arms shakes when I move. Does that count??? LOL. I so agree with you. There are unlimited definitions of a mover and a shaker, as there should be! Good luck to your wonderful nephew! 🙂

    • Ha! I was thinking the same thing, Maria! I started to add it, but I fell asleep while waiting to post, so I wound up just posting what I had.

      Will tell him that you send your good luck wishes.

  8. Eh, movers and shakers in the modern sense (i.e. famous, powerful people in entertainment and business) usually have to give up something else to be that. How many of them have time for family or even time to take a walk in the park?

    • How very true. I was reading an article in Entertainment Weekly that made me a bit sad. An actor lamented the fact that he hadn’t seen his small son in several months, thanks to his back-to-back film schedule. He’s missing so much in that child’s life. I know! It’s easy for me to say. But I couldn’t help feeling sad.

  9. I like the quiet mover and shakers. They tend to impress me more than those who think they’re moving and shaking, but are only making a whole lot of noise. Looking back, it’s the ideas of the subtle ones that have stuck with me most over the years.

    • Well, you can be a mover and shaker for Angus. 🙂
      Teachers over the years have also been that for me with their gentle encouragement to keep writing. That’s helped tremendously.

  10. What a lovely, thoughtful post, L 🙂 I felt like I was in company with some pretty big movers and shakers when I accepted Jill’s invitation the other day. I like your gentle definition.

    • Hi, Johanna. Or can I call you Jo? Or would you prefer Restless Jo? I enjoyed your post at Jill’s blog and also your own blog. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Jo’s fine but I respond to most things, L 🙂 I confess to being curious about the L?
        My Dad and half of his family call me Jan, short for Janice, just to confuse things further 🙂

  11. I’ve definitely never considered myself one of the movers & shakers. In fact, the idea of trying to get in with that crowd (which I’ve always thought of as loud, pushy, and extroverted) makes me want to hide under my bed.

    I much prefer your definition.

  12. Lovely post! How wonderful to be “quietly influential.” I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few years about what success really means, and I don’t think it has to be big or loud. And this post confirms that. 😉

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