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
• A squeaky wheel
• An extrovert
• A winner or someone determine to win at all costs
• Highly motivated
• A corporate CEO
• A celebrity
• A leader on a national level
A mover and shaker, according to Merriam-Webster.com, 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 clipartbest.com