Most people can probably make a list of people who have significantly impacted their life in one way or another. Parents would likely be at the top of most lists (including mine). Best friends would almost certainly make the cut. But those are people who we interact with all the time, and it’s not a surprise that they would be influential in our lives. What about people who you rarely (or never) see or talk to, but somehow managed to change your life forever?

I have three of those people.

I’m pretty sure that they have absolutely no idea. I haven’t talked to any of these people in years. But each one of them made a lasting effect on the way my life has played out so far.


Around five years ago, me and my best friend went to the local rock climbing gym in Springfield, MO. We had no idea what we were doing, we just thought it would be fun. We bought a 3-day pass, learned how to belay, and had a good time. And that was that–I had no real desire to go back or plans to make climbing a hobby.

A month or so later I was drinking with some friends downtown. It was late and I offhandedly mentioned to a couple people there that I went rock climbing not long before. Nate, who was in my social circle but I hadn’t ever hung out with one on one, told me that he used to climb all the time when he was in high school. He still had all of his gear and everything, and said we should start climbing together at the gym.

About once a week we would go to the gym together. Nate had an extra pair of climbing shoes that he let me borrow. I thought climbing was fun, but in no way was I into it enough to fork out $100 for a pair of climbing shoes. We climbed together maybe a handful of times before his work schedule changed to the exact opposite of mine. We stopped climbing together because we were never free at the same time. I had just bought a membership at the gym, though, so I kept going and started bouldering.

Since I was a broke college student and I just spent $40 on a gym membership, I decided I was going to get my money’s worth and go all the time. By the end of the month I was becoming a better climber, which made it more enjoyable, and I was hooked. I bought another month membership and my own pair of shoes, and the rest is history.

Climbing changed my life in so many ways. It brought me outside to beautiful places, and that ignited a sense of adventure in me.

And it never would have happened if I didn’t offhandedly mention climbing to my friend Nate, and go with him to the gym a few times.


During an absolutely awful accounting class for my MBA, I was in a group with Travis. He told me about how he studied abroad before, and that the next semester he was doing it again in Valencia, Spain.

I had never, ever seriously considered studying abroad. What would I do with all my things? I wondered. I don’t think I had ever really talked to anyone who had studied abroad before. So I just asked him, hey, what are you doing with all your stuff while you’re away? “I’m just putting everything I own in a spare room in my house and then renting out my house.”

Well that was simple enough.

Why couldn’t I just put my stuff in, for example, my parent’s basement? It might sound silly that such a minor concern was my main obstacle to living abroad. What will I do with my couch?! is a pretty dumb thing to worry about in the grand scheme of things. But I had an attachment to my stuff.

For the first time in my life, I began to consider living abroad. The more I thought about it the more I wanted to do it. I decided not long after this conversation with Travis that I would do a semester abroad in Europe. I ended up spending a year in Europe, and that time changed me more than any other period in my life.

And I don’t think I ever would have done it if I hadn’t had that little two minute conversation about studying abroad with Travis.


This is the only person on this list who might know he had a big impact on my life, since we actually talked a lot.

JT was instrumental in me becoming an atheist. I first came into contact with JT on the MSU school newspaper website. For whatever reason, the newspaper let students comment on articles. There were often religious-related articles, which always sparked dozens of intense religious arguments. I started posting there often, defending Christianity against the evil and wrong atheists. JT started arguing with me there, and I’ll never forget our first interaction. We argued back and forth, each of us posting our long-winded comments about why the other was wrong. After we both posted several times, he was so inexplicably amiable and gave me the nicest compliment, saying I was being really rational, or something like that. I was floored–why was this atheist being so nice to me?!

I continued arguing with him on the newspaper website and on Facebook. What he said was so well-said and rational that within about two weeks I went from being a Christian who argued online about why Christianity was right to being an outspoken atheist. It took hardly any time, and it forever changed my entire world view. My belief system would never be the same.


There are plenty of people in my life who have made a lasting effect on me. So much of who I am as a person was shaped by my parents, and their influence is so widespread that it’s hard to even know where it begins or ends. With these three people, though, there were very specific, defining conversations that forever changed who I am. And I doubt they had any clue before reading this. To you three: thank you!

Do you know people who have changed your life and they have no idea? Let me know!

Penned on September 15, 2014 by Kevin Sweet