Novelist and Podcaster Lian Dolan Analyzes Her “Sphere of Influence”

From PTA power to pancakes, Lian Dolan’s thoughts on influence.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal Sphere of Influence. I know as a diplomatic term, it’s fallen out of fashion. Apparently, it’s too “Cold War” for modern political power brokers looking to describe the geographical areas in which they exert military, cultural, or economic influence. I get that. I’m not here to tell Chancellor Merkel how to do her job. But if I actually had to assess my Sphere of Influence, it measures up to this: my Mahjong group who occasionally changes our regular game from Tuesday to Wednesday at my request; the barista at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset Boulevard who remembers how to spell and pronounce my name; and the checker at Vons who seems really interested in what I’m going to do with my Brussels sprouts. Triangulate that, readers. If you do the geometry, it appears my Sphere is more like a Tennis Ball of Influence.

As a designated Person of Influence (see list in this issue), I feel the pressure to maintain tennis ball-sized status at all costs. The key to influence is interaction with the public, being out and about voicing opinions, making decisions and seeing them through, and possibly even bestowing benevolence. I used to do quite a bit of that as a writer, nationally-syndicated radio host, and serial school volunteer. Once I sat on PTA boards taking the minutes, a vital duty even if no one ever reads them. I ruled as a team mom, overseeing snack schedules and coaches’ gifts. I attended committee meetings with enthusiasm, signed petitions in front of Vroman’s despite the warning signs, and hosted multiple charity events a month as my act of benevolence. I spoke to organizations about my work, my life, and my affection for Pasadena, no matter what zip code I was in. Once I did an interview with a TV station from Wisconsin, providing insider tips for the visiting Badgers on how best to enjoy the Rose Parade. That is some influence, my friends.  

Then, I hit the wall. The doctors say it’s Influence Fatigue.

My world has shrunk. Now, as an empty-nester, full-time novelist, and part-time podcaster, I spend eight hours a day in silence composing prose or, even worse, talking to myself in full voice while washing the dishes. There are weeks when my only conversation occurs when that newsy voice comes out of that tiny TV at the gas pump. I’m just trying to fill my tank, why do you keep scaring me?

I need a new role model, someone to renew my enthusiasm, inspiring me to inflate my sphere again. Someone like Reese Witherspoon, who literally seems to be involved in everything these days. Seriously, everything. I bet there are women in America who no longer get dressed for work without checking Reese’s Insta. She’s making movies, producing TV shows, and hosting a talk show where she interviews other talk show hosts. How spherical is that? She’s telling people what to read, what to eat, and what to wear. She puts herself out there in terms of politics and relationships, and still has time to go to Starbucks about five times a day—if Us Weekly is to be believed. Her perfect hair should have its own time zone. Be like Reese, I think. Get out there and influence!

Then I get exhausted again.

I think I’ll stick closer to home for inspiration.  Our City Council representative is Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton and he’s omnipresent in our district. He shows up at neighborhood meetings and social gatherings. He sends a regular newsletter, Happenings with Hampton, filled with helpful news, calendar announcements, and legit contact information. (His office replies to the emails I send!) You want pancakes? He hosts pancake breakfasts. You want to walk the Rose Bowl? He schlepps around the Bowl with his constituents on a regular basis. You graduating from any PUSD School? He’s ready to pomp and circumstance. He’s on Facebook! He’s on Instagram—where a surprising number of his posts are pancake-related. Last spring, he held a meeting on a nearby street corner to explain a controversial new traffic pattern at the intersection—and an overflow crowd of 50 people showed up! I swear he got choked up when he acknowledged the attendance. He’s young and energetic, and I wish him the best as he expands his personal Sphere of Influence outside the 91103. I’m 100 percent here for you, Tyron.

And the pancakes. They’re spherical, right?

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