What’s Important About Encouragement
There are a million stories of success. Their common denominator is that with each person who was facing a challenge of creating something new or practicing a skill to become proficient, someone along the way saw the fear that held them back. And, they also saw a glimmer of light, talent, or capability in that someone and shared that insight for their potential with them.
The truth is we all need encouragement—almost as much as we need water and air to breathe. We know it and get a little cranky when we don’t get enough of it—which is most of the time.
We know others need it as well, but we offer it randomly, when we think about it or when we have time.
Encouragement is one of those things that, when used intentionally, will transform us and our world for the better. We might think it’s good for the recipients, and we would be right. But, its benefits are even more substantial for the receiver. It has been known to set someone on a path that they never would have considered if it weren’t for someone sharing the gifts that they see, and that they never saw in themselves.
The Power of a Letter
A young man writes a book that is widely panned by the critics with the resulting meager sales. He is crushed and heartbroken to be judged so harshly.
The mail arrives, and in it is a letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who already held an iconic position in the American culture. Part of the letter reads:
“Dear Sir, I greet you at the beginning of a great career… It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying & encouraging.” R.W. Emerson
It was just enough to lift Walt Whitman’s spirits and keep him going until the tide of public opinion transformed into appreciation. Whitman became beloved and celebrated for the American poetry classic Leaves of Grass.
Sometimes It Takes More Than Talent to See Your Strength
A gifted football player is inducted into the Hall of Fame, and at the beginning of his speech, opens his yellow jacket to display the lining.
“See what’s inside my jacket? “He asked the crowd. “These are the names of all of the people that got me to be here today. Without them, I never would have achieved this.”
Brian Dawkins, a Philadelphia Eagle football player shared his stories of encouragement from an 8th grade teacher who wouldn’t let him quit—to his wife who helped him get help for depression in the middle of the season that the Eagles won the Super Bowl. No one could have guessed that this man, with all his talent, might have needed boosts along the way. No one would have guessed that he might have quit football in 8th grade because his circumstances left him with very little hope.
That day, Brian Dawkins exemplified another essential part of encouragement: Acknowledgement and Appreciation. The speech was long, there were many people to thank. He took the time to thank each one and tell the crowd how they helped him. In that moment, he showed others how to model being an Encourager.
See Brian’s powerful Hall of Fame acceptance speech here.
When Potential is Hidden
James Doty, M.D. is a neurosurgeon and founder of the Center for Compassionate Care & Altruism at Stanford University. When he was a young boy, he wandered into a magic shop and was greeted by the owner’s mother.
After chatting with him for some time, she realized there was something inside him that was a potential much bigger than anything he could ever imagine. Over the next weeks, she taught him a specific set of skills that would eventually propel him to leave the poverty of his parents, be the first member of his family to go to college, attend medical school – and that was just the beginning. His rise was meteoric with a crash in between.
You can read more about his journey in Into the Magic Shop.
Doty is a shining example of the power of Encouragement.
More Encouraging Stories
If Only for a Second
Vincent Dixon was getting in the last phase of getting his doctorate in BioChemistry. His wife Ashley had given him a camera, and as he started taking photographs, he fell in love with the art form.
The day he successfully defended his thesis, he left science to work as a photographer’s assistant.
Known for international award-winning commercial photography, as well as a refined sense of humor and conceptual style, he is motivated by working with creative minds.
His client list includes the giants: Absolut, AT&T, BMW, Conde Nast, DOW, Enfance En Partage, Kia, LifeProof, Nissan, McDonalds, Motorola, Pepsi, Perrier and many more.
Vincent has a big heart. His good friend Xavier invited him to become part of a project for the Mimi Foundation in Belgium. Mimi supports over 15,000 cancer patients as they undergo treatment. They noticed that they kept hearing the same comments over and over from their patients; it was almost impossible from the day they were diagnosed to ever again feel carefree. Xavier wished to create a way to help them with that, … if only for a second.
They chose patients to give a fantastical makeover using elaborate wigs and makeup. The process was hidden from them until it was finished. The photographer would be ready to capture their expression once the makeover was completed.
They would create a moment of happiness for each person having the makeover.
The process of working with the team, creating the makeup and wigs, working with the patients, and then finally seeing their expressions of joy as they viewed themselves as completely joyful beings—if only for an instant—was Encouragement at its very essence.
Since a video of Vincent’s project was launched on YouTube, it has received over 18 million views and raised awareness for cancer patients and the Mimi Foundation.
Living at the Edge of Your Comfort Zone
There’s a difference between feeling safe and feeling alive. Safe takes up residence on the sidelines. Alive is playing full tilt boogie on the court. Safe is observation, alive is being in action. Safe is low/no risk, alive is throwing caution to the wind and trying new things out. Alive is what we want and yet safe is where we allow ourselves to stay way too much of the time.
One way we can step one foot out of our comfort zone is to notice what happens after we take a step.
Yesterday I had to stand up to introduce myself at a meeting. Before I went in, I took a few minutes to decide what I would say, add a bit of humor, and say something magnetic and that was totally different from anyone else in the room.
The result, at the end of the meeting, was a surprise to me. They went around the room to each person asking them who they wanted to meet. I was surprised at the large number of people who wanted to meet me. I know it was the introduction that was different, playful and yet serious in its pull, defining the things for which my clients hire me. It was alot more fun too. I even got a hug at the end of the meeting from a guy who said he wanted some of my energy.
I allowed myself to reflect on this tiniest step outside my normal comfort zone. I acknowledged my courage, my preparation, my ability to use humor, and the result which was so much better than I had imagined. I was able to give myself some minor kudos for showing up exactly the way I planned. Not over the top, but enough to boost my confidence a little.
It was all outside my comfort zone, but not so far out that it terrorized me.