So often, we equate encouragement with reassurance. But this is an unfortunate mistake. Reassurance is okay once in a while, but it’s the kind of thinking that produces gratuitous trophies that end up meaning nothing because there are always those who didn’t do the work at the same level, and everyone knows it.
Last week at Thanksgiving dinner, I asked a friend’s daughter when she needed encouragement. She replied: “Oh, ten minutes ago, then yesterday, then two days before that – pretty much all the time,” she said with a smile. She’s a high achiever working on an advanced degree, so you know she is no slacker.
I don’t know if she is representative of most people, but I guess that we need it much more than we admit.
That is why learning how to use it is so important- for ourselves and others.
We need to learn to recognize the opportunities where we can exercise those muscles. When we do, we always end up feeling a kind of grace, glad that we moved on an observation.
Why is it important?
The gifts of encouragement are many. It brings people together, filling them with purpose and connectedness, as Microsoft did when they invited Eastman LaChappelle to complete his revolutionary prosthetic arm for his friend Momo.
Several years ago, I attended a wonderful creativity conference. The first day opened with several speakers, and I sat in the second row, so excited to be around so many talented people. I didn’t realize until the first speaker started that their theme was losing the dearest people they knew.
I panicked and sat like a stone. My youngest son had died two years before after a long illness. As well as I thought I was doing with that grief, I realized I hadn’t touched it. I sat through three talks and returned to my room, unsure whether I could attend the rest of the conference.
Later, I mentioned it to someone at my dinner table. She told me that they had a private forum for such things and encouraged me to post about it.
I found that forum and posted my story. Instantly, someone asked me to share some pictures of Will. Another person asked me to tell them one of my favorite stories. It was simple stuff.
I told them the story of Will receiving his first Teddy Bear, and when asked what his name would be, he looked at us as if it should be completely obvious and said: “Pepperoni Waterocket.”
They weren’t afraid of the hard emotion, as most in our culture are. They sat with it, and it made all the difference. This was true encouragement. They surrounded me with their presence.
Since then, I have spoken to so many people who were afraid to expose their uncertainty, their fear, – even their gratitude.
Having the courage to speak your truth makes all the difference.
There are just as many opportunities to encourage yourself too. And we need to learn this and practice it. Seth Godin, in a podcast interview with Tim Ferris, talks about anxiety being able to be replaced with generosity. That takes a little practice, and it would take you down a road that might just be more colorful than any you could imagine.
Just in case you think that encouragement is only for the downtrodden, consider those that are working on a new idea or learning something new that is difficult. Think about the times when you tried, failed, and gave something up, thinking that your failure would determine your worth.
And then there are the crossroads moments when one thing in your life changes, often by accident, sometimes by intention, and suddenly everything you knew to be true is upended. The ground under your feet feels unstable, and your path is unclear.
You can be the smartest person in the universe and still experience these things – no one is insulated from these. And there is good news.
There are so many amazing stories of how encouragement sparked a person’s imagination or made them see things or themselves in a new light and propelled them to do things they would never have imagined.
So, as the year winds to a close, I invite you to start paying more attention to the Art of Encouragement.
And to that end, please consider taking action for yourself.
Are you relentlessly hard on yourself? Do you wish you could live without all that tension and stress?
Are you standing at a crossroads in your life, wondering how you can create a Brilliant Year?
Do you wonder how your life would be different IF you could learn to encourage yourself?
I am offering a 1-hour Introduction to Encouraging Yourself, a short introduction to the Art of Encouraging Yourself at 9am EST, December 16th.
This is a one-hour Zoom offering, free of charge, to discover what it feels like to learn and practice the habit of lifting yourself up at any given moment.
If you are interested, email me at: email@example.com