When I was first starting my career, trying to find direction, I learned of a job opportunity doing community outreach with First Things First in Yavapai County. I remember how big, important and official that job looked. Even applying felt like a stretch. At the time, I was just finishing a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Prescott, and I was considering moving back home to New York so I could figure things out from there. Could I stay? Could I be successful doing something I had never done before? If I somehow got the position, what if I failed? Plus, the job involved a lot of public speaking. That, at the time, terrified me.
And then a colleague forwarded the job posting to me. “You’re applying, right?” she asked. “You’d be amazing at it.”
That simple nudge was what I needed. I applied, interviewed, and got it. I’ve been in Arizona working in the field of child and family wellbeing ever since.
It’s amazing how powerful a simple affirmation can be. For me, it launched a whole career. What we are told about ourselves matters, especially when we’re taking a leap into something new.
To start something new is vulnerable. There is much learning to be done, many mistakes to be made, and ample space for failure.
We’ve all been there. We’ve started projects or tried new activities. We’ve started new jobs. Some of us have become parents and caregivers, which requires the constant navigation of new, mind-boggling challenges. We’ve all been children, which is the ultimate starting of something new, as we discovered our places in this complicated world.
It’s especially important what we tell children about themselves. For better or for worse, children become who we say they are, and who we say they can be. Sometimes, who we are told we are can take years to unlearn, if that identity isn’t who we want to be.
And it’s also especially important what we tell people when they become new parents. From my very recent experience, becoming a parent is an enormously vulnerable act that opens us up to the judgment of the world, and our own judgment of ourselves. It’s hard to feel like you’re doing a good job when you’re not sure what that looks like or feels life, the challenges keep on coming, the world is full of contradictory advice, and you’re always told you should be doing more, and better. What we are told about ourselves in new roles can lay the foundation for who we become in them.
Affirming people’s strengths doesn’t just matter when they’re trying something new. What we say to people about themselves at any point matters.
If you notice and appreciate a quality in a colleague, a client, a friend, a child, or a family member, tell them. They may already know that they have that strength, but to know it is seen and valued can reinforce purpose and refresh motivation. It may not make much of a difference, but it might also make all the difference. You never know. Pointing out a strength you see could nudge a person into becoming the greatness of who they are.