When I was 19, a very shy and insecure college student, one of my professors told me I should come and work on the college newspaper, of which he was the adviser. I know, because I was a college newspaper adviser for many years during my career, that this kind of recruitment is part of the job, but I also know that it meant everything to me the day he talked to me about it. It meant that he thought I was good enough to try something that in my heart I had been too afraid to do. It also meant that he had seen something in me that I was only just beginning to notice in myself.
I learned more from him about what good teachers do than I ever did from anyone else. He wasn’t a teacher because he wanted to talk about what he knew—although he was very smart and very well informed. He was a teacher because he wanted to help his students get to where they wanted to be in their lives. He didn’t do anything magical, really. He just paid attention to us, listened to what we said about our goals, let us know when we did something good and noteworthy, and encouraged us at all times.
I forget to take the time and create the situations to tell the people themselves that the world would be a darker
place without them.
If you’re a teacher, you make a point to do these things, but the rest of us forget how welcome this kind of reassurance can be. We have all benefited from someone pointing out a strength or an attribute. We have all secretly smiled when we're told how great we are for doing something that seemed second nature to us. And, we all see our friends and family members shine a million times a day in front of our very eyes. Still, we often don’t take that extra step to say, “You are amazing. I love the way you do what you do."
At this end of life, I feel as if I have a very short time to accomplish everything I’ve added to my to-do list over many years of working. To reach these goals, I will need all the inspiration I can get from other people. But I forget sometimes that those folks feel the same way. We all do. We need the people in our lives to notice what we do, to pay attention to our strengths, to tell us that they value us on a regular basis. We need that in order to see our own true light. But we’re all busy. We presume that those we love know what we love about them, what makes us want to be around them, and I’m sure on some level they do. I just think I’d like to make more of a habit of telling them what I think makes them so great.
Even knowing how meaningful it is when someone praises me doesn’t serve as much of a reminder to do it more with the people in my life. I think about how great my friends are at raising kids, managing their offices, facilitating difficult situations. I even tell other people about how wonderful my lovely village of friends is. But I forget to create the opportunity to tell the people themselves that the world would be a darker place without them.
When my college journalism teacher took me aside and said that he thought my writing was strong and that I should join the college newspaper, I know he was just doing his job, but he took the time to do it and it stayed with me for a long time. This isn’t an argument for false praise or insincere flattery. More than anything, it’s a suggestion that we verbalize what we already feel and know. Many of us struggle to keep in mind that we’re good people doing good things in our lives. Reminding someone that they are a big part of why our lives are as lovely as they are is no small thing for any of us. We need to hear it and we need to say it. It is the reminder we all crave that we are connected and that it is that connection that makes us each that much better.