The power of our own belief system is one thing but the power of someone else’s belief in you – is quite another. Someone who sees another person’s potential can actually change their life.
I’ve watched people throughout the years rise to amazing heights in their careers or in other ways because of the encouragement of someone else; sometimes that encouragement comes directly and sometimes indirectly. Supportive angels don’t have to be a parent and often this phenomenon occurs in spite of negative parental influence. Often this inspirational influence is a neighbor, a relative, a friend, a teacher, a sport coach or an early boss. Sometimes it’s a mate. In all cases, there’s something magical that happens when one person sees that special gift in another human being and believes steadfastly in that person’s potential.
Active coaching or pushing, as a friend or otherwise, doesn’t work. Repeatedly telling someone how terrific they are can also be counterproductive - especially when that someone believes otherwise. Praise is important but if it’s not balanced with constructive criticism, a child or student will become unable to discern the truth about their abilities well enough to measure their progress. Professional coaches understand that but not all parents do. I’ve witnessed, all too often, parents constantly praising their children, in an effort to boost their self-esteem, even when it’s undeserved. That hype never rings true, especially to the child and ultimately becomes a desensitizing chant with little value in the long run. Believing in someone is not the same thing as being their promoter.
The best parents seem to demonstrate a couple common traits to help those in their care become more confident, more tough and more resilient. Examples of that are revealed in a very inciteful book written twenty years ago by Bonnie Angelo. The title is First Mothers. This is a book about the mothers of contemporary presidents who managed to funnel boundless energy into their sons, mixing praise and discipline in equal measure. Most importantly, in their heart of hearts, these women believed to the core that their sons were remarkable. That’s what they became.
Look back on your life and reflect on the people who most influenced how you thought of yourself: the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ll share just a bit about my own life to make this process easier for you – and perhaps provide insight on why my life, although somewhat challenging, has also been blessed.
I was raised by 8th-grade educated parents. As an adopted infant, having bonded with my biological mother for a period of days, I was gifted to a wonderful mom and dad. That wasn’t necessarily a perfect transition since I went immediately from the most intimate form of security to instant insecurity. My new mom was terrified of doing something wrong perhaps because she had desperately wanted a child for eleven years. She was Nervous Nelly and I felt it – although her name was Marie. She over compensated by over bundling me, fretting constantly and was a helicopter parent even though the first helicopter had barely taken flight only 5-years before. Marie also possessed very low expectations of what life offered for herself and for me. She had been raised in poverty in a family of 9, in a small Illinois town. A very mean stepmother rounded out the picture; her childhood was horrific.
Probably the most damaging parenting trait was her strategy to keep me from “getting a swelled head”. She never praised me, ever. So, growing up I never heard “You look pretty, honey,” “Good job.” or “I’m so proud of you.” Instead, she’d tell me about cousins or others who excelled at something she wanted from me even though I knew I was already doing some of those things as well. Hurtful, for sure. My father worked on construction so was absent 80% of the time and wasn’t sure what to do with a young daughter. So, l developed a strong sense of low self-esteem. Yet, instead of letting that paralyze me, it made me try harder. My folks did teach me good values which included a strong work ethic, integrity and always being truthful. In summary, it it wasn’t my parents who propelled me to exceed – it was the belief and encouragement from others.
Mainly my confidence grew in realizing the results of my accomplishments. I can’t think of any mentor who ever took me under his or her wing during my life, but I do remember the quiet admiration that existed among those to which I was close – specifically men. The first was a boyfriend, who very well may have been the romantic love-of-my-life who was 24-years older and very, very successful. He thought I was one of the two smartest women he had ever known. Two husbands also were part of this club: Bob Cowen and then Steve Miller. They never seemed to doubt my abilities. They had some sort of quiet belief in me and I think at some level I felt that. Even my son, Jon, who was my biggest critic, in his heart never doubted his mother. It was their energy that became the current that fueled any success I achieved. Friends played a quiet role, as well. The value of loving, positive friendships is undeniable.
I don’t think we can plan for such people to appear in our lives but when we do, embrace them and listen to them. Their support will help strengthen your opinion of yourself. These people are like the teammates in a curling competition. The ones with the curling brooms who sweep away the ice so your stone can keep moving as fast and straight as possible. They support you in such an indirect way, but yet a powerful one. We all have a team around us, seen or unseen, and the more effort we put forth on our own – the more visible this supporting network becomes. Staying unfocused and driftless might be the state of our entry into adulthood but it doesn’t have to be the state in which we conclude our lives.
Therefore, if you have loved ones who are struggling with their identity; can’t find a purpose or direction and don’t seem to have much pride in themselves or even their existence – you can make the difference. Look for the spark that exists, see their potential and sometimes just recognizing that uniqueness and opening your heart so your love flows through to them, can make a huge difference. Though young people may easily reject the obvious what is more difficult to reject is unconditional love that shines a light on the hidden potential they have hidden. If you can do that, that may just be enough.
What you believe you receive – for yourself and for others. It is absolutely a fact that people will deliver on the belief system others hold about them. So, be the force of love in someone’s life. See the greatness in those individuals and you might be the one to help make it a reality.