The power of believing in yourself is one thing but the power of someone else believing in you—is quite another. Someone who recognizes another person’s potential can help 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 is delivered directly and sometimes indirectly. Supportive angels don’t have to be a parent and often this phenomenon occurs despite negative parental influence. It could come from a neighbor, a relative, a friend, a teacher, a coach or an early boss who wakes us up to our real potential. Sometimes it’s a mate but in all cases, there’s something magical that happens when one person sees a special gift in another human being, believes in it steadfastly and whether it is verbalized or not there is some magnification of energy that occurs.
In the last several decades, there had been a real emphasis on promoting the self-esteem of one’s children. Parents everywhere took note and I think folks may have gone overboard. Trophies were given out for merely showing up and some children were praised constantly, even when it wasn’t deserved. Kids can tell when they are being lied to and although praise is important, if it’s not balanced with constructive criticism, the child becomes unable to discern their levels of improvement, which really helps self-esteem. Continual praise just creates a blur.
The result was our society created a group of unrealistic, entitled young adults with self-esteem that hadn’t even been developed. The constant hype from that helpful relative became a desensitizing chant which was counterproductive in the long run. Promoting someone is not the same as believing in them.
I say, always look for the superstar or very happy, well-adjusted kid—and then look at that child’s mother! Deciding I was curious about that, I read a book written twenty years ago by Bonnie Angelo titled First Mothers. It’s 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; so, that’s exactly what they became.
Look back at your life and reflect on the people who most influenced how you thought of yourself: the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes even the bad ends up good, if a person can learn and grow from the experience and recognize when others admire or recognize them, even perfect strangers. My life might serve as a good example of all that.
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 but the transition wasn’t perfect because I went immediately from the most intimate form of security to instant insecurity. My new mom was terrified she’d do something wrong and tried too hard. She overcompensated, I guess, and I’d have to describe her as a Nervous Nelly. Her brand-new baby girl felt it.
My new mother’s name was Marie and although her insecurity and ignorance could have resulted in a lot of damage, the love she had for me balanced that all out. I felt that too, although it was never expressed.
First, there was the physical. From the beginning, Marie over bundled me in clothing and I routinely resembled the kid in the snowsuit with outstretched arms because she couldn’t move and with a neck scarf wrapped around me so often it reached my nose. The physical was actually funny but her low expectations about life were not positive. She wasn’t negative about the future, she just never thought about it with any expectations at all, for herself or especially for me. She had been raised in poverty in a family of eleven, in a small Illinois town. Her very mean stepmother rounded out the picture of a childhood that was horrific. She was thrilled we simply had a happy home and couldn’t see beyond that. She was content that I graduated high school.
In raising me, however, her ignorance likely influenced a parental strategy she employed so her daughter would not get a “swelled head”. Marie never praised me, ever. So, growing up I never heard “You look pretty, honey,” “Good job.” or “I’m so proud of you.” Instead, to encourage a particular behavior, she’d tell me about cousins or others who excelled at that very thing—even though I may have performed similarly (without any recognition). Occassionally, those unjust comparisons broke my heart because I thought my mother had never noticed when I really tried.
My father worked commercial construction, as a boilermaker-welder, and travelled 80% of the time. When he was home, he wasn’t sure what to do with a young daughter—so, l was ignored. I eventually became selfless, like my mother. I thought of everyone else except myself, was the perfect friend and daughter but not necessarily student since I was bored to tears from seventh grade on.
On the positive side, I was taught good values which included a strong work ethic, integrity and always being truthful.
To sum all that up, it wasn’t my parents who propelled me to succeed—it was their lack of positive reinforcement that taught me the value of over-achieving in everything. When I achieved, I gained the praise and support of others.
Mainly my confidence grew by 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 that people seemed to trust and believe in me. I was given more and more challenging projects and was always thrown into leadership positions. I felt the quiet admiration of others, especially men, who recognized who I was but were never threatened by me. Remember, we’re talking the 60’s and 70’s.
In my personal life, most men I knew believed in me: the romantic love-of-my-life, a boyfriend who was twenty-four years older and quite successful and all three husbands. They either thought I was the smartest person or woman they had known or never doubted my ability to bounce back or achieve. They all 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, never doubted his mother would pull through or make something work. It was their energy that became the force that fueled any success I achieved. Clients who were the recipients of my “over achievement” also knew I wasn’t just average. Over the years, I felt all of it—sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.
People like me, who either didn’t believe in themselves or didn’t have parents who were able to offer the right kind of support, were blessed by finding it elsewhere.
So, when you feel it from others, don’t discount it; accept it and let it absorb. That energy and support will make you stronger and more confident, over time, and help you always rise to the occasion. Your self-confidence and self-esteem will grow as a result.
People who believe in us are like the teammates in a curling competition. The ones with the 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 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 way we enter our adult years, 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 that special spark that exists within them. See their potential and very often just recognizing that uniqueness and opening your heart so your love flows through you to them, can make a huge difference.
Though young people may easily reject the obvious support of someone or encouragement from others, it is more difficult to reject the unconditional love that is obvious. It’s that love that will shine a light on the potential they have hidden.
If you can do that, you may be the helium that helps them rise to success!