I recently had a conversation with a woman about her current self-view and her childhood. She related the story of a her high school match class. It was the day she was going to find out if she had done enough to pass her class. It turned out that she did not pass. What stuck with her most though was her teacher's words:
You're never going to get it. I'm going to pass you anyhow. She translated that to mean, You're stupid, you're not as smart as everyone else in this room and I cannot waste anymore of my time.
Fast forward a few years. This same girl has graduated high school with a low GPA. She sought out a school for college that would accept her based on her character and not just ger GPA. She got in! She left, excited for this new adventure. She was going to make something of her life. She was determined.
Then she started taking exams.
She failed those exams.
The Dean of Women (Who I actually know and I have always thought of as a joke and this story only reinforced that perception) called her into her office. This woman (We'll call her Pam) was excited. Pam thought that maybe the DoW wanted to talk to her about how she was adjusting to college life or about the different programs regarding teen sexuality that she was trying to start. Pam had limitless desire to make a difference in the world.
Sadly the Dean of Women wanted to talk about her test scores. Pam explained that when she sits down in front of a test, her mind freezes and she forgets everything that she has ever learned. The words seem to fly out of her mind. At this point, a human being would expect the D0W to respond with some cognizant information about test anxiety and strategies for dealing with that, right? Well, not this paragon of academic virtue. No, she tells Pam that it sounds to her as though Pam is just lazy. Now lazy is the one thing that Pam knows she is not. The woman goes back and forth with pam about she's either lazy or just dumb.
Now, there it is! Pam gets this one. She's just dumb. When her brain was put together it just wasn't put together right. Just fall back into yourself and do your own thing. Stay away from trying. The power of potential failure is too much.
From her teacher's to this monstrosity of a Dean, to her standardized test scores, Pam got the message loud and clear. She did not have worth. Here are exact words,
One afternoon, the dean of women asked to meet with me. She and I sat and talked about the struggles I had in the classroom. I told her, how every time, I begin to take a test, I would become stressed and forget everything I knew. She looked me in the eyes and said, “That is an excuse for laziness.” I finally got it, I would never “get it” and “I was lazy.” I decided college was not for me, and after attending two years; I got married and started a family.
After getting married I worked as a teachers assistant and continued to search for value and worth. What could I do with my life? One day a friend came to me and asked that I consider being a manager for a fitness center. I said “No.” I knew I was not smart enough to run a business. My husband was shocked that I gave the offer no thought; after all it would be a better paying job and good experience. I explained to him that I could not do it. At this point in my life, I had lost the determination to prove I could amount to anything. My husband coaxed me into accepting the job.
Here's where the story gets really interesting to me. The woman took a closet of a fitness center and turned it into a million dollar a year business. She helped her boss open up 8 other fitness centers and was named the top manager for the North East region. In business terms she knocked it out of the park.
What happened? What changed?
She started to believe in herself. The woman found someone who believed in her more than she did and his words mattered.
Of course, eventually the woman's words began to matter again too. Only this time, they were positive words. When people gave her negative feedback, she fought it with truthful words. She left her business and started raising her children as a stay at home—a long time dream for her.
She began to push her daughter, who despite the fact that her mom knew she was smart was struggling in school. She states that it felt as if she was talking to herself. She and her husband had dreams about running a business together someday. She felt that she needed to go back to school and she did.
She is currently maintaining an A average in her classes, with small children at home and in school.
What does this story mean for you? Well, along with being pretty inspirational, let me ask you about the words you use with your loved ones? In my profession, I meet a lot of people with deep scars who always wondering about their own self worth. I meet people who are always giving up deep parts of themselves so that they can feel loved.
I also meet people who have a deep unshakable sense of who they are and of their self worth.
In almost every instance, they got that from their loved ones. They learned that from their parents. So how about you? Here's some things I think everyone should be doing.
- Telling your spouse and children that you love them should happen multiple times a day. There does not need to be a reason. If they're walking across the living room, just stop them and say, "Hey, I love you." Sure you might feel a little dumb but the dividends will outpace that, I promise
- Tell your spouse and kids every day things that you love about them. In other words talk about their strengths. Don't shy away from their weaknesses, but help them to understand both.
- Encourage your children to take risks. Yes, this means they may fail. Teach them that failure is a means of acquiring knowledge, not an end. Of course, this means you might have to take a few risks now and again.
- Don't confuse telling them the reasons you love them with rewarding only good behavior/attributes. In other words, celebrate your loved one without implying that they can somehow make you love them more or less by their actions. So when your kids hits that home run, sure tell him how proud you are of him, but don't forget to tell him when he strikes out. If your daughter wants to dance and she isn't that talented, let her do it and walk the journey with her.
- Don't worry about how other people will perceive it. Family is ultimately about the other person. If your five year old wants to wear clothes that don't quite match but she picked them out does it really matter what Mrs. Cleaver down the street will think? So often, I see parents or spouses holding back because they are afraid that someone they don't even like will judge them. To me, that's silly.
- Don't be afraid to be extravagant. Buy a gift for your spouse or kids for no reason.
- Build confidence in your family by being redundant about their strengths. The greatest gift my daughter ever gave me was when she looked at me and told me, "Dad, you don't have to tell me that you love me every day." Oh yes, I do Missy, I have no guarantee that tomorrow is coming and today may be the last chance I get to tell you.
- Tell your family every day how beautiful you find them to be and how thankful you are for them. There is going to come a day when you will not be the primary voice in your kids head, until that day comes you need to create an indelible voice in-print that stays with them. Don't assume your family knows that you love them. You may be right, but it never hurts to say it again and again.
- Utilize whatever is important to your family. If watching Scooby doo is important to your kids, watch the show. If your husband likes to watch Nascar, watch it. If walking is your wife's thing, do that.
- Plan time together. Never underestimate the importance of game time, family sharing time. These things are the glue that give children a sense of security.
Just love on your family. Use words and actions. Both are important. Your family needs to hear that they are important to you and that you love them multiple times a day.