What is it?
First, let me tell you a story.
I had a client who was very bright. She came from a difficult family background, with alcoholism, sibling cruelty, and financial insecurity clogging her passage through childhood and adolescence. She went off to college and did well, separated for the first time from the quagmire of her family. She was a strong student, naturally highly motivated, and graduated with honors. After college, however, she began to lose her bearings. Without the structure of academics, she felt adrift, unsure of her own worth and her place in the world.
At one point, a colleague at work announced that she was going to take the Law School Admission Test and then begin applying to law schools. “You should take it, too,” her colleague told her. “You’re smart enough.” And so the young woman took the LSAT with her friend.
She achieved a nearly perfect score.
You can imagine her colleague’s response, after seeing her own very average test results.
“That’s not fair,” she said. “It was my idea. My dream. You wouldn’t have even take the test if I hadn’t begged you to go with me! Who do you think you are?” That friend didn’t have much time for the young woman after that, shunning her as if she had stolen something from her that was rightfully hers.
The young woman applied to law schools anyway, more from a sense of duty to her high scores than from any sense of capability or worthiness. She wrote a compelling essay that outlined her own concerns about questions related to the convergence of law and medicine, and she submitted it with her applications.
The finest law schools in the country sent her a welcome letter, inviting her to attend. But the young woman kept this information to herself. She certainly didn’t tell her colleague, and no one else had been aware she had even been considering law school.
But slowly, gradually, she began to see herself in a new light. Notions of attending law school, spreading her wings, rising to her level of competence began to show up at the corners of her consciousness. Could this be possible? Could she really go to law school? Become a lawyer? Work on issues related to medical-legal ethics? Her heart pounded at the thought of such engaging work.
At a family member’s birthday dinner she approached the subject of law school during a lull in the conversation and mentioned that she had been offered admission to several schools. She received comments such as these:
“What would make you want to do something like that?”
“How would you ever pay for it?”
“I can’t imagine you as a lawyer.”
And then the conversation drifted toward more familiar topics, such as the game, relatives who were not at the table, and other subjects that became just so much background noise to the young woman, who felt as if she had just opened a vein by bringing up law school, and had been put quickly in her place, and then ignored, erased like writing in the sand when the tide resumes.
My client did not go on to law school. Because why would she want to do something like that? How would she ever pay for it? She couldn’t even imagine herself as a lawyer anyway.
So what is the gift I mentioned at the beginning of this post?
Sometimes even the strongest and most capable, the best and the brightest, need additional wind under their wings in order to fly. You can provide it. Your attention, your support, your words of encouragement can mean much more than you realize. Listen carefully to the people in your life. You will hear and be able to identify in the unspoken words the places where the doubts live. This is where encouragement can take root and grow, thriving in the most unlikely conditions.
Your words of encouragement can change the course of a person’s life.
Is there a greater gift one person can give another than support for the realization of her own goals?