A few months ago, I got an email from a young woman I know. She wrote, “I took your advice and applied for the Assistant Director position when I really didn’t think I could get it. And, guess what? I have an interview tomorrow! I never would have applied if you hadn’t challenged me to do so. Thanks for believing in me and making me great!”
That’s lovely, and it’s incredibly generous, but also dead wrong.
Yes, I believed in her. But, no, I didn’t make her great. Not by a long shot.
We make ourselves great. Sure, we are surrounded by teachers and coaches and friends and parents and mentors, but it is the hard yards that we do, often on our own, each and every day, the work done in the dark, when there is no glory or recognition to be had, that makes us great. It’s the work we do when no one is watching, the preparation and attention and focus on improvement — even when we fail repeatedly — that builds the grit and tenacity to become better.
But, here is the lesson: it didn’t matter if she was great or not. It mattered that someone — in this case, me — simply took a mirror to her and reflected that greatness back upon her. Because she happened to hold me in such high regard, my opinion of her mattered more than her own opinion of herself. My belief in her shut down, even if just temporarily, those death-by-a-thousand-cuts nagging voices inside of her head that waged a daily ground war against her ego. I didn’t make her great, I just pushed pause on her dragons just long enough to slip to her the gift of confidence.
So, what does that mean for you? Simply this: Learn to see yourself, if only for a moment, as your biggest champions see you.
Look, I’m no great genius, but I like to think of myself as one hell of an instigator. I feel quite strongly that, if done with love and with bar-raising aplomb, you can’t un-hear someone’s deeply held belief that you are more amazing than you’d thought, you can’t un-see their vision of you as something greater than what you, yourself, see in the mirror. It’s that tiny vision, that fleeting image, that seed that germinates and grows and spreads inside of you that compels you to do better and be better. Listen to your champions, allow yourself to believe the you that they see across the table, and you will develop the confidence to become it, too.
P.S. That young woman? Yeah, she got the job. Of course she did. After all, she’s great!