“You are very talented and have so much potential to do great things in this world.”
Is this the message we need from the people who love and support us? Is this the message we need to speak over others?
I have offered this, or something similar, to the people I love and for whom I care. I’ve also received these encouraging words. There are times when we may need to be reassured about the gifts and talents we have; all of us need a little motivation along the way to help us stay focused and positive, especially when are discouraged. However, the sentiment expressed in this sort of encouragement can have unintended consequences. One, the sentiment can miss the mark of encouragement and create more pressure for the person. Two, it begs the question of our purpose in life and how we live into that purpose (another post).
How does it create more pressure and less reassurance?
Many of us living in the western, industrialized world live with the worry that we will fail or underperform in life. We fear not realizing our fullest potential. Social media oftentimes fuels the fear of missing out (a.k.a FOMO)! If we are honest, we struggle not to be continually disappointed with our own efforts. We may even be more terrified that we are disappointing the people we love. Our minds loop through worst-case-scenarios and we end up with a lot of negative self-talk. We either become workaholics, crippled with fear, chronically angry at the world, feeling victimized, or some mixture of all of these. When someone we respect intends to encourage us with “You are a very special person with amazing potential” encouragement, it can end up intensifying the anxiety roiling us. More pressure can make better decision making and clear vision nearly impossible.
Most of us will either give people the benefit-of-the-doubt choosing to believe in their good intentions. Or, we will try to reframe our thoughts around these positive words. But, in all honesty, most of us find these empty slogans too generic and imprecise when it comes to helping us sort out how we are feeling.
The next time we are tempted to reassure someone with a boost to their self-confidence, maybe a thoughtful question might be more helpful. A timely question can increase self-awareness which is usually more of what we need in difficult moments. Trying to promote self-confidence without encouraging self-awareness isn’t helpful. Questions like these can help with both:
What do you enjoy in your life right now?
How do you want to use your talents? How has that changed over the years?
What are you afraid of?
What worries you?
Are you disappointed with someone or something in your life?
What do you do when you are afraid or feeling overwhelmed with anxiety?
Again, self-awareness is very helpful in difficult moments. Questions spur such reflection and deeper thought. Questions signal to the person that we are not just coming with platitudes but are willing to think deeply and listen intently. A thoughtful question communicates safety, strength, and fearlessness. At the same time, when someone dives deep with a good question, I may initially feel a little unnerved, but will be thankful for the connection. It gives me time and space to think and reflect.
In the end, be intentional about promoting self-awareness which, in the end, can better lead to confidence and clarity. With that, then, we are better able to define our purpose and see a path before us.