Being an encourager

“I can’t hit the broad side of a barn,” I lamented. “I’ll look like a fool.” I was chatting with my cousin, Lloyd. He had come out to the farm for his usual summer visit. I had been expressing anxiety about playing slow-pitch with a group of guys at my new job.

“We rise by uplifting others.”

— Robert Ingersoll, American lawyer, Civil War veteran, politician and orator

“I can’t hit the broad side of a barn,” I lamented. “I’ll look like a fool.”

I was chatting with my cousin, Lloyd. He had come out to the farm for his usual summer visit. I had been expressing anxiety about playing slow-pitch with a group of guys at my new job. When asked to play, I had agreed but immediately regretted my decision. I was not what you might call athletic and couldn’t throw a ball to save my life. I couldn’t think of a way to graciously back out of my agreement. It looked as though humiliation would be inevitable.

Later that day, Lloyd showed up with a softball and glove.

“Come with me,” he said.

I laughed when Lloyd led me around to the broad side of our old hip roofed barn. There on the wall he had nailed a piece of tin and in the centre he had spray painted a yellow bull’s-eye.

“I’m going to help you hit the broad side of the barn,” he declared.

Lloyd is and always has been an encourager. Quick with a kind word or a much-needed piece of advice. And what truly amazed me about Lloyd was that he was absolutely genuine. His praise, his advice and, most importantly, his encouragement was honest — from the heart.

Honest encouragement can help us to feel empowered. It can fill us with hope. It can open us up to the possibility of good things to come. Honest encouragement builds our self-esteem. Think about the last time you needed a little encouragement. Whom did you call or talk to? Doubtless, someone who made you feel talented, capable and good about yourself.

Let’s face it. Life can be really tough at times. There have been occasions when I’ve found myself right there on the edge ready to give up on a relationship, a friendship or job. I’ve been to that point where I felt I couldn’t take it anymore and I’m sure you’ve been there too.

Often, the thing that kept me going – prevented me from giving up – was a simple word of encouragement. Now understand, offering encouragement doesn’t mean sympathizing with someone or saying something nice to them. To encourage is to inspire with confidence, to offer hope and courage. This help can take the form of a kind word, a hug, a letter, a note, a text, a phone call or an email – an offer to teach someone the proper way to throw a ball.

Long ago, when I first shared my idea for a self-esteem column, I was met with opposition. That surprised me. Friends talked about it being an overwhelming responsibility. Some told me the idea couldn’t be sustained. Someone actually told me I’d soon lose interest and quit.

I had the good fortune of meeting with an editor who was intrigued by the idea and who encouraged me to put together a proposal. I did and Extreme Esteem was born. That meeting was a decade ago and I have never lost interest nor become discouraged or quit. All it took was someone to express an interest and encourage me to put my worthy idea into action.

When delivered with sincerity, encouragement provides a genuine boost of hope and a glimpse of what is possible for us. It doesn’t need to be a micro-motivational speech, though I’ve received and delivered a few of those over the years. Honest encouragement reminds us that we can accomplish something great despite what the naysayers might believe.

When well considered, our words can have tremendous impact on the people around us. The best encouragers model courageous behaviour. They live their values every day. Encouragers tell us it’s possible to achieve our goals and when we watch them, we know it’s true.

Encouragers know that telling people to suck it up or get over it does little good. In fact, such blunt statements often discourage courageous action and damage another’s self-esteem. Not that we don’t all need a dose of honesty sometimes, but our words must be chosen carefully.

Encouragers know how to listen. Encouragers are willing to set aside time and forego agendas and judgments. True encouragers hear what you’re saying. They listen heart to heart.

And perhaps, most importantly, true encouragers (like Lloyd) are honest. They’re not going to blindly tell you that you can do it or you’ll be great.

Encouragement goes deeper than that — it’s about seeing the truth of other people, especially when they cannot see it themselves.

One of the most rewarding things you can do is encourage people you don‘t know. Have a nervous or slow cashier? Maybe a server that’s trying hard to please but struggling? Tell him or her that you’re not in a hurry and that you appreciate the effort.

Years ago, I encountered a cashier at a large department store who was so nervous she was nearly in tears. She apologized profusely saying, “This is my first day.” This poor woman was so downtrodden that I just wanted to tell her that I understood. That everything would be OK. And I did just that.

As for my cousin, Lloyd, he spent a great deal of time demonstrating proper throwing techniques. Over the next week, he corrected and encouraged me and I slowly began to improve. With practise, I was able to move farther and farther back from the target and still hit it consistently. When I finally did play slow-pitch with the colleagues, I enjoyed the experience. I felt confident. And Lloyd was there shouting words of encouragement from the bleachers.

“A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life,” wrote American author and speaker, John C. Maxwell. “A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential.”

To whom should you offer encouragement? The simplest answer is everyone.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.

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