On Powerful Words

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I connected with my law school mentor this week. It’s been a while since we were in touch. She shared some good news I wanted to hear, and I shared a link to the panel on creative writing projects by prisoners INCARCERATED PERSONS I attended last week.

It was just a few emails, sent back and forth while we were each doing our own regular work. Nothing important, really. I asked about her daughter’s first year away at college; she asked how my husband’s job was going and if we’d fallen in love with Chicago yet. [Quite well, and yes! a little more every day.] She asked about my current work, and I wrote back about my ongoing project and how I was surprisingly very happy even though I wasn’t currently practicing law. She replied,

Wow, [pink-briefcase] — that is amazing. Those are some incredible skills you are learning. What is the hardest part? Where do you see yourself after this?

We talked a little more, about law school rankings and the future of legal education and the flowers blooming there but not here, but those twenty-five words worked a powerful magic in my heart.

  .  .  .  .

I have a supervisor that isn’t my supervisor at work. He is kind of a mentor, kind of a boss, and kind of a friend. I’ve learned a lot working for/with him. Every now and then, when things get rough and I start to feel on edge, I read over an email he sent one day, which started off:

Your professionalism, persistence, patience, exemplary work ethic and positive attitude have been evident to all throughout this project.

On days when nothing goes right and all I can do is put down my pen and shake my head and pour the tea and start over again, this sentence waits for me. I look up and see it, hanging on my blue bulletin board right above the empty jar that once held black-raspberry jelly my husband’s grandmother made us for Christmas, which now holds pens and highlighters and a pair of scissors, and I read those words. I remind myself that one bad day cannot cancel out months of hard work.

  . . . .

I’m not sure that either of these mentor-friends knows how important their words were/are to me. I didn’t write back “HOLY COW THAT IS SO NICE I’M GOING TO PRINT OUT THIS EMAIL AND HANG IT ON MY BULLETIN BOARD AND LOOK AT IT EVERY DAY FOREVER.” I said thank you and continued on, slightly embarrassed about all of the fuss. No perfectionist really wants to be congratulated for doing a good job (don’t I always do a good job? I always try to do a good job! why is this time different? did I screw up something terribly last week?! . . . ). But as awkward as I may feel when I first receive these affirmations, I am completely changed by knowing that people I trust think these things. I am confident and brave and resilient because I trust their opinions of me to be true, even when my opinion of myself falls far short of their esteem.

We talk a lot online about how words have consequences, but we often really mean that words have negative consequences. We criticize and condemn each other too freely, with too little concern for the way another might feel to read a scathing review, a bullying comment, a snide remark. We forget too quickly that it could easily be the negative comments they are printing out and hanging up on the blue bulletin boards of their hearts. Negative words do have an undeniably strong hold on us, but I’m becoming more aware of the immense power positive words hold as well.

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2 Comments

  1. sarahkerner

     /  April 16, 2014

    Absolutely! I have a “Way to Go!” file that I keep emails, cards, etc. from people complimenting my work, to look at on days when I don’t know if I can keep going.

    Reply

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