Lately, I’ve had some friends and colleagues who have been going through both personal and professional struggles. For many of them, you’d never know it on the outside, but my whole life, I’ve been one of those people that have some kind of special “aura”. People tell me things that they “haven’t told many people”. In the past, I’d laugh about it when inevitably, after coming out of Walmart, I would be able to recite critical life details about the person in line behind me at the checkout. I’ve realized, however, that our histories can determine the people we become, our interactions with other people shape who we are, and how people around us react to our stories and struggles shape us as well. I am so incredibly gifted to have this…quality…because the true empathy I have for the people around me from those stories helps me cultivate the deep, meaningful relationships that I try so hard to build. As a leader, it also helps me understand what makes people tick, or what they might be sensitive to that would send them into a spiral.
Especially in education, we often keep ourselves in check because we know that any toll that our problems are taking will show up ten fold in the classroom, and we want to be good models for our students. From the outside, everyone might seem ok. It reminds me of social media and how we put our best foot forward, and then compare our lives to the carefully chosen, filtered photos and information that other people put out about theirs. Then we sit back and secretly wonder what’s wrong with us, why we aren’t getting offered the opportunities or have as much money or such a perfect world as the rest.
I have internal struggles that I wage every day. Fallout from poor choices, feelings of inadequacy, perpetually working toward being a better person and questioning if I even have the ability to do so. I know that other people do this as well, yet I look at them and see greatness or potential or kindness that they can’t see themselves. Because of this, I adopted this rule years ago: tell people the awesome things you know about them, even when it seems unnecessary. Allow them to see themselves through your lens, and take a moment to appreciate what they bring.
This seems silly, right? Like, duh. But the true power in this rules lies in the person’s face when you give them a specific compliment that they understand is meant for them. We think we do this when we say to someone, “You’re doing a great job”, but that’s too vague. Sometimes, I think we are so afraid of seeming like we are blowing smoke we choose to say nothing, or we don’t want people to get so comfortable thinking that they’re doing something amazing that they cease growing. But, the reality is that we simply don’t do enough building each other up. There is nothing wrong with making someone feel appreciated.
A few years ago, I was feeling uncertain in my role as a Technology Integrator. For anyone who has been an instructional coach, you know the identity crisis that comes along with not being a teacher, but not being admin, and what you’re supposed to do in-between. I felt like I couldn’t be the only one experiencing that, so I sent a few of my team members a short email telling them something that I felt they brought to the team, and how they made me happy every time I saw them. For one, it was their professionalism and willingness to always help me, for another, it was how they made me laugh when they knew I was having a bad day, and yet for the third it was the fact that he always had my back when I wanted to try something risky and new. At the end of the year, one of my colleagues told me he kept that email and would reread it when he was having an off moment. For me, it confirmed the importance ensuring the people around me knew how much I appreciated having them in my personal or professional life.