I remember sitting in her office, probably for the thousandth time. I was talking about how I wanted to be, who I wanted to be. The loving mentor didn’t seem to get what I was describing. Pointing through the library window, I pointed to her. “That’s how I want to be,” I said wistfully, gesturing towards the senior. “So, like, confident and collected all the time.”
The mentor registered who I was referring to and laughed.
“Her? Oh Callie, she’d be flattered to hear you say that. She looks like that, true. And then she’d tell you why you’re so wrong.
I remember sitting in another office, about seven years later. I’d safely returned from service abroad, but my heart was battered. Mid-session, knee-deep in tears, the wise professional suggested that the person who had wounded me didn’t know that she had.
“How could anyone say those kinds of things and not think they hurt?”
The counselor tilted her head. After a few moments, her eyebrows slightly rose.
“You don’t know how people see you, do you?”
Why wouldn’t I? Of course I know how they saw me. It’s how I see myself. Nervous, random, rambling, insufficient…
“You come across as very confident. I felt it since the moment I met you. You’re exceptionally talented in many ways, that’s clear, and when you interact with others…” She continued but it was lost on me.
Where in the world would she get such a bizarre idea?
Then I asked loved ones, even the ones who were closest and were privy to my anxiety. Yes, they confirmed. From the outside, I look very strong.
But maybe that’s why…
Maybe that’s why the strongest words are wielded on me. Maybe that’s why I hear secondhand compliments ten times more than firsthand. Maybe that’s why the most encouraging words are mumbled, said half-jokingly. Maybe that’s why when I ask, positive responses are framed with “but you already knew that of course.”
I didn’t. Actually. Know that.
It makes sense to encourage the weak, the languishing, the hurting, and I agree, onward!, we should. How about the strong, though? Or are we so like me where we’re worried it’ll just be unneeded flattery, adding to those who have confidence to spare, wasting uplifting words on the uplifted?
As an outwardly strong person who is close to the outwardly strong and who eventually talked to that senior in high school and found out she really could have used some firsthand encouragement–I implore you:
Encourage the strong. They need it.
Tell your always positive friend how much they lift your spirits and then listen if they’re just not feeling it today. Tell your never complaining colleague how you don’t know how they handle it all and then tell them that you admire them. Tell your always providing parent how much their love means to you and how you love them, too. Tell your mentor, your teacher, your person you look up that you appreciate them and why you look up to them.
Chances are they’ll find your affirmation cumbersome, confusing, and not know what to do with it. That shows it’s rare. Encourage them anyways.
Find a strong person. Encourage them.
Inspired by the never-complaining, always-affirming, ever-listening, forever-supportive man I unbelievably get to call my husband in a few short months. I promise to encourage you more, favorite strong person.