From time to time, teachers, health care workers, parents — they all feel discouraged. They feel like they aren’t making enough of a difference in the overwhelming circumstances of people they encounter.
Helpers want to help.
When I hear their discouragement, I am reminded of my own story — the kind of stuff they may never heard about.
I have always found it a little unbelievable to expect a 17 or 18 year old kid to choose a career or educational plan for life. That may be partially due to the fact that I was incredibly unprepared myself.
I’d had good grades in school, but I didn’t see college as an option. I wasn’t encouraged by teachers or counselors to consider college, and this had a profound impact on me. No one in my family went to college. We were, in fact, poor by today’s standards. Four-year college? Not even on the radar. I planned to work.
After high school, I completed a medical transcription program and embarked on a typing career. It was fun for a while, and then the headaches quite literally set in. I wasn’t happy.
I needed something new….. so…..
At 21, I contemplated more education. By this time, I understood that college was a privilege that I’d have to work for. I enrolled in night classes at the local community college with the aid of scholarship funding, but I was only semi-serious with my effort.
Attending classes and studying was okay as long as it didn’t interfere too much with partying and socializing. Because I had to work full-time as well, school was not top priority. Honestly, I didn’t show much real promise.
Even so, school was easy for me, and I actually liked the classes — as long as they didn’t interfere with my good times.
One night after a test in a literature and composition course, I was on my way out the door when the professor asked to speak with me in the hall.
I said, “Sure.”
I don’t recall the exact conversation, but I clearly recall the message. Judith, my professor, asked me if there was a reason that I wasn’t applying myself. She was under the impression that I had a much higher ability than I was demonstrating in class. She queried if there was something getting in my way.
Judith was very politely calling out my bullshit. What Judith was saying in actuality was that she could see me. She could see ….. me….. the real me. Judith could see someone throwing away an education. She could see someone with intelligence and potential. She could see someone with worth and depth. Judith could see someone who didn’t seem to care but actually did care.
Despite what I’d been telling myself, I was not invisible.
This was a turning point for me. Judith was a respected writer for the local paper. She was a quiet intellectual who kept to herself. If Judith cared enough to pull me aside, I thought that maybe I should listen.
I was flabbergasted. I hardly knew how to respond. I am confident that I blew it off in the conversation. I indicated that was totally fine — she was way off. I played it completely cool.
But Judith was in my head. I got more serious. I wondered if perhaps she was right. Maybe I had potential to do anything I wanted. This was a completely new idea for me.
I applied myself and tried to gobble up all that I could. I made commitments to transfer to a university and began to entertain my dreams beyond having a good time.
This conversation didn’t transform me overnight. I was still all about having fun, but I could also see the potential for more. Judith created a dissonance in my head. I could not get past it.
Wow. I was capable of more.
It was as if having someone tell me she believed in my intelligence allowed me to believe in myself.
I keep thinking that Judith could have easily passed me along. She could have saved her time and energy. She could have seen me as another burnout (as I a acted)— not worth the effort, but Judith saw past all of that. She took a risk and confronted me. What risk did she take? Well, I could have gotten upset. I could have been another disappointment. She confronted me anyway.
All my life, I’d been average in my mind. I’d been invisible in public. I wasn’t the smartest. I wasn’t athletic. I wasn’t a born leader. I wasn’t a cheerleader or popular. I was average. I wanted more, but I was never able to find the courage to believe I deserved more or was capable of more. What if I failed? What if I couldn’t do it? I had supportive family for sure, but I told myself they had to be supportive as family. Judith was a person, who of her own volition, sought me out to say that I had promise.
What I didn’t know at that time was that I had generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is what I call a worry disorder. It is a disorder that causes intense self-doubt and excessive and uncontrollable worry about everything. It is difficult to manage, particularly if you don’t know you have it. I never told anyone about my anxiety. I didn’t even know that it wasn’t normal. All I knew was that I could fit in if I was drinking, so I partied a lot. I’d finally found where I fit in, but the direction wasn’t healthy.
Judith saw through all of it.
I am not saying that college is for everyone or that people who don’t got to college are in need of a savior or have low self-esteem. None of that. I am saying that for me, having someone believe in me helped me believe in myself, and I really wanted to go to college. My story is about how care and concern from another person changed the direction of my life. For some people, encouragement may be around getting a certain job, making an investment, asking someone on a date, following a dream, getting sober.
What is important about my story?
As we go through life, it is easy to become oblivious to the impact we have on others around us. It is easy to look the other way. It is easy to say that it is not our responsibility. It is easy to get discouraged.
We can also be hardened to the profound influence we may have on others around us. I suspect this is because we don’t see the immediate results of our interventions.
I tell you this story so you see that even small acts of kindness can make all the difference in the world for someone who is going through things you cannot know. Judith healed me without even knowing my affliction. Notably, she healed me without saving me. Judith didn’t feel compelled to dive into my life with solutions for all of my struggles. Judith just cared enough to tell me she believed in me. The remainder of the work was mine to do. The puzzle of how was also mine to own.
This is also a story about seeing beyond the superficial. Everyone has a story that we know nothing about. It is way too easy to make assumptions and judgments about what we see. What lies beneath, however, is where the real story begins.
Check out what I never learned in college — profanity works to relieve stress! Move on Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, and New Harbinger.