I saw a meme that said:
May you never be the reason why someone who loved to sing, doesn’t any more. Or why someone who dressed so differently now wears standard clothing. Or why someone who always spoke of their dreams so wildly is now silent about them.
May you never be the reason of someone giving up on a part of them because you were demotivating, non appreciative or – even worse – sarcastic about it.
There are details we could squabble about (is sarcastic worse and/or different than demotivating?), but the point is: don’t be an asshole.
Decades later, I can still hear my mom’s criticisms of how I look when I look in the mirror sometimes. (I have the skills to shut it down most of the time.)
“What makes you think you could…?”
“You know This Other Kid is really good at This Thing You Work Really Hard At.”
“Why don’t you spend your time on something worthwhile?”
In some cases, I can see where I was standing or sitting, where they were positioned in the room, where the furniture was.
Don’t be that parent.
I’m not saying that telling your kid that they’re great at something they suck at is the answer. But the “you suck, other people are better, why bother” attitude is soul-crushing. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving. (It’s been how long since my parents have said any of these things to me??)
You’re the adult. Be the adult. Nurture the kids. Help them discover what they’re interested in, even if it’s not what you’re interested in, or what you’d like them to be interested in.
It’s your job to help them be them, not to help them be who you wish you would have been.
I have been told by dozens of people that they can’t sing, that they were told by their music or choir teacher that they can’t sing, in some cases, being told to lip sync.
People who, as kids, were explicitly told by their art teacher that they’re not good at art, and they believed it and don’t do it any more.
People who were told in school that they’re never going to be a writer, to choose something else.
Don’t be that teacher.
Your job is to teach kids and to help them the best you can given where you are in the moment. Even if you can’t help them—some circumstances make that so—don’t hurt. Don’t blame them for things that are out of their control or shame them for not being more responsible than a kid their age should be expected to be.
I remember conversations with people with regards to any of my leaps: switching from flute to trombone in college; moving across the country; starting a business; getting National Board Certification; writing a book; going back to school. It’s not always easy to find people who are supportive. (It’s not always difficult, either, though the larger the stakes are, the harder it is, from my experience.)
Don’t be that friend.
In short: apply the campsite rule — leave people better than you found them. If it was you who was learning to dance or starting to paint or offering a new service or playing basketball for the first time or opening a store on Etsy, would you want the people closest to you to be supportive or dismissive? Would you want the people in your class or in your niche to be helpful or to snicker?
(Same rule applies as to kids: there’s a difference between “I think it’s cool/brave/amazing that you’re starting/trying this” and “Wow—you’re really good at [this thing that you’re not at all good at].” One is at least potentially sincere; the other is known by all to be insincere.)
Take care of your own baggage so that you don’t take it out on the people around you.
When you find yourself being critical, see if you can find what part of yourself is made vulnerable by their endeavor.
For example: my mom was one of the people I know of who was told she can’t sing. My mom was one of the first to make fun of how I sounded when I practiced singing for auditions. My endeavor brought up whatever hurt she endured by being put down by her choir teacher.
Easier said than done, for sure. But if we all endeavored to be a little more emotionally generous—with people we incidentally interact with, with other drivers, with people we interact with regularly, with people we like and people we don’t—then we would all be a little better off.
And if no one around you seems to be doing that, why don’t you take the lead and demonstrate how it’s done?
(And thank you to all of the people through my life who have modeled this for me, both before I was aware of it and since and still. You help me to make myself better.)
Assume you’re going to be the voice that sticks in someone’s head. What do you want to be remembered for?