A word in time

Sometimes other people in our lives are like beacons, reflecting back to us wisdom based on who we are and where we are in life. Such was the case for me a few years ago when I applied for a job I didn’t get. Toward the end, it was becoming clear that I would not be selected. As the application process wound down, the hiring manager and I had a heartfelt conversation. The manager kindly said, “You need to be doing something else.” This affirmation that I had talents I needed to use was a word in time. In the midst of my disappointment and though I knew this position wasn’t meant to be mine, these words of encouragement provided me with much-needed validation regarding the direction in which I was taking my career. As frightening as it was to leave my comfortable world, this was the correct path. This was the beacon I needed.

Long-held conventional wisdom says that we shouldn’t offer unsolicited advice. While this is true in general, there are also times when others need to hear our observations. When someone is struggling and needs the clear perspective of an outsider. When someone has in earnestness and independence sought to find his or her way. When someone develops a blind spot to what is obvious. When he or she has self-doubt.

An old expression says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” In the conversation mentioned above, I was beginning to wonder if anyone else saw in me what I saw in myself. Those seven well-chosen words — “You need to be doing something else.” — were sufficient for me in their entirety, as I was open to hear them. Thus is lesson number one: You do not need too much elaboration to help another person, if he or she is ready. By being economical with your words, you make your offering and you’re done. If the other person is open and if it applies, he or she will receive it (if not now, then in time).

Second, you need to know yourself well enough to be sure that this matter isn’t about you. If there is any hint you are making your observations for your own purposes (other than a desire to help someone else), then you should refrain. Our words will not have the same effect when they are meant to manipulate as they do when they intend to encourage.

Of greatest importance, and I may be on shaky ground but it is something I believe, these suggestions we make to others should lead them in a positive direction, and not away from something. This would leave out warnings and admonitions. Our beacons for others might be along the lines of “You have a talent for…”, “You may not know that others look to you as a leader in ….”, or “I would love to see you exercise your skills in …”. Relating these things to another will be like a lighthouse, an indicator of a direction to take.

So much of our self-image forms early in our lives. We might find our way using the personal resources affirmed in us by people long ago, in situations no longer relevant. (When I hear someone say “I’m not good at math.”, I almost always think the estimation is based more on their beliefs than any genetics.) If we are working toward growth, and you probably are if you have read this far, then you have acquired wisdom, skills, and knowledge throughout your life. Others can perhaps see in you what you may not see yourself. And you may, as a lighthouse leads someone to a new shore, change another person’s life by casting a new light for that person to see a new destination.

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