When someone believes in you, they help you believe in yourself. They help you see and accept who you really are. They don’t really change you, but you can’t help wanting to match, in thought and action, what they believe about you. It’s powerful.
Let me illustrate.
Elizabeth Warren, in her book All Your Worth (New York: Free Press, 2005), tells the story of one of her sons who believed he couldn’t swim:
When [my son] Alex was a little fellow, he announced (at the ripe old age of 6), “I don’t swim,” and that was that. We could spend an afternoon at the municipal pool, and he wouldn’t even get his bathing suit wet; two rounds of swimming lessons hadn’t made a dent. But we were moving so I … could take a new teaching job, and we would be staying at a place with a pool. It was just plain dangerous to have a 6-year-old who could fall in and sink like a rock, and I was getting desperate. So, with the move less than a month away, I took Alex to a neighborhood teenager who posted a notice at the grocery store promising to teach any child to swim.
When we showed up for the first lesson, the girl eyed Alex silently for a long time. Then she said, “I’m not sure he’ll be able to swim; I’ll need to measure him.” I started out of my chair—I wasn’t paying this girl to tell my son he couldn’t swim!—but she shook her head quietly. Then, like a surgeon gathering her instruments, the girl took out a tape measure, a scale, and a notepad. She measured his height and the span of his arms, and she weighed him. She told Alex to touch his toes, and then stretch his arms high in the air. When the exercise was over, she sat quietly, writing line after line in her notebook. As the minutes ticked by, Alex stared intently at her pencil, convinced that his future lay in her notebook. Finally, the girl lay down the pencil and looked at Alex.
“Not every boy is cut out for swimming, Alex. But you—you rate very high on the swim-ability matrix. You have the makings of a fine swimmer.” Alex’s little chest puffed out proudly, as a grin crept across his face. He strode to the edge of the pool, and slowly stepped into the shallow end, keeping his cool as the water rose to his thighs, then his chest, then his neck. And (you guessed it) within the week, he was swimming like a fish.
What happened to Alex? What changed him from a resolute non-swimmer to a fish-boy?
Someone believed in him, and he then gave himself permission to believe in himself.
His teenage tutor saw qualities in him that may have been pointed out by others, but coming from her, it seems, he finally accepted that the evidence was true. And then he did something: he got into the water and proved to himself that everything his teacher and mother and siblings and friends and whoever had said were true.
You might think that the teacher’s methods were sneaky or deceptive. I don’t believe it. Dramatic maybe, but not deceptive. She merely pointed out a truth about Alex, a truth he had not yet accepted—that he could be something he thought he couldn’t be.
Sometimes it really helps when someone points out the truth about us to us. May I suggest that one of the kindest things you can do for another person, a spouse, a child, a friend, a coworker, or acquaintance, is to let them know the good things you see.
Be bold and let them know what you see in them. Then watch what happens.
I have been blessed to be surrounded by people who have believed in me. Family and friends and children, but especially my wife. And my father always taught me the importance of believing in yourself, though I didn’t understand what he meant when I was young. I do now.
“If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23).
Believe. All things are possible.
Believe in someone. Maybe that someone should be you.