The contribution of encouragement is underrated but increasingly important to move through rocky early steps, obstacles, and the long game.
It's been bit rough in my world lately. The end of semester 1 for my classes, the late winter gray has set in. My week has been spent speaking to students who are failing, helping them see that it is not too late, that they shouldn’t just “start fresh” next quarter. A bit of focused effort and little steps every day can make all the difference. They just have to do the work and stop worrying about the work. My heart sympathizes. I am in this space too.
“Just fifteen minutes, honey. I know you don’t want to practice your flute. But just fifteen minutes. Here, I’ll sit right next to you. “
My daughter is learning to play the flute. My sisters and I were all band kids, and my mom learned to play piano from the nuns at her Catholic school. Even my dad has polka musician friends whose accordion music brings my dad a sense of history and home. I guess you could say music is in our blood. So when then option arrived for my daughter to begin band, it wasn’t a question of if? but which? We selected the flute with care— she could continue to play into adulthood in the church during the Holden Lenten services or Christmas Eve. As she would learn the flute, the soft airy sound will fill our home as if a monastery, and the case is small too!
“It’s tortue, mom. It hurts my ears, and now it hurts my pinky. My hands can’t stretch like that! I hate it and I’m not doing it.” My daughter’s words cut through the idealized future vision I can’t shake.
As I’m in this moment, I want to yell and force her to practice. Discipline is what she needs—set the timer for fifteen minutes and just do it.
“I’m not recording the video.” She stares me down, her eyes cutting through me.
And then it hits me.
The other kids can see the video; her teacher can see the video. My daughter may not hate the flute as much as she hates the thought of publicly struggling to do something outside of her comfort zone. Who doesn’t?
I watch my youngest daughter jump on the mini trampoline. We bought it to give her a place to go during the winter to get her wiggles out. She, like so many of us, has a restlessness that can get in the way if not channeled. As she springs up and down and leaps in the air, I see my eighth grade self practice strattle jumps over and over again in preparation for cheerleading tryouts. It was the early ninetties, before Curt Cobain’s Nirvana, and I didn’t question being a cheerleader.
Why now is that impulse looked at as secondary or unnecessary or something to not strive for? While the stock cheerleader character has been coopted by the movie industry, the role remains a hugely important one to getting people through life's impasses.
Not all families are great cheerleaders. In fact, I think sometimes our families are conflicted cheerleaders. If yours is not, keep reading because you might one day be. It's so easy to. I have; my family too. We have a tendency to try to protect those we love. You want to start a new career? Well, will you have enough money to live on? Will you need to move to follow the job? Where will you live? What if you get hurt? What if you struggle? What if it's a mistake? Have you thought about…? We don’t want to see those we love face difficulties, and so we tend to give our loved ones our fears instead of our support.
But we also take on the risks our loved ones face as our own. We want to self-protect as much as we want to protect them. What will my child/sibling/parent/ spouse/pet's failure say about me? I've felt it. If my child makes a mistake, what will my friends say? What will her teacher or my in-laws think about me?
We don’t want to see those we love face difficulties, and so we tend to give our loved ones our fears instead of our support.
Or worse, we just don’t ask. We hate to bring something up that might seem like prying. We assume that if our child or mom or dad or sister or brother or friend would want us to know, they would bring it up and talk about it. We fail to realize how fragile these small beginnings are, how much uncertainty and self-consciousness is already wrapped up the glimmer of a creative idea. That still, small voice can become overpowered by the voices of others, and so silence protects. But the silence also prevents. It prevents others from joining in and saying, “listen, I hear it too. It sounds good, keep playing, louder. You have this. Keep going, I believe in you."
That still, small voice can become overpowered by the voices of others, and so silence protects. But the silence also prevents.
My daughter plays her flute. I hear the beautiful open sound. Ahhh. The sound for the name of of God, no matter what culture or religion. No wonder this instrument is one of the oldest and most universal and beautiful. But it requires air and breath, our source of life. Connected deep and allowed to be sent out, no matter what the risk or fear or hesitation, no matter what anyone else might think or feel.
I have an image of beauty, of freedom, of breath, of life, of allowing, of creativity, of sharing, of channeling a part of yourself through narrow constraints. You got this. It will feel less painful the more you do it. You are stretching, you are growing. No one is judging you. I am here. You are a child of God and you are loved.
Who are your cheerleaders? Reach out to them today--resist the urge to hide.
Who is in your circle of influence who might need encouragement?
How can you encourage that person today?