Volunteering Part II

Ever since this experience I’ve been trying to decipher what it exactly was that helped to unlock the potential within this student. Of course I’m assuming that my help actually was the catalyst for this student’s positive growth – which I guess is a rather big claim – but I’m reasonably confident that, insufficient as I still am as one who mentors, I was at least able to do something which helped this student.

From my observations of situations in life that I’m a part of that has some form of teaching, mentoring, or coaching component, I’ve noticed the lack of one critical thing across the board. Now this might be me joining the dots that aren’t there, but I do tend to think that when it comes to teaching someone, encouragement is key. From observation, encouragement is seriously lacking in the toolbox of people who bill themselves as a mentor/teacher/coach of some sort to others (a huge exception to this being the strength & powerlifting community, they are shining examples of how a community supports & lifts one another up to reach mutual goals), and it amazes me how ignorant a lot of people are of the important role that encouragement plays in a student’s development (a student of any age, by the way).

If there was anything I was very careful to do more than I felt comfortable with for this student, it was to encourage him. To me, it’s really no skin off my back to say something like “good job”, or “that was amazing! You did that all by yourself”. But to him, I’m a figure of authority of sorts (and male, no less) who is communicating my approval of his actions, and giving him a psychological pat on the back to let him know that he’s performing as he should be. To a young student that is massively transformative and incredibly powerful. It’s a shame to think that there’s a possibility that this student – and other students to be frank – have gotten to this age without having a figure of authority encourage them adequately about their own abilities. Maybe it’s the Freudian nightmare playing itself out on repeat across multiple generations but I also tend to think that plain ignorance plays into it as well.

I mean – just reflect on your own life. When was the last time someone actually told you that they were proud of you and encouraged you in your endeavors? My money is on a long time (unless you’ve specifically made an effort to be surrounded by supportive people, ref: powerlifting community) – and there’s a good chance that the last time sits in your memory quite distinctly and with fond feelings associated to it. To me this is an indication of the ‘stickability’ of encouragement, and its fundamental necessity when it comes to helping someone learn, develop, & grow.

And I realize that I’m annoyingly saying all of this like I know what I’m talking about – I don’t, I’m just laying my thoughts out to try and get a grip on this situation – but I myself am guilty of not encouraging people in my life as much as I could be. Even more so because my natural state is one of listening/observing others in silence.

But here’s the good news, which is as much for me as it is for anyone else reading this right now: it’s SO easy to encourage someone! All you have to do is be genuinely honest about your appreciation of someone, leave your ego at the door (much easier said than done admittedly), and communicate this appreciation directly with someone. It doesn’t even have to be spoken – sometimes just a simple message, text, or even a letter *gasp* could do the trick. You never know, you could be the person that gives someone that final piece of encouragement that enables them to pursue their dreams with no regrets, or to ask out that person that they’ve been terrified of asking out, or to go backpacking solo around the world, or to do any number of wondrous things that we’re all capable of doing.

Encouragement is a potent enabler for development, and we should all be encouraging one another more than we are.



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