Over a lunch meeting recently, my colleague lit up as she told me about a recent letter she got. It was written by hand, she said. And thanked her for mentorship and support during a year-long fellowship. It went onto spell out what had happened with the person’s career as a result. The hand-written letter had made my collegue’s day, because it reflected that someone cared enough after many many years to say that “what you did, mattered”.
In my own inbox, this arrived recently:
Hi, Mark & Nilofer –
The timing couldn’t have been better. I was on the fence about teaching the course again, for a variety of (mostly practical) reasons, but the letter made me see a specific data point that the course was useful. Somewhere “out there”, someone was putting the ideas of New How to work, causing their teams to be more connected to one another, and turning concepts and ideas into a new reality.
And, so, I signed up to teach the course again in 2015. **
Which points to a fundamental truth: Everyone one of us needs encouragement.
And, what most people don’t realize is how many people get “hate letters”. Yesterday, someone who is a national thinker in the domain of economic injustice wrote me privately after getting a crappy book review in some regional paper. It was unfair, she thought, because the author took her to task for being too focused in one particular way. She had explained the focus rationale in the book itself and thought the reviewer either didn’t read it, or was having fun at her expense. And, she was right. But the thing that’s really going on is how many of these one gets, and how discouraging it is.
It’s relatively easy to be a critic. Because, honestly, isn’t everything flawed in some way? Whatever your even most-favorite-thing, you could find a way to critique it, easily. But it is harder to be a supporter.
Being a support is not the same as “be a cheer leader” because rah-rah-ness is probably the first thing most of us tune out. To be a supporter is to be encouraging in a specific way. To say I like it when you do this specific thing, because you seem to have a gift for it. Which is to say, you encourage people to keep chasing that idea into a bigger reality. To be a supporter can look like someone who is a Second Dancer. But it can also be the role of challenger. Someone was recently critiquing an assertion of mine, and he showed me the logic flaw I had, and where the argument fell apart. He wrote it all down so I could digest it, potentially to learn from, or to refute it. But then he did something else … he said he’d help me build a better argument. He sends me ideas, and discusses my latest iterations. I call him my “loyal oppositionist“, one of the key roles I think every team needs on it to get to great outcomes. A “loyal oppositionist” solves an inherent paradox: they are on your “side”, while ALSO helping you get better.
Austin Kleon, a best-selling author in the field of creativity, talks about writing fan letters. It is amazing to receive a public one. It might seem silly. You might even think that your voice doesn’t matter, that any given person already knows their work, their role, their ideas matters. But each of us could use encouragement. Think about what it feels like when someone says to you, great job for something you’ve done out of love and passion. Didn’t it make you want to do it more? Why not encourage someone you know. A teacher, a friend, someone you work with. It will grow more goodness.
*p.s. I didn’t ask her to share this letter so if she decides to “out” herself, she can do so here.
** p.p.s. If you want to audit the course, you don’t have to be a student at SCU, you can do just the course. It’s in Silicon Valley in February, 2015.
*** p.p.p.s. Stop reading now. Go write a love letter, even a short one. Encourage the people or person who encourages YOU.