Last week, I spoke at the Go Impact Conference about leadership.
When I walked in, someone commented: “wow, you’re wearing red, you must be so confident!”.
Today, (for the most part!) I consider myself to be relatively confident. But believe me when I say, that confidence didn’t come easy.
While speaking to the future world changers (actually, they already are world changers) in attendance, a constant theme I picked up was that these young women had been told “no” repeatedly, and that really struck a chord with me.
For a large portion of my childhood, the word “no” was one of the things I constantly heard. It severely damaged my confidence, to the point that I questioned whether or not my voice was one that mattered at all- whether or not I ever could accomplish anything. I doubted everything I did, and at times I truly felt worthless.
“No, you’re not ready to take harder classes”
“No, that school is too hard for a kid like you”
“No, I don’t think law school will play to your strengths- maybe consider a career with less social interaction”
“No, I don’t think you’ll be ready for college at 18– kids “like you” lack the social maturity”
I constantly heard the word “no” from those around me regarding my goals and ambitions. And it stung.
When you hear the word no over and over, it’s almost impossible to stay confident. But on occasion, there would be one person, whether it was my parents, grandmother or a teacher, who didn’t say no. Instead of telling me I couldn’t do something, they reminded me that I could.
“You can take harder math classes, but you need to work on your note taking skills”
“Law School will be hard, but you can handle it”
“I believe in you”
And the most impactful of all: “One day, YOU will make a difference for students like you”
When I was a little girl, someone told me I could change the world, and so despite hearing “No” over and over again, I started to believe I could make a difference. I started to believe that I could help to create a better world. I started to become confident in myself, and in my voice.
That’s what we should tell young people when they confide their dreams to us, ESPECIALLY young people with disabilities who are constantly told “no”. We should encourage them to dream big, to work hard. Not remind them how easy it’s going to be to fail.
Having one person in your corner who believes in you, who uplifts you, who encourages you can mean a world of difference. It can be the difference between ultimately fulfilling a dream and not even trying to achieve it.
So be the person who encourages others to pursue their dreams. Be the person who tells them to reach for the impossible. Don’t remind them of how out of reach it may seem, remind them of how dedicated they can be.
Because by being that person, you may not only change someone’s life, you may change the world.