Just as a plant needs water, everyone needs encouragement. Every so often we all need to hear words like: “I’m rooting for you,” “You’re the best,” “Don’t give up” “You can get through this,” “I’m so proud of you,””I believe in you,” “You got this.”
When we offer someone or ourselves encouragement, it is usually done with good intentions. Sometimes all a person needs to go from having a negative mindset to a positive mindset is a word or two of encouragement. But like many things in life, encouragement can be a two-edged sword.
Encouragement given to support reckless or harmful behavior almost never pans out well for anyone. It’s like telling a bully, who is already not a good person, to go ahead and punch someone in the face. Encouragement is also not helpful when it is given to an unproductive person—you know, that person who is always complaining, making excuses, and never finishing what s/he started.
But this is not the “wrong” side of encouragement to which I am referring. It is one thing to give someone support, confidence or hope to someone. And it is an entirely different thing to offer someone overinflated and unrealistic expectations not connected to reality. For example, I am 5′-9″ and weigh 150 pounds, and encouraging me to train and workout because I have a fanciful wish of making it to the National Football League (NFL) as a linebacker is not encouragement. Your “encouragement” is actually setting me up for epic failure as the average size of an NFL linebacker is 6′-2″, 250 lbs.
There isn’t anything noble or cool about building someone up who does not possess the talent or the requisite profile or set of skills to accomplish a particular task or achieve a dream. So, rather than encouraging someone to pursue something that is beyond his or her capabilities, why not be honest and upfront and tell that person the truth. The fact is, some goals and dreams are simply unattainable. Get that stuck in your mind. No, you cannot be an ATP rated pilot flying for American Airlines if you are legally blind. You cannot become a physicist if you suck at math and science.
Does that mean we should avoid encouraging people to become better version of themselves? No, that is not what I am suggesting.
If you love someone, tell that person the truth.
What I am suggesting is that rather than focusing on encouragement, we should be pushing self-assessment. The inability to self-assess is at the core of most failures, and is one of the primary reasons so many people find themselves going in circles—never accomplishing their goals. You cannot win in life if you do not critically self-assess in order to gain a better understanding of your strengths and limitations.
Yes, I know your daughter is gorgeous and adorable, but she is 4′-10,” which means the probability of her becoming a supermodel is near zero percent. It’s just not happening. Your son has been in band since middle school and is now a senior in high school and has never played in the first chair position, but you are still encouraging him to apply to The Juilliard School. He will never get accepted.
There are times when it is okay to be in the dream-crushing business. And I am not kidding. Encouragement that is based on flattery or half-truths is not sustainable and can be harmful. Let’s stop offering meaningless platitudes to those whom we care about. Let’s stop being politically correct and instead have authentic and meaningful conversations.
No one benefits from being given false information just to boost his or her ego or self-esteem. Honest and candid feedback might hurt someone’s feelings temporarily, but it is better to be upfront and honest than to offer encouragement that will set someone on a path that leads to irrecoverable failure. If you love someone, tell that person the truth.
Upcoming post: “Believing Is Seeing”