I had a Zoom meeting a few days ago with other members of a neighborhood club I belong to. The main item on the agenda – other than just touching  base and catching up with each other – was voting to elect a new treasurer, since our previous one had to resign due to health issues.

After the vote, our new treasurer shared the story that when interviewing for her first job, she had to take a number of tests on various subjects at the bank where she was applying. She did pretty well in most of them, but not on the math section. After reviewing her test results, the woman who was interviewing her noted, “You’ll never be a teller.”

And she wasn’t. But she enjoyed a successful 35-year career in Marketing at the bank.

Another person on our call, who’s active in our local arts community and who regularly teaches painting and other art-related classes, then told us about an art teacher she had during her freshman year in high school. The teacher was an internationally known artist, and my friend had not yet decided on art as a vocation. When the teacher asked her if she was planning on taking art in her sophomore year, she said, “Probably not.” The teacher responded, “It’s just as well.”

I had my own story to add. Not long after graduating from college, I was working at an advertising agency in Chicago. When two account executives and my boss, the Creative Director, started their own agency, they asked me to join them. I did, with the mutual understanding that my ultimate goal was a copywriting position. As I discussed this with the president one day, he said to me, “You’ll never be a writer. At least, not here.”

I started looking for a new job immediately, and before long was a Communications Specialist at another organization. And I’ve been writing ever since.

Looking back at these stories from the vantage point of where we are now, we were able to laugh at the irony of them all. But thinking about the effect comments like these can have on people just starting out in their careers, or still at the stage of “deciding what they want to be when they grow up,” is no laughing matter. Certainly, such comments can quash a person’s dreams before they’ve even had a chance to blossom. But they can also motivate people – to work harder in order to prove the naysayers wrong, or to move out of a toxic or dead-end environment into a healthier, more supportive one.

The important thing to remember is that words matter. What we say to others can have a profound effect on them, and can influence them in ways we can’t even imagine. That should be reason enough to make sure our words to others are always helpful and encouraging.

But if you need another one, remember this advice: Always keep your words kind and sweet, because you never know when you’ll have to eat them.

June 12, 2020
©Betty Liedtke, 2020

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