Over the past several months I have been involved as coach and board member of a positive youth development program called Girls on the Run (GOTR). It has been a wonderful experience and the celebratory 5k run to culminate the 12-week program was the icing on the cake. As I watched the girls and their running buddies jubilantly cross the finish line with leaps, skips, hugs, high-fives, and cheers, it warmed my heart. There were girls running with their mothers, fathers, grandparents, and teachers; girls wearing tutus and tiaras; girls with flowers in their hair and butterflies on their cheeks; and a girl on crutches determined to finish the course. The positive energy surrounding the event was contagious.
In addition to the run, one of the after-school lessons leading up to it, sticks with me too. It was a lesson about honoring our greatest gifts. As part of the lesson the girls sat in a chair holding a sign ‘The Love Seat’. Her teammates would run up to her and share with her a few positive words, such as one of her unique gifts or something about her spirit that they loved. I had my camera at the ready and loved capturing the beaming smiles on the faces of the girls as they were showered with praise…“You are such a great role model”, “You are so positive, thanks for cheering me on”, “You are a great listener”, “You are an awesome friend and never leave anyone behind.” My niece, who is in the program, shared with me “I could listen to this all day!” She is right – it feels so good to have our gifts honored.
I had the opportunity to experience a similar activity once. It was during a church summer camp in my teens. I remembered feeling amazed and flattered that a group of people who had only come to know me for a short while had paid enough attention to me to notice all these things and that they all had such nice things to say – my caring nature, how I included everyone, I was thoughtful, my patience. Wow. It felt great! I believe we need more of this in life to feel appreciated and cherished for our gifts and who we are. Most of us don’t hear it enough and it feels great. And sometimes others see things in us we don’t even see.
That week at my church camp we discussed affirmations, and the importance of sharing positive statements with and about each other. The concept stuck with me and I have tried to carry it with me through my life. I distinctly remember a couple of girls in my high school who I never heard say a bad word about anyone. They were just really nice, kind, positive girls. As a young girl it might not have seemed as exciting to spend time with these girls, as with someone who has all the latest gossip, but even then I knew if felt better to be around them. It feels good to be with people who say positive things. We have been instilling the same idea in the 3-5th grade girls we have been coaching for GOTR. It is a lesson as true for adults too.
The saying goes: We are known by the company we keep. So we should choose our friends wisely. Moreover we should be a person that other people want to be around, someone who is positive and says nice things. It might not come easily to all of us, and sometimes we may find ourselves sliding into a gossip mentality, but reminding ourselves to be someone filled with positivity and affirmations helps. One of the girls I coached shared with us that her mother tells her “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” My mother said the same thing to me and I believe it is a good saying to abide by.
To take this one step further, more than just saying nice, positive things to and about others, is really believing them. When meeting certain people their gifts are more obvious than others. Some people we meet are naturally effervescent, friendly, and easygoing, and we are drawn to them. They may be carefree, slow to take offence or anger, and quick to laugh, and forgive. My husband has many of these traits, in abundance! People enjoy his company. They can say positive affirmations about him and mean them.
I can be some of these things (and some of my strengths are those others highlighted to me, which I mentioned earlier in this piece), but I also know I am a worrier, can get offended easily, can over-analyze things, and take longer to let things go. I have to work at my carefreeness and help myself to chill out and not worry (I have previously shared that church, yoga, walks/runs, and meditation help me). When people first meet me, they might not see my gifts as obviously as my husbands. It might take them longer to discover my characteristics that are worthy and appealing. But they are there. And I want to believe they are there in all of us, that we all have great gifts.
There was a quote in a film, The Legend of Johnny Lingo, that my husband and I watched with my niece and nephews a few weeks ago that stuck with me: “There’s a treasure hidden deep within everyone; the adventure is to discover it.“ I love that concept. Everybody has their own unique gifts/treasures. In some of us they are readily there for all to see, for others we may have to search deeper to find them. That is the adventure – to discover, or even help bring out, those gifts in others.
I believe we can help bring out the best (the gifts) in others, by the way we treat and interact with them. Having been a teacher, and thinking of my favorite teachers, if you have high expectations of your students, are consistent, and let them know you care about them, then you bring out the best in them. And although I am not a parent myself yet, I believe it would be similar for parenting too. On the receiving end, if you know someone cares about you, listens to you, or is willing to give you time, then you are more likely to be kind to them in return. And if someone admires you and believes good things about you, then you are more likely to live up to their expectations.
We have all been in situations where we don’t jibe with someone and want to give up, not waste our time, or even let others know we don’t think much of that person. But how about we persevere and think the best of them. Seek the good in people and affirm them. In searching for others’ strengths and gifts, you never know what you might discover along the way…
To learn more about the positive youth development program Girls on the Run, who inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running, visit: http://www.girlsontherun.org/