Return to Sender
About five years ago, I had a spectacular group of students in my graduate organizational management class. It was a relatively large class for an MBA course (45 students), but this particular group meshed very well, and it never really seemed like teaching. I would go in, throw out a few "thought grenades" and these students carried the discussion. Three hours every week for 15 weeks. It was amazing and energizing. I've only had one other section of students who collectively fell in that UBER-WOW category since. It's a rare phenomenon when a class fires on ALL cylinders ALL the time, and a professor knows when it happens.
Anyway, back to five years ago, I had just given the mid-term exam, which was primarily essay. The grades were really good, and I provided each student with the appropriate feedback. After class, I had one student linger after longer than she usually did. When most of the students had cleared out, she came up to me holding her exam, and she had tears in her eyes. I thought this was strange, because out of a class of 45, I remembered her exam specifically. Her writing was BEAUTIFUL, and I've had few students who have rivaled her expressiveness and descriptions. As a matter of fact, I commented that she should consider writing professionally on her exam.
Being the concerned professor, I asked her if anything was wrong or if she had a question. She choked back the tears as she explained what my comments had meant to her. She told me that her own husband always criticized her writing and was constantly telling her how bad it was. The problem was that she believed him. She heard his negative input too many times, and she had started to accept it as reality. And one honest comment from a well-meaning professor had completely changed her mindset. I lost track of that student over the years (darn it). I'd love to find out what happened to her and her career. For me, it was just genuine exam feedback. For her, it was the world. I look back over my teaching career and there are more blurs now than I care to admit. But there are moments that shine brighter than any star. This was one of them.
What about the people around you? What messages have they been receiving from bad bosses, mean-spirited co-workers, and harsh customers? And what message are they waiting to hear from you which could erase all of the negative messages? Sometimes our greatest accomplishment of the moment can be the simple "atta boy" or "good job" we give to others.