Image source: Sharon Cauthen
By: Sharon Cauthen
Recently, I was clearing out a box of old photos and papers when I came across two pages of childish script. I knew instantly what it was, and I felt transported to a moment in time – the emotions of the day flooding back in an instant. The truth is, I’ve never forgotten what happened and how it made me feel. It was a simple story that went something like this…
When I was in fourth grade, our teacher assigned a creative writing assignment. I loved writing and spent much of my no-frills home life tuned in to my internal fanciful thinking or reading anything I could get my hands on. For the assignment, I wrote a story called Lifecycle describing in youthful detail, the beginning, middle, and the predetermined end. There was a special gotcha at the end of the story, of which I was particularly proud. I turned in my paper, eager for a good grade and some recognition from a teacher who never quite seemed to like me very much.
The paper was returned to me with a notation in bright red across the top – “Was this plagiarized?” and a score of F! The shock of embarrassment ran through my body as my face flamed red and my heart pounded loudly enough to drown out the sound of anything but its beat in my ears. Students sitting in nearby desks could see the terrible grade and the angry red writing scrawled on my paper. Having my clever idea and hard work dismissed as something I wasn’t capable of stung, and I felt tears threatening to spill over.
I had to take a note home to my parents who were none too pleased. They were the kind of parents who always stood behind the teacher whenever there was an issue, but on this one (and one other story I’ll save for another day), they stood up for me. You see, I had written the story at home, sitting at the kitchen table and I read it out loud to my family because I felt so giddy with the preciousness of my story idea and its surprise ending. There were a thousand things they would have believed the teacher about – but my ability to craft this story wasn’t one of them. Their faith in my storytelling skills gave me the runway and confidence to continue writing to this day.
I learned a lesson that day that superseded one young girl’s paper. It serves me still today.
Anyone in a position of authority can leave a scar with one ill-conceived or short-tempered remark, the pain of which may never be forgotten. Building up the confidence of others and recognizing their talents pays back and forwards.
Lift people up whenever you can. A simple acknowledgment that you see them and appreciate their contributions is important but taking the time to learn about their interests and passion projects beyond their daily job duties is heady stuff. It’s magical. The people who fill our teams are whole multifaceted humans who possess untapped potential.
One final thought. Believe people until there is a real reason not to. It’s been almost half a century and I still remember my creative writing assignment, and I vividly recall the feeling of knowing how it felt to be denied – and who believed in me.