The Simple Power of a Compliment

 


We've reached the final two weeks of classes for the spring semester, which means two things:

1) It's fair game for a snowfall, which is exactly what happened earlier this week across central Pennsylvania as if one final shipment of snow was being delivered late. (You know, supply chain issues.)

2) Everyone is tired. Students are tired. Professors are tired. All the people are tired.

I make a habit of offering my students end-of-semester pep talks, reminding them that they're covering distance as they keep putting one foot ahead of the next, encouraging them that the finish line will soon be within sight, declaring that they can do this -- that they can do hard things. It's not uncommon for me to notice students nodding along, visibly reinforcing for themselves what I'm speaking over them, and on occasion, like this past week, I even catch a student wipe their eyes as  defenses come down and their exhaustion slips out in the form of a few unbidden tears.

Don't we all need encouragement when we're running and we're weary? Don't we all want to know that someone notices our effort and is cheering us on? Don't we all hope to hear someone tell us "you've got this" when we doubt our strength or capacity to go out and get it?

The funny thing is that I'm used to offering this encouragement, not necessarily receiving it. During the past week, though, I've received unexpected notes of encouragement that have put wind in my own sails. One message came from a student I had ten years ago. He emailed out of the blue, expressing that he had been cleaning out a closet and stumbled upon a folder filled with essays and assignments he had completed for my class. "I admit, my undergrad is all a bit of a blur," he wrote. "I can look at my transcript and remember my classes but the names and faces of those who taught me are for the most part all forgotten. Yet, I’ve never once forgotten you or your class. It may have been 'just an elective' I had to take to 'check off another box' to graduate, but it was a pivotal experience in my academic and personal growth."

I was floored. Humbled, really. What a gift for him to not just think these thoughts, but to take a moment to write them to me. It made me wonder, how often do I think nice things about people, but neglect to take the next necessary step and tell them? It reminds me of the adage: "Unexpressed gratitude is like winking at someone in the dark. You know what you think of them, but they don't.

At this eleventh hour in the semester, I feel fresh motivation. I'm encouraged to pay this forward and tell others when I think well of them. Some of the compliments we hold within our hearts and heads are too good to remain there. There's simple power in a compliment that's actually spoken.

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If You Can, Take the Trip

 

I don't know who I am anymore. For the past five weekends in a row (FIVE IN A ROW!) I've had random travel plans, so this marks the first weekend I've been home in over a month.

Truth is, I like spending weekends at home. I really do. A weekend at home serves both as a mop-up from the prior week and a springboard into the next, a brief moment to get caught up on life, a comma in the chronology. But upon reflection, I'm quite pleased I've made these recent road trips.

Last weekend, for instance, I visited my dear friend in West Virginia. We spent all day Saturday talking, binge watching a show on Netflix, and strolling through her neighborhood between episodes. We made fajitas, ate them while sitting on the couch, and then splurged on ice cream. We discussed everything and nothing: work-life balance, parenting challenges, matters of faith, why it's so difficult to get acclimated to carrying a new bag, whether she'd win if she competed in the Amazing Race, and how I'm rethinking cardigan-wearing.

You know, all the important stuff of life.

Weekends at home are great, but I can't say that I'll remember any of them specifically. But these random travels, these actual experiences, these post-Covid moments that are beginning to feel normal again after such a long absence? These I'll remember.

If you can, take the trip.

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