Throw Someone a Pep Rally
Reminding others of their unique gifts gives your life a more colorful and abundant shape.
Landscape (1969) by Helen Lundeberg
Everyone is insecure and everyone is in crisis. This is true because the world is insecure and in crisis. We are mirrors of what we see everywhere, a process that’s sped up and multiplied by the constant flow of grasping and clawing and posturing words and images on our phones.
Half of the people you know right now doubt themselves to such a degree that it keeps them from pursuing big dreams and casual interests alike. This isn’t something that shows on the surface most of the time, because we live in a society where self-doubt is treated like some kind of fatal flaw or worse, an infectious disease that spreads by proximity.
I’m always amazed when I encounter someone with great ideas who’s very good at the craft of writing and nevertheless treats publishing like an impossible labyrinth of snobby gatekeepers whose language they’ll never learn. To these people I say: Read the masthead. Search for an email address for an editor. Polish your essay and copy and paste it into an email that says “I thought this might work for (name of regular guest-written column). Thanks for taking a look.”
It really is that simple. Writers who talk to other, less experienced writers like publishing is complicated and difficult are just people who secretly doubt themselves so much that they’ve slowly mutated into an imitation of a snobby gatekeeper in order to protect their own egos. They don’t trust that they’ll hold onto their success, so why would they spread their knowledge of the industry around for free? They don’t want a bunch of talented younger humans crashing the gates and crowding them out.
This deep-seated insecurity and scarcity mentality can be found in many workplaces and social circles, and exacerbates the very conditions that these individuals are seeking to alleviate with their self-protective maneuvering.
Because helping other people achieve their dreams is good for you. It’s good for feeding your own buried ambitions, good for snapping you out of your needy, egocentric resting state, and good for waking you up to the infinite potential that lives inside each human being, including you. Understanding that every person you encounter is full of potential and has unique gifts (that are sometimes a mystery to them) is a route to tapping into your own limitless potential in new ways. It cultivates compassion for others and for yourself, and allows you to see the world as an abundant place full of possibility and promise.
When you jealously guard your resources, you tell yourself a story that there will never be enough for you or your friends or anyone else. It also molds your life into a “never enough” shape. You imagine limits and walls and gates and nasty gatekeepers. You experience time as constantly running out. You are “too busy” for this or that, and you can’t be bothered to slow down and help someone who refuses to speed up and get busy and make the same ‘sophisticated’ “That’s not how it works, you’re being naïve!” sounds that you make.
And when you share what you have, introducing friends to other friends, delighting in their connection, sending along important contact names to people you know are talented, giving counsel to people even when they seem a little green or awkward, slowing down to say “You’re really good at this, you should trust that,” when you recognize a spark in someone, these actions mold your life into a more abundant shape. You imagine expansive horizons, new discoveries, new adventures, and generous strangers along the way. You relish the long hours of the afternoon, the long minutes of a good moment, and you have the time to look and feel and listen and drink up the sensuous details of the day. You relish the opportunity to offer a little boost or a kind word or a hug to a person who craves that connection. You jump at the chance to spread your abundance and joy to others.
You don’t have to be a sparkly rainbow unicorn with love and optimism blasting out of your horn to do this. You can be a regular old slob, trudging around your dusty house, complaining about all of the sweaty manual labor you have to do out there in the summer heat today. (Oh hey, that’s me! Hi there!)
But when you share with someone, stop and feel it. Notice how good it feels. Remind yourself that this is the best way to be in a world gone mad. Small actions matter. Feel proud and vow to do more, feel more, give more, take more leaps of faith for the benefit of others. These are the small building blocks that add up to a joyful life.
The slightest hint of talent or skill or originality doesn’t mean that a person has a very small amount of talent, skill, or originality which they may or may not expand upon through decades of hard work. That hint of talent is a sign of ENORMOUS, REAL TALENT, stretching from the depths of someone’s soul, straining to show itself. Given all of the insecurities and doubts that keep that REAL TALENT tamped down, imagine the effort it took just to show one tiny strand of it to the world!
Hard work is involved in every pursuit and in every day. But hard work becomes joyful when we make a connection to the hidden abilities and talents inside us that are struggling to rise to the surface. And making that connection to our buried abilities, our muted imaginations, and our blocked desires becomes easier when we recognize that every living being is filled with just as much potential as we are. We don’t get MORE by defining ourselves as special. We get more by recognizing how special and perfect and delightful all of the humans around us are, no matter how crusted over and injured by disappointment and grief and misunderstandings they are.
Once you attune yourself to these tiny strands of talent or hope or desire in otherwise fearful or pessimistic or angry individuals, you have the incomparable luck of being in the position to encourage and endorse them. You can share with them and savor the notion that someone else on the planet might develop a deep relationship to themselves and discover their gifts for the first time.
But don’t forget to use words to say exactly how much you believe in what you see in them. When you see beauty and promise in someone that they can’t see in themselves, throw them a goddamn pep rally made of words. Tell them what you see.
Even if they’re already successful and rich and special, do it. Even if their talent is a withered strand that hasn’t been watered in years, say something. Even if they’re very old or very young or a little annoying, speak up. Even if you only see the tiniest sprout of promise, remember that this is how your own promise looked when you were younger: a little weak, a little confused, yet attached to a deep well of weird and wonderful impulses and ideas just underneath the soil.
Giving and gushing and waxing poetic on the talents and charms of others can feel out of step with the way most people live today, because it is out of step. Cultivating compassion and unconditional love for all kinds of strange and unruly humans with all kinds of strange and unruly gifts can feel vulnerable and awkward and soft and embarrassing and not that cool because our society’s ideas of what’s strong and victorious and cool are mostly sickly manifestations of our insecurity and our decadent, ignorant, defiant responses to crisis.
To be a true booster, to live in an abundant world, to feed your rich imagination and your limitless talents, in other words, you have to be a little bit of a freak. You have to be willing to throw small pep rallies all over the place, in front of colleagues, sometimes in front of family or among strangers. You have to be willing to show yourself and manifest the deep connection you’ve made to your work, your passions, your joys. When you demonstrate what’s possible, in spite of plenty of setbacks and stalling and self-sabotage, you show others what’s possible for them.
But you have to say it using words. Try some words like this:
This is possible for you, too. Anyone here can do what I’ve done. You all have unique gifts, brilliant and colorful worlds living inside you, concrete and useful abilities that want to be shared. Believe in what you’re made of. Believe in what you love.
Look for beauty in this moment. Follow the strands of hope that spring up inside you. Dare to believe in this day.
Thanks for reading Ask Polly!