“You did it! I am proud of you my love!” I beamed at my daughter as she pedaled down the street for the first time without training wheels. It was a typical father/daughter bonding moment that you might see in a Hallmark movie. Like all father’s I was proud of her accomplishment and made sure to let her know this. She was learning more than how to ride a bike. She was learning one of the earliest lessons we learn as children, the benefits of pleasing others.
My example may resonate with all you parents out there but everyone knows the benefits often come with rewards or approval. All of us remember how happy we were to receive a gold star on our homework or being taken out for pizza after a soccer game by our coach. Rewards such as these were nice and special in the moment but the biggest reward we received came in the form of the five most powerful words in the English language, “I am proud of you.”
These words were typically spoken by adults in our lives whom we trusted, respected, or admired. Whether it be a teacher, coach, or most importantly a parent the words always had a positive impact.
The most important aspect of this impact was its lasting nature. Not just in the sense that you would feel good for a while after hearing it but far greater was the ripple effect. Once you heard the words uttered you would do whatever you could to have their power infiltrate your ears. I loved bringing home my latest drawing so it could be hung on the place of honor in mine and every household known as, the fridge.
As I grew up this took on various forms but the power of the words or what they represented for me and others never diminished. During the teen years, I could often be found going out of my way in practice and games so my coach would pat me on the back and say the magic words. Sporting events even provided a double-whammy as I would usually hear similar accolades from my parents when the game was over. I guess you could say I was a junkie for the positive affirmation.
Hey! There were far worse things I could have been addicted to at that age.
Once I entered the working world these words took a different form. It wasn’t always as clear as it was hearing the simple words of my youth. Sometimes the kudos came from winning a sales award or being recognized with a plaque for excellent service. In either case, I still got my fix which only drove me to want more. This was definitely a result of the longevity of the power of the original five words.
As I transitioned into various positions of leadership I realized productivity and general success could be affected greatly in those I was responsible for simply by knowing which version of the words they liked to hear. As long as I pushed the right buttons the right output would flow. One problem remained however, I was now the giver and not the recipient. Sure it was still gratifying but selfishly not the same effect.
It wasn’t until I fulfilled a life-time accomplishment of writing my first book that I was taken back to the joys of my childhood as the power of the words was awakened inside me. Suddenly, I was hearing these magical words directed towards me from everyone in my life. Not just family and friends, but acquaintances, business contacts, and perfect strangers. It was surprising at first and a bit uncomfortable yet I still soaked it all in. Whether it was words, comments, likes on social media, or support, I accepted them all as a representation of others being proud of me and what I had done.
About a month later as I reflected on it all and discussed everything with my wife, I began to understand the true value in the power of these five little words. This was value that was not a result of the words themselves but in what they represented for me and others. For me, they represented reaching a goal, inspiring others, and achieving a life-time dream. For others, they represented positivity, love, and hope for the future. All things that could be achieved with the proper motivation and inspiration. Two powerful things in their own right that have been difficult to come by for many, and much more so in 2020. The challenges of the year have led folks to believe that things are only getting worse and there is no hope. Luckily, the power of these words are an indication that there is always hope.
Collectively we just need to make some small shifts and we will be OK. I am proud of you is just one example of a shift that will point us in the right direction. By understanding the lasting effects of words like these we allow ourselves to return to a simpler time in our mind and in our heart.
A time where a kiss on a cut knee by our mother would instantly make it all better. Where we didn’t argue with everyone over everything. Times when the positive affirmation of hearing “I’m proud of you.” would put you on top of the world.
My daughter is 24 now and I’m not sure if she remembers that day as vividly as I do. I think I’ll give her a call to tell her those five powerful words just for fun. It just might awaken the power within her to share them with someone else. Who knows… maybe that someone will be you.
Previously Published on Thrive Global