One of the oddities of my world is having to deal with folk up at the local university. Some of them are good, hard working folk (even the newly minted PHDs…). Some of them are pretty egotistical (even the incoming freshmen who don’t have much to be egotistical about yet…).
The thing is, people are people, and how you treat them does matter (how you treat them has a direct impact on how some of them treat you…).
Picture it… You’re a newly minted adjunct faculty (a person who’s not a full professor or grad student, but teaches a class or two at the university) and an unrepentant preppy. You encounter someone who’s in scrubby jeans and a worn tee-shirt… Is that person an undergrad at the school? An unemployed person who just donated plasma at the place across the parking lot? What about a writer who’s got a story going out for publication, another one going up on line next week, and a book due out at the end of October (I really have to get that wrapped up)?
I can’t say I’m perfect, or perfectly fair. But I try to be good and keep my ego in check (the book might be a little late and come out in November!). It isn’t easy, but doing things the other way can easily result in taking a real hit to the ego…
The funny thing is that if you appreciate people’s achievements (no matter how small they might seem) you can have a real positive impact, and you become greater in the eyes of others. If you just focus on your own achievements you can easily diminish yourself.
This is a principle I’ve seen in action while working in mental health. When we gave the kids safe opportunities to achieve, and recognized their genuine achievements, the kids became more confident, in positive ways, and sought out more and better things that they could do (and I mean real achievements and not just messing around or getting in trouble stuff). When I was willing to celebrate their achievements with them they flourished. It was something they really needed.
Not all achievements are equal, but depending on where you’re at they can still be pretty big…
Now, not all of my kid’s achievements were big. Getting the weekly clean room award at your group home may not be a Nobel Prize level event. But, when it comes with the opportunity to get lunch from a restaurant instead of the facility cafeteria it can feel pretty huge (especially if you struggle with being organized).
Passing an Algebra one test might not be much to a guy who tutors doctoral level Statistics, but to a kid taking the class for the third time it’s kind of a big thing.
When you celebrate those achievements, when you stand with that person in that place and genuinely respect and congratulate the achievement, you are reinforcing the positive and making it easier for the person to do more in the future.
But don’t overdo it…
I believe in celebrating peoples achievements, but I’m not a big fan of trying to turn everything into an achievement. There are those who have earned their participation awards (those who’ve earned military campaign ribbons, people that were on a team that achieved something, etc.). If you contributed to an achievement you deserve the recognition. But then there are those cases where people seem to hand out participation awards before the individual has actually done anything (Sorry guys… I think it’s kind of demeaning to get a trophy just for having signed up for a team (it might be just a little more convincing if we at least got to the end of the first game before you start handing out ‘awards’)).
I like recognizing achievement. I can respect recognizing participation. I can do both, as long as the individual or individuals being recognized put in a worth effort. I’m not docking anyone’s points because they didn’t get the opportunity, but he/she needs to do something with the opportunities that happen. Preferably they need to do something that was challenging, and/or had some lasting value.
I talk about writing goals on both of my blogs, and I believe in them. For some folks I work with writing a thousand words in a day is a big thing and I applaud them for achieving it. If someone applauded me for writing 1000 words in a day… I’d have to think about how to respond.
If it was one of my mental health kids (who might write a thousand words in a week, maybe), I would take the accolade seriously.
If it were from one of my contacts at the university…? Seriously guys…? I wrote 80,000 words in a month last November. I hit 4400 words in a single day once last month… A thousand aint much of an achievement right now. It might feel a bit like the person was mocking me.
I encourage us all to acknowledge achievement. I encourage us to acknowledge effort. But, when you start acknowledging ‘achievements’ that are below what the person can really do (physically or mentally), or below what they consider themselves capable of doing, it is easy to leave people feeling mocked and diminished.
So, what to make from all this…?
- Appreciate people’s achievements.
- Base your evaluation of those achievements on where the individual is and what she/he can do.
- Be positive: if someone has done better than before give them props… Even if you can do better yourself (it’s their achievement not yours).
- Make your congratulations for actual achievements (even shared actual achievements); you don’t get an MVP trophy just for signing up, but if your team won you were a part of a winning team! (Of course if finally finding the guts to sign up is an achievement then reward it!)
- Don’t get wrapped up in your ego (I know that 4400 words in a day is more than Steven King’s daily average, but let’s face it he beat me to being published by a few decades…)
No matter how well you know the pond, there is always a bigger fish. And no matter how small you might think an accomplishment is, for somebody that humble little accomplishment is really really big.
No matter who you are you can enlarge yourself by genuinely recognizing the accomplishments of others.
That’s it for this one dear reader. Until next time…
Good luck with your accomplishments, and I’ll see you next post.