07 September 2018

When Encouragement Looks More Like a Challenge

Some people are natural encouragers. They have a gift for saying kind words at just the right time, for being the cheerleaders behind everyone's successes, be they big or small.

Not everyone is born with that gift, but it's one that we should probably all try to cultivate, at least a little bit, within ourselves, for there is great value in encouraging each other on the road of life.

But the side of encouragement that I find myself most drawn to is the side that looks a little bit more like a challenge.

I'm not so great at saying, "You did an awesome job!" and leaving it at that.

My natural bent leads me more towards saying, "You did an awesome job! Now...what's next? Where do you go from here?" and leads my mind to ponder ways to challenge those around me to stretch themselves and not rest on their laurels, but keep moving, growing into something better and greater.

Angel is the most frequent target of my "challenging" mode of encouragement.

There is a time to say "That was awesome!" and leave it at that. Balance is needed. It is not always the right season for challenge. Contentment and rest and meeting people where they are at is needed, and that requires discernment. I want to grow in recognizing when it's time to encourage someone without challenging them.

But. There are many times when encouragement should come with a challenge. There are times when it's right to go beyond "Well done." to "Well done, now what would you like to do with that?"

Many of us need a challenger once in a while. Our little comfort zone is so very, very comfortable! Without that person to challenge us, we may simply write stories to amuse ourselves without ever taking the tedious and scary steps of editing or sending queries to agents. We might devote a great deal of resources to learning and becoming skilled at a craft or form of art that we love...but never make the leap to teaching it to others or giving away what we make or deciding to open a business. We may run those races but we may never get faster or stronger without someone who says--hey, I know you can be faster than this.

Encouraging challengers are needed to come alongside and remind us that we don't always have to be content with good...we can be great. We don't have to be content with small...we can be big. Our talents and time and efforts can have a greater impact.

There is a time to be content with small and good...but when we're alone, we run the risk of assuming that those times are more frequent than they truly are. There is also a time to stretch yourself a little bit thinner, to push yourself a little harder, to try something that scares you...and my hope is that as we seek to encourage our communities, that we will have eyes open to help others see when those times arrive.

I happen to know of a few examples of ladies who, either by challenging themselves or being challenged by others, are stepping out and trying something that's a little bit bigger:

There's Jennifer Park, who's now published three ebooks on Smashwords, instead of stashing manuscript files away somewhere in the depths of her computer's hard drive:

There's Angi, who opened up an Etsy shop to sell her art, and recently even hosted her own booth at a craft show!

There's MaryGrace, who has taught herself how to draw and paint over the last year or so and was challenged by another sister of ours to publish more of her art, and to create a cartoon character and develop some sort of fictional series, and responded with @babydialogues on instagram

Dialogue between baby and swaddle: Baby: Oh yes, this is nice. Very nice. I feel good. Swaddle: I'm glad! It's a well-known fact that newborns feel most comfortable and able to sleep when securely swaddled. Baby: But do you know what would feel better? Swaddle: What? Baby: *begins to squirm, wiggling with all the strength his newborn body possesses* Just wait, this'll only take a minute. Swaddle: Um, sir, are you sure you really want to do this? Baby: *continues squirming until first one fist, and finally both arms, are free* Yes, yes, that's so much better. Now I can scratch my face whenever I want to! Swaddle: sometimes I wonder...why do I even bother? . . . #illustratorsofinstagram #babylife #babydialogues #babydiaries #calledtobecreative #honestmotherhood #makersgonnamake #watercolorillustration #watercoloring #seekinspirecreate #showyourwork #abmcrafty #modernmaker #livecreatively #waketomake #createdaily #paintbrush #risingtidesociety
A post shared by Baby Dialogues (@babydialogues) on

And there's me. Who decided to publish a children's picture book: The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger ...not a bestseller by any means, but has sold somewhere around 113 copies. And just this week I was sent a photo of a 4th grader reading it who wants to know when the sequel is coming out--if that's not a challenge, I don't know what is? This book only happened because of challengers who came alongside and said: this is actually a funny story. I like these characters. You should do something awesome with them.

And the language education center that I officially opened last month--would have never happened if others had never agreed with me that there was a real need, and then went further and challenged me to do something about it. To not be content with where I was at, but to expand and invest and widen the possible impact.


Keep your eyes open in the days ahead, for moments when you should encourage others and suggest a challenge...or when you should do the same for yourself!

Kristina said...

MaryGrace does a nice job on the watercolor! Those are cute.

Unknown said...

I love reading your thoughts on this-and good for you on being a challenger-encourager! My husband is very similar to what you describe, and it was a little bit of a shock to me even after we got married that he is all about pushing people to do better and not settle for mediocrity. Learning from him has helped me so much to stretch myself. I agree with you that there is a balance, and I try to temper my husband's enthusiasm for improvement with sometimes saying "we can just be happy and not worry about pushing hard for a challenge right now."

Have you read the book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" by Carole Dweck? I have a feeling that you may appreciate that book. It's all about challenging oneself and having a "growth mindset," and it completely changed my perspective in a good way.

Mary E. Stephens said...

Thank you, Rachel. This is me - wrestling with the monsters of doubt, fear, and uncertainty about writing novels that are edifying and encouraging and teaching so that I can reach a wider audience. So, you were my challenger for today. My Aussie sister-in-law is the one who started the challenge some time ago.

Jenny Evans said...

Thanks for this post! So... when IS a sequel coming out??

rooth said...

I'm not so good at the encouragement part and probably lean a little too heavily on the challenge bit. It's a good reminder that sometimes, you don't have to be pushing for the next thing