The Power of “You Are Awesome”

I received a very nice email today from Elizabeth Naramore, someone who I’ve met through the PHP community. In it she made a simple statement:

“You are awesome.”

Now, I don’t know how much I deserved this email. The other people on the recipient list I’m guessing have had to go through many more trials than I have, but I’m very appreciative never the less. It got me thinking about the power this statement can have, and how this type of positive & sincere compliment can have a profound affect on people.

A Personal Story

This is likely going to be an overshare, but I thought I’d relate a personal experience. Growing up, with family & personal stuff going on, when I entered Jr. High I pretty much had no self-confidence. I remember calling in “sick” when I was suppose to get a music award for a song I had wrote. The thought of standing in front of the entire student body, receiving an award for something I thought nerdy, terrified me.

Through Jr. High and High school, my confidence didn’t much improve. I would find certain things I’d feel confident in: Swimming, Lifeguarding, Music. But by default I always felt awkward and unsure of myself. Many people during my life (parents, teachers, relatives, etc.) would tell that I was awesome, but I didn’t feel like I was awesome. I guess it was taking a long time to sink in, and I didn’t always believe them. It didn’t help that the typical Jr. High and High School experience has a way of wearing down your confidence instead of building it up.

When I turned 19, I moved to Torreon, Mexico to serve as an LDS Missionary for 2 years. It was an amazing yet terrifying experience. I remember frantically trying to learn the language, and felt so self-conscious when I tried to speak Spanish. Looking back now, I can see how certain critiques and comments would sink so much deeper in me than should have. I couldn’t even joke around with my fellow missionaries without wondering if they were just putting up with me. I’d second guess myself over everything. I just lacked a trust and confidence in myself.

However, during the second year of my mission, something changed. I was assigned to work in the “Mission Office”, which basically was the operations hub for the 200 missionaries across three states in Mexico. Our Mission President, President Alexander, had me work on keeping track of all the records & reports for our mission. He was like a boss & a mentor for the missionaries. Whenever I would meet with him, he never failed to say something along the lines of “You are awesome.”

While I started keeping records, I realized I could organize the data in excel for all sorts of awesome reports. We could visualize how things were going so much better. President Alexander would never hesitate to give very sincere compliments. It started to sink in. Here I was doing something I love, helping people, and my boss was telling me I was doing an awesome job. My confidence not just in my skills with a computer, but a confidence in myself, started to grow. Before my default setting was not confident, but now it was shifting to default of confident. I started to really believe in myself.

When I returned home from my mission, I took this new found confidence and started school and work. I had the fortune to have bosses, co-workers, etc. who were honest but sincere in their compliments. “Great job on this.” “I really appreciate how quickly you turned this around.” It wasn’t like I was this amazing employee. They would always let me know in a helpful way when I had messed up, and how to do better in the future.

But these words of “You are Awesome” really had a profound effect on my life. It was building my confidence in me on the inside. It gave me confidence to go out and teach myself programming. To go out and work for a start up. To try and start giving presentations at user groups and conferences.

I cannot, nor do I want to try and imagine what my life would have been like without those people who help build up my confidence. I know I wouldn’t be nearly as happy in my life as I am now.

Your Turn

So what do we do know?

It is our job, to honestly and sincerely, let people know how awesome they are. As human beings, we need to hear these things. We are social beings who grow and flourish from positive communication like this.

So tell the people who are in your life, whether it is work, family, friends, etc. how awesome they are. Help them know why they are awesome so they can have confidence in their awesomeness.

So to wrap it up, and to practice what I preach: Elizabeth Naramore, you deserve to know how awesome you are. 🙂 Though we’ve only met once before at a conference, it was easy to see how you’re awesome. You have a real talent for connecting with people and honestly caring about their happiness. You want people to feel included in a community, and you would want nothing better than for us to be once giant happy tech community. I think you’re doing a pretty darn good job at helping us get there.


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