This is a guest post from Michael Kidder, one of the behind-the-scenes folks at The Crag. It initially appeared on his LinkedIn profile, and he’s been kind enough to let us share it with you. Enjoy! -Newton
Last weekend, I attended a Halloween Trunk-or-Treat event where I volunteered at a climbing wall. Children dressed as ninja turtles, princesses, and Stormtroopers stood in line as they patiently waited their turn. They climbed up a 25 foot rock wall, zipped back down and sprinted to high-five their parents and see themselves on smartphone video.
I’m a 15 year veteran climber and have a great passion for climbing. I frequently climb outdoors, take trips to mountains around the world, and try things most people see on TV and think is crazy. I volunteer with climbing industry non-profits and help on boards to protect climbing wilderness and raise awareness– you get the picture – volunteering to help kids up a wall is fun for me.
Corralling a hundred kids over the course of the evening and watching them climb over a couple of hours gives one a decent sample population to judge abilities and personalities. You see the brave kids who fail, quiet kids who sprint right up the wall, the child with the hovering parent, the crier who wants to go up and come down at the same time, and every crazy kid in between that wants to try climbing.
THE LITTLE GIRL:
She was 9 or 10 and came in with her grandfather, who was filming every second on his iPhone. She was very timid. She did not impress me as very athletic, and looked like she was about to cry. I asked if she was ok and she said yes. I tightened her harness, attached her to the cable, and sent her up the climbing wall. She happened to get put in the rotation on one of the tougher climbs, and didn’t make it very far.
She came awkwardly down the climb, on the verge of tears, sad and frustrated. She was about to lose it. I told her she did a good job.
“Really?” she asked?
“Yes” I replied. “This is one of the tougher climbs. I think you did great.”
She wiped away her eyes, I helped get her harness off, and she walked away to her grandfather.
I had uttered “You did great!” 100 times that evening to nearly every kid. The girl’s grandfather probably said “great job” 50 times while she was climbing. I really didn’t see her climb too much at all – she probably did an average job at best.
I was still running around like crazy when I noticed the little girl was back in line. Another volunteer helped put her harness back on, and she asked specifically for me to double check it for her when it was her turn.
“You wanted to try it again, huh!?” I asked her with a smile.
“I felt better about it when you said I did a good job.” She replied, still a little bit nervous.
“I think you are going to be great.” I replied.
For the next hour, she would climb up, come down, take the gear off, and get right back in line. I am not sure if she even went to get candy. At the end of the night, when we were about to close the wall, she got back on her first climb of the night, the hard route she had failed on at the beginning of the evening, and made it all the way to the top. She had a smile (along with a very proud grandfather) on her face the entire time, even though I think she was still nervous.
We all have some skill or ability that we take for granted. Each of us is great at something that others around us are not. People around us recognize that skill even though we may not see it, and though others may be telling them “Good job!” “Great work!” “Keep it up!” – THEY need to hear it from US. When someone that we respect and see as highly proficient gives us encouragement, we also trust in their competence to believe in us.
It’s wonderful to hear that I’m a good golfer from my friend, but if Arnold Palmer tells me I’m great, then it’s a different compliment. Your coworker telling you that you did well in the presentation is different from your boss telling how great you were. A child hearing “I’m proud of you” from Mom or Dad is as encouraging as it gets.
I was probably not the first person to initially surmise this girl as a timid, un-athletic, average performer. I see now, that she needed a simple, yet powerful, word of encouragement to fuel a potent inner drive – it simply needed a spark.
Coaches, Managers, Teachers, Parents, Volunteers and Mentors of Kids Everywhere: We have no idea what power we can unlock in a child, spouse, teammate or co-worker by simply saying “Great Job!”