When I was young, I dreamed of becoming an interior designer. I was heart set on designing beautiful spaces. On the desk in my childhood bedroom, I had a stack of architecture books and magazines next to high school textbooks. I was the only girl in high school drafting class, learning the basics of CAD drawing, studying swatches of fabric in between studying for my school exams.I pictured myself becoming a designer, and became a 15-year-old intern at Karla Trincanello’s Interior Decisions design firm, a role which kept me happily occupied for my first two years of high school. Karla inspired me; she was a strong independent businesswoman who could find beauty in raw spaces, and who blended the art and science of design to create warm and welcoming spaces.
I passionately pursued this young dream until one afternoon when I was set to meet with my high school guidance counselor to discuss my path for college. Up until that point, I was certain that design would be my future. I was starting to explore design programs at colleges and universities along the East Coast. I could picture this path.
But my high school guidance counselor could not. I remember vividly the day she told me that a path into design would not be for me. She believed my grades in math weren’t strong enough to get me into a good design program, and that I’d struggle to keep up. She suggested I instead go into a field like writing or communications, where I could do “some of the lighter design work, but without the rigor of the math requirements.”
And just like that, in the span of one conversation, the picture I had for my future career started to fade. As a striver, I couldn’t picture myself doing the thing I loved if I was going to struggle through it. Because I didn’t just picture myself as a designer; I pictured myself as a great designer. But this one person, who in retrospect didn’t know me all that well, couldn’t see it in me, and in that one conversation, she shifted my trajectory.
As it turns out, I found a field that suited me, and as I hope you agree, it has generally worked out. I do love writing and still love design. I’ve found a way to pull my strengths together with my passions to create an impact for thousands of organizations. I’ve found my calling in using communications as a tool to advance social justice. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I think back to that conversation often. I think about what would have happened if I received different feedback that day in the guidance counselor’s office. If I left feeling supported, rather than feeling deflated.
I share this story as a reminder for how much our words, and our actions matter. The effect they can have on others is enormous. So, come at your conversations— with your employees, your colleagues, your children, your neighbors—with love.
Consider what would happen if you used your words to support the possibilities, rather than to point out what’s missing. And then try it, starting today. Send an email to someone who could benefit from hearing a positive affirmation today. Write a letter to an old friend or teacher about the impact they had on you. Speak something positive into the world, however you choose to do so.
Our words have meaning. Today, make yours matter to someone.
This is week 20 of the Finding The Words column, a series published every Wednesday that delivers a dose of communication insights direct to your inbox. If you like what you read, we hope you’ll subscribe to ensure you receive this each week.