There are two words that begin with the letter "s" that have changed my life. The word "stupid" and the word "smart." Everyone has one or two words that can pack a punch to their heart in the best and worst way, and these are mine.
Growing up, I was told I was stupid a lot, and by "a lot" I mean on a weekly basis and sometimes more depending on what had happened at school. I was put in the "slower" classes, tested for learning disabilities and I never once had a report card without a "c" on it. If adults and educators thought I was stupid surely they were the people who knew best, right? Even objective tests told me so. This word became part of my identity. "Hi, my name is Alex. I'm friendly, I'm creative, but I'm not smart."
I barely made it into college, which was am embarrassment as the only child of two educators with PhD's. I began as a business major, but I didn't make into the business school when my junior year came around. The only way I could graduate on time was to get a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (two minors that equal a major) with a focus on business and communication. I ended up graduating, getting a job and fitting in with the rest of the world. With school over with I wouldn't have to think about the "s" word too much anymore. It would creep in here and there when I made mistakes, but, for the most part, I never thought about the word. But, then I began a business...
Everyone has dreams for themselves regardless of their aptitude. Our dreams are all different, and some may seem smaller than others. I didn't stop dreaming just because I thought I wasn't as smart as my peers. I dreamt of being a big time fashion editor or stylist starting at the age of 14, and when I faced the trajectory of my life without achieving those things it looked bleak. Motivated by the fear of regret and the passion for the fashion industry, I steam rolled over this identity of being stupid, and here I am.
But, you see, there's a problem. Even as I type, "stupid" still haunts me and the word "smart" feels like buried treasure at the bottom of the ocean. Because even though I'm running a profitable business, I've spoken at many conferences, I have a beautiful home that I can pay for, and other things that most would call "accomplishments" I haven't told myself that I'm smart and I haven't heard anyone else other than Ryan tell me that I'm smart. Well, until a couple days ago. On Sunday, the CMO of Chatbooks, Rachel Hofstetter, said that to me in a business meeting and again over email, "you are smart." I'm still in shock and blown away. I'm even moved to tears. I've never been so happy to hear the "s" word in my life, and it clicked. I really am a smart woman, and hearing it from an unbiased person and a peer meant more than anytime I've tried telling myself that I am. There's power in the unbiased voice from a peer.
The whole reason why I share this all with you is to remind you how encouraging your peers means a lot. Even telling someone you barely know in a business meeting that they are smart can change their, so don't hold back.
Photo by Rennai Hoefer wearing accessories from Fossil.