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The Day Job – Say something nice


   I remember an 18 year-old version of myself on a beach here in San Diego with friends. On this specific night, I fell some distance but didn’t get hurt – lucky me. I’m not really sure how far that fall was a long darn time ago, but I remember the important part of that night quite clearly.

     One of the people I was with that night was very influential. He was older and really knew who he was in a way a man in his first few years of adult life doesn’t. He had hobbies and talent, and he was confident. Basically, he was everything I wasn’t my first year out of high school. After I brushed the sand off, he said, “You could have really gotten hurt there, but you fell well. Good job.”

     Back then, I didn’t know what that meant, but he told me that he was into a martial art called Aikido, and I should come check it out. He’d be happy to bring me with him.

     And so, since I received a compliment from someone I respected, I tagged along. What I saw at that dojo made sense, and I started class the next week. I was active as my career would allow for more than a decade, and my life is immeasurably better because of it.

     On another occasion, I won a free college course at work, so I took a basic English class, which is where everyone starts. Within a week, I received some very kind comments from the instructor, and that rekindled a love of writing that had fallen by the wayside when I joined the military. After that course, I took the next one and realized, just like with aikido, that I had a bit of talent for it. Fast forward fifteen or so years, and I’m still writing and now publishing. If all goes well, I might even have a new career brewing here. Most importantly, I’m having fun because I know I’ve been working towards my goal as a writer, I still have that spark of talent, and I’m developing it the best way I know how.

   Here’s the point: a young version of me wasn’t very aware, but when I got a compliment, it was a hint. I was lucky enough to have people point out to me, very clearly, what I was good at.

     You know someone at work who is good at something in a way that only comes from a spark of talent. More often than not, he or she isn’t aware or doesn’t acknowledge it, and isn’t developing that natural talent because, well, most of us don’t until later in life. Some never do at all. They don’t realize what they have, never reach out and try that something new, and they live their lives not understanding their potential.

     It’s important to realize that there’s something valuable about complimenting people. Just like I can say that my success came in about half a dozen cans, I know for a fact that a handful of people complimented me early on things I did well, and my life is better because of it. Not only did I get sincere compliments, but those compliments on what I was good at were usually followed rather closely by opportunities to develop. Those people have no idea how my life changed because of them.

     A sincere compliment is important, but we don’t always seem to give them freely. I understand tough love and letting people learn to swim by tossing them in the water. I often let people struggle a bit to learn some lessons all by themselves, but sometimes the most important thing I can do is just say something nice. This isn’t some call to arms or challenge to say something nice to one person a day. Those great ideas take something away from the sincerity that can drive you to see something good and say something about it, especially for those who might not see their own value yet.

If you think this sounds a lot like a similar post here, you’re right. The way to make people successful doesn’t change much:

1. Identify someone with talent, and in this case, recognize it.
2. Give that person an opportunity.
3. Invest time and energy into that person.
4. Repeat

– Who was that first person to give you a sincere professional compliment, and how did that affect you?

– Who in your organization has that spark of talent but doesn’t seem aware of it?

– Can you find that person some opportunity to develop it?


Have a great week out there.
Thanks for reading.

– JT


My good thing: Finally back on dry land with an internet connection good enough to post this. I’ll create some back-up plan to not miss another week.

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