Have you ever witnessed someone realizing their potential? It is so exciting! Let me share an experience with you.
I had a student in one of my classes a couple of years ago. She was an exchange student from Asia and was totally overwhelmed with the whole Canadian education experience. Susan, (not her real name of course), was in her early twenties and had never been more than a few kilometres from home before this adventure.
Susan missed the first couple classes, so was already behind before she even started. After her first class I noticed Susan hovering at her desk, taking much longer than necessary to pack up her knapsack…she obviously had something on her mind. I approached and asked how the first class had gone for her. In very broken English, she shared some of the challenges she was experiencing with the language barrier, and wanted to check that I was ok with her using a digital translator. She didn’t want me to think that she was cheating in any way. Once that was talked through I thought we were done…not so. Susan went on to share how shy she was, and that she wasn’t comfortable talking in class, or offering her opinion on anything. In fact, she went on to say that she really didn’t have anything worth sharing anyway. Needless to say my heart went out to her.
Again, Susan didn’t seem to be in a rush to leave, so I decided to put my briefcase down and take a few minutes with this young woman. One of the things I like to do with my students is to ask them to identify their own goals for learning; so I asked Susan. Her answer was so honest…and frightful for her! Her goal was to voluntarily answer one question in class before the end of the term! That’s it, and even voicing it seemed like such a challenge. I assured Susan that I would not pick on her to answer a question that she did not raise her hand for, and that I would watch for her to indicate when she was ready. Susan finally left the classroom looking like a weight had been lifted off her small shoulders.
The next class we were talking about the diversity of cultures in organizations, and the joys and challenges that brings. For one of the activities I invited students to share something unique about their own culture, and describe a little bit about how that uniqueness would impact the workplace. After several students shared I noticed that Susan had raised her hand. Her expression told me that she wanted to take the big step…she was ready…already!
What happened next blew me away. Susan talked for a good three minutes, sharing what life was like in her home country, and how that experience influenced her confidence, or rather lack of confidence, in this brand-new world. She was nervous, but received incredible support from her peers as they listened intently to every word; it was a beautiful thing to witness.
When Susan finished she simply sat down. At the end of class she came up to me, as excited as any child on Christmas morning. The only words she could express were ‘I did it, I did it!’ After the initial exuberance had died down she added ‘And it’s only the beginning of the semester! I reached my goal already.’ Those are the moments that affirm why I love my job!
That day was the first of many with Susan speaking out in class; she even participated in an oral class presentation. When the semester ended, successfully for Susan I might add, I saw a very different young woman leave with determination and intention to return to her home country and encourage other young Asian women to find their voice. Someday I hope to meet up with Susan and hear about the next step in her story.
Helping someone realize their potential does not have to be a major undertaking. At times it’s as simple as being available to listen, and to pay attention to what’s not being said.
Who are the people in your life that just need a listening ear or an encouraging word to move them towards realizing their potential? Look around, they may even be in the room with you right now.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
― Leo Buscaglia