“You’re so weak and scrawny you couldn’t even carry my golf bag.” I was sixteen when I heard those words directed at me by my basketball coach. 

Let me begin with this. In all fairness, my coach’s assessment was pretty accurate. I was a skinny kid at that age, and his golf bag probably weighed more than I did. My shoulders hadn’t filled out, and on the basketball court, my athletic prowess was less than threatening. I owned Jordan’s, but I was no Jordan.

It wasn’t that his words weren’t accurate – it was the WAY he said it. He didn’t deliver those words in the way teammates and friends rib one another in a locker room. There was a tone to how he said them that made it clear – this was a jab, meant to put me in my place. His words were meant to cut, and they were successful.

I don’t recall the circumstances that made him tell me that. In full disclosure, I had likely done something to spur this kind of response. An honor student and an Eagle Scout, I had another side to me that liked to break the rules and challenge authority. My decision-making was pretty questionable in those days, and I have probably done something to trigger his rage.

Thinking back on this today, I find myself laughing, asking why I would have even wanted to carry his golf bag? I was meant for more than being his caddy. At the time, though, his words made me feel small, defeated, and weak. 

It would be easy to say today, “You’re a grown man. Let it go.” 

That scrawny sixteen-year-old kid became a man, my shoulders got a little broader, and today I could handle his golf bag with ease. I have let it go, but those words punched me hard enough that I still recall that moment vividly. Twenty-plus years have passed, and I still remember that sting.

Here’s why I’m sharing this. First, we need to be careful that we’re giving to the right voices in our lives – including our own. Second, our words hold so much more power than we understand. So do the words that go unsaid, and that’s why we need to be hyper-aware of the voice we are in the lives of others. 

Choosing Who We’re Listening To…

Let’s start with my basketball coach. I needed to make a choice on the receiving end of his tirade… what I would do with those words? I had always been taught not to question authority. Was I really just weak and scrawny? And even if I was, is that what I was going to settle for? Was he right?

At that moment in my life, as a teen growing up, I had a lot of voices coming at me. I was hearing from my teachers, my coaches, peers, parents – so many mixed messages. Unfortunately, a ton of research points us to the reality that we hang onto negative feedback deeper and longer than the compliments and comments that lift us up. That is probably why I still remember this incident in my life. Among all the other people filling me with positives, this negative stuck.

It not only stuck, but for a while, it made an imprint. For a short bit of time, I caught myself repeating his words back to myself. I’d walk onto the basketball court telling myself that I was scrawny and weak. The real message? “You’re not enough.” I had to battle my own self-talk for a while to get back on track.

Fortunately, even as a kid I had the awareness to refocus my attention back on the voices of those in my circle who were rooting for me. I also had the ability to catch myself when my own voice was the one telling me lies. 

That’s the first key to remember. With all the noise coming at us and all the messages we hear about ourselves and the world we live in, we need to control what we’re listening to. We need to let the negativity and fear-mongering become white noise in our lives and hear the positive words of affirmation coming in. Then, we need to include our own voice in those conversations and talk to ourselves in a way that lifts up rather than tearing down.

There are enough people in the world who are not on your side. You shouldn’t be one of them.

The Voice We Are to Others…

Along with the voices we’re hearing (including the words we’re speaking to ourselve) we need to be aware of how we’re speaking to others. Just like that basketball coach, we wield great power through the words we speak. The way we speak into the lives of others, positive or negative, is under our control.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m thinking of my twins, now fourteen. I have a great responsibility as their dad to speak into their lives and remind them of who they really are. My words have the power of life for them – reminders that they are loved and reminders that I am proud of them. “I love you.” “I am proud of you.” “You are enough.” Such simple phrases, but so powerful in the lives of a teenager who is being bombarded every day by competing messages. 

Take this a step further. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we speak into the lives of our spouses and partners, coworkers and clients, friends and family, even perfect strangers multiple times every day. Each of those interactions is the opportunity to speak something positive into someone’s life. Each is a chance to let them hear that one word that might help them get through.

This idea of speaking positivity into the world has been especially relevant during the pandemic. The words we speak to each other now hold more power than ever before – meaning we need to be even more intentional to use them wisely.

The Takeaway

Be aware of all the voices – the ones you’re allowing in (including your own) and the ones you’re projecting out. Remember, not everything you hear is truth, and sometimes we even lie to ourselves. And always, keep in mind the power your words have to build people up, including yourself.

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