Who you are is more important than what you do
Two weeks ago, I had the great fortune of providing emotional intelligence training for a group of volunteers with Experience Corps, a nonprofit organization that engages adults 50 and older as literacy tutors for struggling students in public schools. Click here to learn more about this wonderful organization.
I began my discussion with a question I invite all of you to consider.
In your interactions with young people, what is the most important thing you bring with you?
If you’re a tutor, a logical answer might be, “I bring my tutoring materials (i.e. books, workbooks, etc…).
If you’re a teacher, a logical answer might be, “I bring my lesson plans for the day.”
If you’re a coach, a logical answer might be, “I bring my list of core skills that I need to teach my athletes.”
While each of the above answers are certainly reasonable, I would argue that the single most important thing that a tutor, mentor, teacher, or coach brings to the proverbial table is their energy. In other words, it’s not what you bring, but rather an awareness of who you’re being.
Ralph Waldo Emerson captured this notion perfectly when he said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
Below are four powerful examples of who you can be in your interactions with young people.
You can be an example who models the behavior you expect to see in others.
As you know, kids are very adept at recognizing our every move. While they may not acknowledge moments where they witness a disconnect between what we’re saying and what we’re doing, they will almost certainly begin to formulate various beliefs, such as, “If they don’t do it, why should I?”
Am I inferring that we must be perfect? Absolutely not. However, if we can begin to own the fact that everything we do or say creates an invisible ripple for the people in our midst, we may just pay more attention to who we’re being.
You can be an empathic listener who seeks to understand the social and emotional needs of the young person you’re working with.
I’ve heard it said that the deepest need of the human heart is to be understood. I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, as adults we often feel the need to advise or correct, in an effort to fix certain behaviors. Meanwhile, what the child wants most is to know that we understand their current emotional state. The moment we begin to give advice, despite the fact that our intentions are well meaning, the child will often say to himself, “They just don’t understand me.”
So, rather than putting on our problem solving cap each time there is conflict, I invite you to just sit back and listen. As they speak, I encourage you to validate them by simply saying, “I can understand that.”
You can approach each interaction with a servant’s heart, all the while recognizing the enormity of your gifts.
Every interaction we have with a child is an opportunity to share our gifts. What are my gifts, you might ask? How about starting with the gift of your energy. Simply showing up with a smile on your face is a gift that may seem inconsequential, but it’s not. We’ve all experienced moments when someone else’s smile changed the trajectory of our day. Another often overlooked gift is the gift of gratitude. When you express gratitude for young people, you are not only filling their emotional bucket, but more importantly you are giving them permission to do the same for others. When people do or say kind things, we naturally want to pay it forward.
Remember, who you are in your interactions with youth is more important than what you teach them.
As the great Maya Angelou once said, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
I believe in you!