The Power of Proud (and my challenge to you)

“I’m proud of you.”  Four simple words that pack a powerful punch.  We grew up yearning for these words and when we received them, from a parent, teacher, mentor, our world felt bigger, we felt we had a place, we felt validated.  Something happens as we become adults. We hear those words less often and we say them even less often to our peers, coworkers, friends, family.

It took me three years to take a chance and take a year leave of absence.  Three years of planning, asking opinions, making budgets, obsessing. When I put in my leave, I expected to hear “how can you let the students down,” “ how will you afford it,” “are you giving up your career,” “have you really thought about this.”  Trust me, I did hear all of those comments and then some but what really stuck with me were the unexpected responses.

“I’m proud of you. I know this is a risk.”

“I’m proud of you for making a change.”

“I’m proud of you for making a decision.”

“I’m proud of you for making this hard decision.”

I was shocked by these responses and others.  After months of reflecting about this poignant time in my personal life, I’m sad that I was so surprised. It had probably been years since I had heard those words.  So, let me tell you what those four words did for me at age 36. They gave me peace. They gave me confidence in my decision. They told me I made the right choice for my family.  They validated the feelings I’ve had the past few years. I felt noticed.

Since hearing those words again, I’ve tried to pass them along more freely not just to my children, but to my friends, colleagues and family.  The kicker is, like those who told me they were proud of me for leaving my job (as crazy as I thought that sounded at first), I too am using those words to validate some difficult times and decisions in the lives of my friends and family.

“I’m proud of you for standing up to your husband.”

“I’m proud of you for getting help.”

“I’m proud of you for quitting.”

“I’m proud of you for taking time to rest.”

I’ve noticed that while we spent our childhood hearing these words after achievements or making clearly good decisions, in adulthood we need to hear them for other reasons.  We need to know that taking a risk, accepting a challenge, or going against our status quo requires bravery. We need to hear that others are proud of our decision, even when it isn’t popular.  So to those of you who validated my decision and used those four words to reassure me-I thank you. I challenge all of you to tell your loved ones and peers when you are proud of them for making the hard decisions, even if it is to take a day off for rest or for sticking to their guns in a tough situation.  While the words may be small and overlooked by some, for others they may be the right amount of support needed to find closure or make a change.

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