When I was a young teenager, I would often draw or paint detailed pictures in my spare time. One day, my dad took me to an art show. I had several of my best works in a folder which I brought with me. At the art show, my dad showed my paintings to a senior artist who took a careful look at them, pointed out ways in which I could improve, then said, “I definitely see potential here.” It was an encouraging comment coming from an artist I respected. And it meant a lot to me.
Looking back on this incident, I now realize that even before it happened, I always knew I had potential. It wasn't because my paintings were so good. I knew I had potential because my parents consistently made that clear to me – without ever actually telling me so. Through their encouragement, they told me that my work meant something. Every time I completed a new drawing, they would be as excited about it as I was. And my dad would buy high-quality pencils and paper for me, even though I could have made my “masterpieces” on copy paper, using a number two pencil. Since he carefully chose the best materials, my completed artwork seemed more suitable for framing. You only frame something special.
My parents not only encouraged me to succeed; they also kept me grounded. If I made a mistake in one of my paintings, my dad told me about it, then offered suggestions for correcting it. Although my dad tells me that he cannot draw or paint pictures himself, he is very good at recognizing what's good about a painting...and what's not so good. This came in handy several years ago, when I attempted to paint a boat that ended up with odd angles, looking flat and awkward. With a couple tips from my dad, I was able to rescue the boat and turn it into something that you might actually see in real life.
One of the best things you can do for someone is this: offer realistic encouragement. What exactly does this mean? Well, when you offer encouraging words to people and tell them honestly what you see in them, when you tell them the potential they have and the promise their work shows...without resorting to undeserved flattery – you are giving them a gift. You are telling them that their work means something. Everyone wants to know that their work is not in vain.
Of course, people are sometimes applauded by well-meaning friends and family for a talent they may not possess. It can be painful to watch a talent show and see a wannabe singer - for instance - whose voice sounds as off-key as can be, yet who was told by family or friends what a great singer he was. Upon finding out that the rest of the world does not agree with his family's assessment of him, the singer often reacts with hurt anger. It is very important to be realistic in encouraging someone.
You might be thinking: “I wish I was talented in some way.” Well, you are. I have not met anyone yet who had zero talents. You might not be an artist, but you are definitely good at something, whether you know it or not. Look for potential not only in others, but also yourself...then work at it and know that your work has value. The truth is: You have potential. We all do.