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JEFFREY TOBIN: How to move upWords

on August 03, 2014 1:49 AM

Our test papers were being handed back around the classroom when my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. S., had me stand up in front of all of my classmates. I was 9 years old. She asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. With great confidence I told her I wanted to be a scientist.

And that’s when she shot me down. “You’ll never be a scientist, Jeffrey Tobin — not with grades like that you won’t.”

The bell rang and the room immediately erupted in a cacophony of kiddos heading for the door. How thankful I was that my moment of humiliation was over.

But it wasn’t.

I gathered up what was left of my dignity and headed outside. But my humiliation followed; it became fodder for the jeers and gestures of my classmates. By the end of recess the event was generally forgotten. But not by me.

My academic career exploded like a clay pigeon, never to be recovered. I began to hate school. My grades plummeted. School made me physically sick, and studying became the terrible chore it has been for me ever since that day. And, like Walter Mitty, my study time morphed into fantastic daydreams that never came to reality.

It took me decades — decades — to rediscover my dreams. And myself.

Words are powerful things. One of my theology professors explained it this way: “God spoke the universe into existence. ‘In the beginning, God said ...’ And it was so.” The professor cringed at the old maxim, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s a lie.

Words have power. Words are mystical. Words can permeate flesh.

In my speaking career, I spend time with many top professional speakers. We often take lunch together.

After one lingering meal and lots of laughter, the then-president of the National Speaker’s Association turned her chair toward me and looked me in the eye.

She had something to say and wanted to be sure her words had an impact. With eyes locked — almost uncomfortably — on mine, she said, “You know Jeffrey, you really are funny.” She let the words sink in, then poked me in the chest for emphasis. “You really are.”

I might as well have been standing in front of my fourth-grade classmates when she spoke those words. “This is a great career for you and you really are something special!” Her words cut right through me and made an immediate, powerful and positive change in how I saw myself and my future.

The words had power, they were mystical, and they radiated through my flesh.

And can you guess how they made me feel about her?

You can make a powerful change in your organization through the people with whom you work. With words. Just words.

As you read this, I’m asking you to think of three co-workers. Each one has a unique gift that gives benefit to everyone in your workplace. Name it. Say it. Say it out loud to each of them. Lock eyes and speak those few words slowly, clearly and with real sincerity.

You, yourself, can wield one of the greatest powers in the universe: The power to change a life.

Imagine then what that power will do when you unleash it on everyone you know.

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