The Life-Changing Magic of Encouragement

I remember the moment very well.


It was sometime around 1999 or 2000, and I had recently announced my decision to leave my job at Blanc & Otus for the greener pastures of Scient. Word had made its way around B&O that I was moving on, and when I saw our CEO, Jonelle Birney, approaching me in the hallway, I assumed she’d heard the news as well.


As she got closer to me, a pit opened up in my stomach. How would she react? Would she be angry at me for abandoning my clients and the few folks who reported to me at the time? Was I even a blip on her radar screen? I mean, jeeze, maybe she didn’t even know how to pronounce my name!


But as she approached, Jonelle smiled her brilliant smile, radiating its usual warmth, and said, “Bronwyn, I’m sorry to lose you, but good luck to you. I can’t wait to see where your career takes you.”


Seventeen years later, those words still hover close to my mind and heart.


“I can’t wait to see where your career takes you.”


The thing about the Jonelles of the world (we’ve all known one or two) is this: their kindness, enthusiasm, and intelligence makes everyone around them strive to BE more, and to make the big plays that lead to dream fulfillment. And once a Jonelle blesses you like that, you’re never really the same. Her words became a guidepost for me every time I found myself at a career crossroads.


Jonelle sees something in me.

If I saw myself the way Jonelle does, what choice would I make here?


Every major career decision I’ve made from this place has taken me to higher and higher ground, ever closer to the peak of my potential. And at the end of this professional journey, I want to have had the kind of career that Jonelle would be proud of.


 Brighter Eyes


Now you may think, Bronwyn, you should be rockin’ your career not for someone else’s approval, but for your own.


To this I say, you are absolutely right.


But there are times when my own view of myself is just too unsteady. Too small. Times when self-doubt turns my focus and determination into Swiss cheese. In those moments, it’s infinitely more useful to try to see myself and my situation through Jonelle’s eyes… To see myself in a light much brighter than I could ever conjure on my own.


And I may be going out on a limb, but I don’t think I’m alone here.


I think ALL of us struggle with being able to envision big, bold, magic-laced lives for ourselves. And so, in this failure of self-imagination, it is the encouragement of other people that pushes us to higher ground. 


But how often do we think words of encouragement about a friend or colleague, then fail to say them out loud? We worry about sounding sanctimonious or condescending. Or, we underestimate the worth of our opinion, and believe the person is too tough or too successful to need any of our measly encouragement.


I say enough with the excuses. Let it rip. The most potent form of life-changing magic ain’t tidying up. It’s encouraging other people “to get through this thing called life” (can you hear Prince? Good). Jonelle’s encouragement literally changed the trajectory of my life, and I'd bet a lot of money that you have a Jonelle story too.


So… my friend, dear reader… that cool/new/interesting thing you’re thinking of doing or making or building or saying? That thing that makes your heart race a little, because it’s audacious, scary and kind of awesome?


Do it. Start it. Make it. Say it.


I can’t wait to see where it takes you.



P.S. Jonelle, if you are reading this, know how grateful I am to have had you as a leader. Your slogan back in those days was, “We’ll celebrate your successes, and stand by you when you make a mistake.” It was the most freeing thing anyone could have said to me then, and it’s become a slogan for how I work, play, parent and wife (is that a verb??). You are just a treasure. Big, big hugs. Xo B