(Don’t tell my mom I’m writing this one about my dad.) Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my dad. I have three brothers. He was involved with all of us and was able to coach each of us in our sports over the years. I remember him making it home for most, if not all, family dinners. He was always very present and took time to give us a happy childhood and help us make some incredible memories.
I’ll never forget the eighth-grade basketball game my dad coached that ended with me running off the court jumping into his arms as he spun around to celebrate my game-winning shot. I’ll always remember when we woke up early one morning to make a nine-hour round-trip drive because he was able to get tickets to “eat lunch” with Larry Bird. (Really it was a lunch with a meet and greet at a table for all of 45 seconds but my brothers and I thought it was so cool.) I remember a house full of laughter with my parents and brothers and many nights sharing great conversation around the dinner table.
When I left for college, I pursued a business degree. My dad would always say that out of all of us kids, he thought I’d be the one to follow in his footsteps of business and sales so I know it made him smile to watch me do just that at my first job out of college. I lived at home during that time so he really got to see me learn the business world and work to achieve my goals.
As that first year went on, some personal experiences led me to think that maybe I was on the wrong path. A few things lined up for me and I decided I was going to quit my job and become a high school teacher. It was a scary thing for 21-year-old me — the fear of the unknown, the confidence that I was making the right decision, and the student loans already looming from undergrad. I needed to break the news to my parents.
So I went home after work one day in March. Both of my parents were in the kitchen. I sat down at the table and I blurted out, “I’m quitting my job and going back to school to be a teacher.” This story very easily could be about my mom and how her words impacted me, but the first words spoken happened to come from my dad — the one that loved my sales job — and they were the sweetest sound, “Jen, that’s awesome. I think you’ll be a great teacher.” When I recall that moment, I feel an immediate sense of relief and just freedom.
Either of my parents could have spoken a lot other things as their first response: How will you pay for that brand-new car? Where will you get medical insurance? Do you really want more loans? Any of those words probably would have been natural for a parent to speak, but they didn’t. My dad chose to use words that were compassionate, encouraging, and life-changing.
Had he said one of those other things first, I think that perhaps I would have made another decision. I may have evaluated my financial situation a little more closely or really looked at the time involved or maybe I just would have decided it was a silly idea. I don’t know if I would have tried to prove my parents wrong or if I would have abandoned my dream and stayed in sales. One thing is certain: his initial words led me confidently down another path because I knew someone believed in me.
When given the choice to speak words of encouragement or words of doubt, choose encouragement every time. You never know whose dream you are fueling and whose path you are forever changing.
I started in a Master’s program a few months after that conversation. I found a job that paid medical insurance while I went to school, stayed at home, and took out some more loans. I made the best decision of my life.
I know, without a doubt, that my dad’s initial words that cold March evening changed my life. They gave me the confidence to talk to my parents about how to make my dream a reality and to pursue a path that was brand-new and uncertain. Because I became a teacher, I am a different and better mom than I ever would have been; I have learned compassion in a way I may not have otherwise; I have learned to have a heart for teenagers; I have met many, many people with whom I would have never crossed paths.
I am grateful to my parents’ unconditional love and grateful for their belief in me without any hesitation. My dad’s memorable and encouraging words, in particular, changed my journey forever in one evening, gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams, and certainly led me to become the person I am today. (Thanks, mom, too. Yes, I know you believed in me all along.)