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Encouragement makes all the difference

From this perspective

I learned early in my youth, and then as a parent and as a teacher, that encouragement is indeed a marvelous treasure. For encouragement acts as a key that unlocks one’s potential. Encouragement is as a ladder on which one can mount the various anxieties one may face in life. In short, encouragement is like water to the soul, it engenders hope, growth, peace and substance.

Encouraging others is truly a wonderful gift to give. Encouragement requires empathy and seeing the world from that person’s perspective. But, one must first learn what is important to that person. Only then, can one give substance to encouragement. There have been many who have given me their unselfish encouragement. I am so grateful to my wife, family, teachers, friends and colleagues, and others who may never realize the impact they have had on my life. For you see, life shrinks or expands in proportion to the encouragement received from others.

I was about 8 years of age. My teacher invited me to sing a solo for the spring musical. I was so reluctant … well, “frightened” is a better word … to do so but I wanted to please my teacher. The evening of the concert arrived. My teacher gave me a warm smile and an encouraging word before I mounted the stage. As I stood on the stage … in the small auditorium with about sixty folks in the audience … appearing to be, to this frightened individual, at least “several thousand” folks. I remember well my lips moved but the sound of my voice never penetrated my ears. I was numb with stage-fright! The only thing I remember… faintly hearing … was the approval from the audience following my solo. After the concert, my teacher said ‘Robert, you did a “really fine job.” And my parents said they were proud of me. I knew that the encouragement received from my teacher and from my parents was truly the highlight of the evening. That was 82 years ago and I remember as though it were yesterday.

Three years later, my teacher encouraged me to take the eighth grade Regents examinations at the end of my seventh grade. I was 11 years of age. The Regents were in geography, history, mathematics, English, and spelling. I was required to take the examinations in a larger nearby school. I knew no one there; the other students and the teachers were strangers to me. I so wanted to do well on the examinations, but I was so frightened that I could barely remember my name. But then, I remembered so well the words of my teacher from the day before: “Robert, I know you will do well”. That three day ordeal remains firmly affixed in my mind. Happily however, a day or two later, I was notified by the district superintendent of schools that I passed and that I was promoted to ninth grade. For sure, my teacher’s encouragement had made all the difference!

During the ensuing years, my wife, Elaine, and our son and daughter have been a great source of encouragement in my work as a teacher, administrator, writer, and public speaker. I am so appreciative. And, there were many others too who along the way rendered support just at the right moment.

In the past, there were occasions that were intimidating such as my first major interview for a teaching position with a room of strangers who were serving on the interview search committee. It was unnerving to say the least! But, the interview was a success. And then, there was the time I was required to defend my doctoral dissertation in front of group of high- powered professorial scholars. My adviser was most encouraging and reminded me that my work was a worthy project and that I had to believe in my work and be strong in its defense. I realized then, that having courage doesn’t mean not having fear, but that the fear is worth the value of the work.

I have learned to remind myself, don’t be afraid of your fears. They are not there to frighten you. They are there to let you know that something is worth it. And that is so true in all of the experiences of life. And so, in retrospect, I have learned that encouragement is a gift to be given; for you see, encouragement is truly a valued treasure beyond any measure!

Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is a resident of Gowanda and Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at SUNY Fredonia

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