By Janice Lane Palko
Several years ago, my family and I were seated in lawn chairs in a shopping center parking lot that overlooked Pittsburgh’s skyline. As darkness descended, we gazed at the sky awaiting the city’s Fourth of July fireworks when my soon-to-be son-in-law bolted from his chair and made a beeline to a store.
“Where’s he going?” I asked my daughter, wondering why her fiancé suddenly had a need to go to the dollar store, which was about to close.
“Remember when he was in high school and he worked for that mean store owner? How that guy was always calling him an idiot and telling him that he would never amount to anything?” I nodded. “The guy in that dollar store is that mean owner. He’s going to go tell him that he was wrong, that he’d graduated with an engineering degree, and that he was now working for a defense contractor designing technology that would keep his miserable butt safe.”
My son-in-law is a quiet, gentle, hard-working person, and since this was now eight years after he had spent a summer unpacking boxes at this man’s dollar store, I knew that the store owner’s unfair and demoralizing criticism of my son-in-law must have really lodged in his psyche.
Each year when my daughter was in grade school, the school participated in a reading competition sponsored by Pizza Hut. Students were required to read a certain number of books to get a free pan pizza. When she was in fourth grade, she was required to read ten books. One of my favorite books as a young girl was Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women, and I couldn’t wait for her to be able to read it and discover what a delight it was. A good reader, she asked her teacher if instead of reading ten smaller books, could she read Little Women.
Her teacher vehemently refused to even consider it. “No. You cannot read it. That book is too advanced for a fourth-grader. You’ll never be able to read that large of a book by the deadline. Read Ramona or Babysitters Club books,” said the teacher. My daughter relayed that conversation to me, and then set her jaw. “I’ll show her,” she said. “I’ll read Little Women and the ten stupid Babysitters Club books!” And she did, much to her teacher’s dismay.
I’m sure you’ve had an experience like those of my daughter and son-in-law sometime in your life. I have. More than twenty years ago, I began writing, and after having had several articles published (for pay!) and writing a column for a local newspaper, I was encouraged to join a writing organization. This statewide organization billed itself as a group that encouraged writers and worked on their behalf. I had to submit proof that I was a professional writer to be considered for membership. Imagine my surprise when I received this message from the man in charge of recruiting members: “I congratulate you on your moderate success and welcome you to the organization. Moderate success? I had no illusions that I was Nora Roberts or James Patterson, but who purports to encourage by diminishing? I shook my head and laughed. I’ll fix you, I thought. I’ll keep on writing.
We all know the value of encouragement. It warms the soul to dish it out, and it is even more palatable to consume. Humanity seems to gravitate to the negative, and ironically, it’s often the “discouragers” that make an even greater impression on our hopes and dreams than the “encouragers.” When faced with this kind of slap in the face, you have two options: You can either let the discouragers crush you, or you can hitch your pants higher and get to work disproving them. Sometimes, I think God allows these negative Nancy’s into our lives because they are exceptionally powerful motivators.
How do you rise above your detractors whether in regard to your writing, your goals, or any other aspect of your life? Here are some things to keep in mind. First, know God. If God has put this dream on your heart or endowed you with a certain talent, remember, there is nothing that will stop His will. Only you can thwart it by using your own free will to resist it. Second, know yourself. Had I been wobbly in my confidence of my dream or my abilities, I would have been devastated by that backhanded compliment from that writing organization. Deep down, however, I knew writing was for me, and there was nothing he or anyone could have said to discourage me from pursuing it.
One of the most wonderful aspects of God is his power to transform the negative into a positive. We see it in the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. He takes a boy sold into slavery and transforms him into a leader who will come to rescue his people. We see a young carpenter nailed to a cross transform that suffering into salvation. Through grace, God gives us that power to transform bad into good too.
In conclusion, if you are in God’s will for you, whenever you come up against a discourager, keep in mind this: With God’s help, you have the power to change what was intended for harm into something for good.