What Does It Take To Embrace Possibilities and Give Yourself Recognition?

By Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

image of several high school students at their desks studyingWhen I was in school, we started learning French in grade 4. I lived in a tiny town. My teachers barely spoke French themselves. Let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant experience for the teacher or the students.

I went to a small performing arts high school, and we had two very fluent French teachers. Both had extremely thick accents. They also weren’t particularly friendly – as soon as I opened my mouth, I felt like they were already rolling their eyes. (To be fair, they probably saved it for when we all left the classroom 😉 )

Take a guess on whether I kept up with French any longer than I had to. (Insert dramatic pause here). Yep, you’re right: I quit that faster than a bad Netflix movie.

The Story Continues

Fast forward 30 years. My daughter’s off to Argentina on Rotary Exchange. At the risk of sounding obvious, that’s a Spanish-speaking country, staying with a Spanish-speaking family, with lots of Spanishy things around here. Ahem, and she speaks, you guessed right, no Spanish! She’s thousands of miles away. Let’s say I was motivated to pick up a little Spanish.

Enter stage left, Duolingo.

This app is a low-pressure opportunity to learn any language you want at the pace you want. If I could figure out how to say a few phrases, that would be a good idea. Things like:

  • image of an orange background with a chalkboard with writing in spanish with the english translationHow are you? (¿Cómo estás?)
  • How’s your day going? (¿como va tu dia?)
  • What did you do today? (¿Qué hiciste hoy?)
  • Are you keeping my beloved, precious girl safe (¿Estás manteniendo a salvo a mi amada y preciosa niña?)
  • If you harm her, I will get on an airplane and mess you up and don’t even think I won’t! (¡Si la lastimas, me subiré a un avión y te arruinaré y ni siquiera pienses que no lo haré!)

OK, so, fortunately, I never needed to know that last statement and who’s kidding who? It’ll take me a good couple of years to get to the lesson on “how to talk like a mobster.”

You get the point. I was motivated to try. I didn’t think I could, but I was willing to be wrong. I’ll do almost anything for my kids, including putting aside my belief that I’m terrible at languages.

Do you know the fascinating thing that happens when you do something scary for somebody else? You don’t focus on the fear. You focus on the purpose.

Do you think I learned a few things through this experience?

You bet I did!

Two big things. First, the obvious, I learned some Spanish! I also realized that my belief that “I am bad at languages” was a lie I had been telling myself for 40 years. (Insert moody, dramatic music here.) In other words, I learned that I have been hangin’ out with a whole bunch of “truths” that were, in fact, long-held and unsubstantiated beliefs about myself (that were only one motivated challenge away from being cracked wide open.)

Building On Success

image of a book that says "It always seems impossible until it's done."Do you think I continued my language study even after Simonne returned home from her exchange?

Yep. Success is motivating.

It’s more specific than that. Small successes are motivating. The small noticeable wins, whether counting to 10, understanding a basic conversational phrase, or retaining a new word or two, are rewarding. And what gets rewarded gets repeated. You’ve probably heard all about this from me already because this, my friends, is a key foundation of motivation theory.

Recognition of self and others is motivating. And it’s up to us how conditional we make that recognition.

(And most of the time, it’s more conditional than it needs to be.)

Now, let’s reflect:

  • Is there a lesson here about examining the things we believe we don’t do well?
  • Might there be another side of the story that perhaps wasn’t sufficiently reinforced at the time? However, that was more a matter of context than it was about you.
  • Is it possible that the original story that you or others had is untrue?

If the story is untrue, not fully understood, or even simply open to change, how much do you want to keep that story? If it’s a story about how you back – how you’re not enough and how you can’t do something – how long do you want to keep it?

Said another way, how long do you want to hold onto a limiting belief without testing it?

image of impossible written on a white paper with im crossed out and possible underlined with a pink pencil laying on the pageYou know, it’s fascinating. When you reflect on questions like the ones above, you begin to question all kinds of assumptions about what you can’t do, what you lack, and what’s impossible. You curiously begin to flip it around. We start to ask:

  • What can I do?
  • What do I want?
  • What is possible?
  • What resources and knowledge do I have available?

In other words, we shift away from seeing what we want as a problem to be tolerated and get curious about how it is a solution we need.

Don’t believe me? It’s hard to argue with the evidence. Here’s mine:

  • 319 days of learning
  • 759 new words
  • 15 “units” completed

This is not a brag. This is not even a humble brag. This is data.

This time last year, if you had asked me, “Sarah, do you know how to speak another language? Do you think you could learn a new language? Do you want to learn another language?” my reply would’ve been, no, no, and no. Not only that, I would hope you’d change the subject! I had the shame about being unilingual and generally being bad at languages. This shame stopped me from wanting it, let alone trying. I had other things I wanted to learn more about, so I focused on that. It turns out I really like learning new things, and even more, I like learning to do things I never thought I could or would.

I know now that when I have in my head that I can’t do something, particularly if that belief is formed as a kid or teenager, I have to ask myself why. Similarly, when I reflect on the things I thrived in and enjoy tremendously, what made those environments opportunities for success and joy? And how could I get back there?

(Let me tell you about dancing in a future blog post. The story continues in another direction. Stay tuned for that.)

The Gift of an Unexpected Challenge

Here’s the other benefit of this sudden life opportunity that I was gifted by my daughter at the tender age of 47. I am dead smack in my mid-life phase. That means I don’t have to ask permission from anybody to try something new. I don’t have to meet some external yardstick. And I definitely have no energy to be impressing people that are harsh, critical, or nasty. I’ve been wiping the slate clean of people who don’t deserve my love and affection because I know it’s not something I can turn off. If you don’t have to worry about people being harsh and critical of you for trying something new, you’re more willing and able to try it.

If you, like me, have befriended perfectionism in a big way in your life, this is part of our journey to feeling satisfied and having high standards. The both/and.

Hopefully, you found several reflections in this article that will fuel your journey, your opportunities to learn, and your desire to set some intentions to do things you’ve always wanted to do that you’ve previously ruled out. Maybe you can climb one of the highest peaks in the world, regain your muscle mass, start a charity, live in another country, start a new career, backpack across Europe, or learn a new language.

Put yourself in five years from now and ask, what will you be celebrating that you did that you had no idea you wanted and needed so much? Now go and reverse engineer how to do it.

If you need one more piece of data, you’ve got it. I asked the AI system chat GPT, “What are the reasons for learning and doing new things?” This little video shows you all of the reasons why it’s worth giving it a try. You can also download this as a resource here.

Remember, recognizing others is tougher when you don’t recognize yourself. By doing this for yourself, you do this for others.

We at Greatness Magnified are all about self-recognition. Learn more ways to show yourself kindness in these previous posts:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
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Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
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Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

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Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
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Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
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Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

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