Self-improvement means thinking of others | Select

If you’re lucky — or maybe a better word would be “blessed” — you know a Julie or a Myrna. Naturally, I’m not talking about only Julies or Myrnas. And I’m not talking about only women.

Rather, I’m talking in general about people who have a particular quality inherent in the Julie and Myrna that I have known. That quality is a natural ability to make others feel good about themselves.

Julie is a professor for whom I recently completed editing work. She never missed an opportunity to tell me how much she appreciated the work I was doing.

I don’t mean a generic “thank you” and “great job” here and there. I’m talking about specific comments of gratitude about every aspect of my work, from my dedicated communication style to my targeted questions to my organizational talent.

And such effusiveness of gratitude was not contrived. It was a natural way of interacting for Julie. She didn’t say to herself, “I have to remember to give Sheila a compliment today.” Rather, without forethought, she dispensed kind words as a matter of course.

This isn’t about me and whatever talents I may or may not have. This is, instead, about how certain people make others feel valued and important.

Such compliments as “your hair looks good today” are wonderful, but this is about more than that. It’s gratitude of one person for the very essence of another person.

As with Julie, at the end of a conversation with Myrna, I just felt good inside.

Myrna was related to my husband’s mother. Although the relationship was distant enough that we didn’t get together for the holidays, etc., we did live in neighboring towns, seeing each other occasionally and speaking warmly when we did.

In particular, every time we spoke, Myrna made it a point to tell me how much she enjoyed my column, often citing specific things that I wrote about.

One day she called me on the phone to tell me that she particularly liked the column that I wrote about coloring bread green for St. Patrick’s Day. We then had a fairly extensive chat about coloring Easter eggs, a conversation in which she gave me Easter egg coloring tips (for deviled eggs, dye the eggs after peeling them) while sharing some family stories.

Unfortunately, Myrna passed away a couple of weeks after our conversation, right before Easter. It seemed only fitting to make colored deviled eggs in her honor. I hope that somehow she knew I did this — and that she felt valued in the same way that she made me feel valued.

There are lots of ways in which I want to improve myself. But if I had to pick just one, at the top of my list would be the ability to affirm the special characteristics of another human being.

Innately, I’m not really that type of person. It’s not that I say mean things to other people. Rather, it’s that I’m more apt to only say something if I’m dissatisfied, expecting others to understand that if I don’t say anything, then everything is OK. But I’m trying to be more proactive — in other words, to be a person that makes others feel as good about themselves as Julie and Myrna made me feel about myself.

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