l5The other day, I was jogging on the treadmill, thinking. It’s one of my favorite places to think.

On this particular day, much of the thinking was skewing in a negative direction. As a counter-measure, it struck me that I should instead try to think of happy memories. That’s when it happened.

Like a lightning bolt, my aging brain produced a random, obscure and completely mundane memory – of a speaking engagement.

By way of background, I was terrified of speaking as a youngster. Even though my dad was both a minister and a professor, and therefore spoke publicly and constantly, I wanted nothing to do with it. However, as a young professional, I recognized the value of public speaking skills. So I reluctantly began to work on it.

This particular speaking engagement was during that “work on it” phase. At the time, I was a young CPA working for a firm in Pittsburgh. For whatever reason, I had been asked to speak to a local business association one day, and about forty of fifty people showed up.

I had always regarded it as a personal challenge to take technical topics and make them interesting, and this day was no different. I can’t recall what the exact topic was, but I interspersed the talk with goofy stories about my kids and the joys and tribulations of family life. One lady in the front row sat there the whole time, nodding and smiling. Boy, was I ever thankful she was there. Inspired, I told my goofy stories with great enthusiasm, and the talk was very well received.

As it happened, my segment of the program was followed by one of the partners in my firm, I’ll call him Karl. A consummate professional, his talk was smooth, exciting and engaging – he was exactly the kind of speaker I wanted to become. So it came as a surprise when he approached me after the program concluded.

“Hey, you did a terrific job today! You’re a really good speaker.”

Of course, I demurred. “No, you are a really good speaker – but I appreciate that very much!” After a few further pleasantries, we parted company and I left with a bit of a bounce in my step.

Over the next week, a couple colleagues stopped by to say that they heard I did a nice job on the speaking engagement. I still recall how pleased I felt to have worked really hard to put on a good presentation, and to have it recognized by Karl – who was such an accomplished speaker himself. His judgment meant a lot to me.

So why did this memory pop into my head after consciously making an effort to recall happy events? I have no idea.

But here’s the point. Although this happened many years ago, the more I thought about it, the more I recognized that Karl’s encouragement was a formative event in my life. I see it as a practical form of God’s grace – since that time, the frequency and importance of public speaking in my career and life has risen dramatically. Karl’s well-placed encouragement was the right thing, at the right time, to help me along the path.

Now here’s the best part. Regardless of where we are in our careers, our lives, our families, there is always room for a little encouragement. It’s powerful to give – and to get. As we go about our work, and interact with colleagues, friends, and family members, even complete strangers – let’s remember the power of encouragement. You never know where it might lead…