Criticism Versus Inspiration


Criticism Versus Inspiration

Remembering a discussion in a high school religion class (I went to parochial school first through twelfth grade) about the future. Our teacher wasn’t so much asking about ‘what we wanted to be when we grew up’ but how we wanted to get wherever we wanted to go and what we thought was necessary to get there. Some were emphatic about what they wanted to do. Some had zero idea. As the answers grew closer to me, I was getting nervous. I was one of the ‘no idea’ kids. The girl in the row in front of me was going to be a nurse. “I don’t want to be. I am going to be.” She certainly didn’t lack conviction. My turn. I thought long and hard about it, then said,

“I’m going to do something where my name isn’t on the door. My name will be on the building.”

There were a few chuckles, a few nods. The teacher looked me dead in the eyes and told me,

“That isn’t what I asked. I didn’t ask where you were going to do ‘it’ but what and how you are going to get there.”

“I’m going to help people. And I’m going to get there in my Ferrari.”

Boy, was I a dreamer. Cleaning the basement last week, I found a box with my old high school yearbooks and saw a picture of that teacher. I hadn’t thought about him or that class in over 30 years. But that is the first memory that came back. After people quit laughing at my answer, he quieted the class, pointed at the girl in front of me and said,

“She will drive a Ferrari before you will Steve. She is certain of what she wants to be. You don’t know what you want to do and have a big dream but no plan.”

I was 17. How many of us ask young people what they want to do or what they want to be when they grow up? I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to work for myself. That teacher did something wonderful for both that young lady and me without even knowing it. There was some serious criticism of me and my answer. There was some wonderful inspiration for our young nurse in waiting. Fast forward to today and she absolutely became a nurse. I reached out to her via social media and said she wouldn’t change a thing about her career choice. Talk about inspiring!

Back to me. His criticism of me was stinging and sharp. I immediately refused to accept his snarky critique. I wasn’t going to let him be right about me. After stewing about his words for a long time, I decided I was going to prove him wrong. Did it work? Well, I work for myself and have helped a lot of people. I don’t drive a Ferrari, but I sure am happy in my own skin.

When we talk to people in our everyday lives, are we criticizing or inspiring? Are we taking a withdrawal from their emotional bank account by criticizing or making deposits by inspiring? We must know our audience. My son has a clear idea of what he wants to do. I simply smile, encourage, and remind him of the hard work needed to become his dream. And then I say these words to him; You can do it.

Maybe my Religion teacher knew his audience when he criticized me. I’m not sure he did. He wasn’t my favorite teacher and I’m sure I wasn’t his favorite student. He was trying to teach me a lesson to be sure, it just wasn’t the lesson he intended. Or was it? I have talked about my late grandma before and another of her lessons to me was,
“You can catch more flies with sugar than you can with vinegar. But both go in the spaghetti sauce.” I miss that woman. Both can achieve the goal, but I believe the world can use a little more inspiration (sugar) and a little less criticism (vinegar).

When in doubt, I choose inspiration, not criticism. I’m not perfect and I have been known to criticize on occasion and I’m working on that. To truly advocate for more joy, we must inspire. We must encourage and do way less tearing down and much more lifting up. We must admit when we fall short of the goal and work towards self-improvement. I remind myself of the same lesson I offer my amazing son. You can do it. Yes, I can. So can you!

Steve Gwisdalla is a Dexter resident. He is the Chief Cheerleader, Inspiration Director, and Owner of BetterPlace Consulting, a success coaching and leadership consulting company. Reach out at

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