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When someone believes in you

Have you ever had a mentor? You know, that near-mythical creature: wise, experienced, generous, encouraging, inspiring. She takes you under her wing. Or his. She points you in the right direction. She, you know, makes a few calls.

I haven’t.

What I’ve had, at various points in my life, are people who believed in me. They didn’t mentor me. Rather, they expressed, in small — and unexpected — ways, that they thought I was capable of great things. What an extraordinary difference this can make. What an extraordinary difference this has made.

Of course you have to believe in yourself, but when you’re 8 going on 9, you may need help. That’s when Mrs. Fox, my teacher, gave me a list of books she thought I’d like to read. A special list. Just for me. Because she saw my early passion for reading. Because she believed I could become the voracious reader I would become.

Some years later, it was Mr. Hawkey, ramrod straight, starched collar (equally starched personality) Mr. Hawkey, Mr. Discipline, Mr. Hard-ass – my 11th grade English teacher – who said to me, as I exited his classroom on the last day, “Don’t waste your talent.” Wow. Mr. Hawkey thought I had talent.

Otis Pease, the best and most brilliant professor I’ve ever had or could hope to have, treated me with quiet respect. To be respected by a man like that was almost overwhelming. It made me want to be worthy. It inspired me.

A few years later, I had a brief encounter with Robin Morgan, a name that might not be familiar to you. Robin Morgan was a pillar of the second-wave feminist movement, the co-founder of Ms., an author, a poet, a national voice. A big deal. She was delivering a speech on campus, and I got to introduce her.

The speech was amazing. She was amazing. I had never been that close to someone who burned so brightly, who radiated such energy, whose energy filled a space so completely.

I knew a lot about her. I had spent hours researching her to write the introduction. She knew nothing about me. But after the speech, when I ran over, beating the crowd, to grasp her hand, she looked at me, really looked at me, studied me, and said: “Lauren, you’re up next.”

And that’s what I needed.

That’s what we all need: People who see our potential. People who believe in us.

4 comments

1 Tom { 01.11.17 at 8:35 pm }

I have had the same experience, but not of whether they referred me or not, but rather what they taught me with kindness and patient guidance. My college theater professor Frank Brink, my creative writing professor Tom Sexton. But those are the latter influences. The earliest were my fourth-grade teacher Miss Blair—who read aloud to us every day the adventures of Doctor Doolittle. And, Mrs. Mears, my homeroom and English teacher in high school without whom I would never pursued my creative writing MFA. Thanks for reminding me Lauren.

2 Lauren { 01.12.17 at 12:59 am }

Thanks, Tom. It’s easy to forget these moments, especially if they are little blips, a single remark, e.g. I only started thinking about this when someone we both know told me she didn’t think I was capable of doing something. I was speechless. It started me thinking about all those people who HAD believed in me and the power of that.

3 kim { 01.11.17 at 9:56 pm }

I have one of these. And it is you. 🙂

4 Lauren { 01.12.17 at 12:59 am }

Damn straight. As we used to say in NY. (Meaning hell ya.) Always and forever.

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