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Be A Cheerleader Not A Naysayer

In a small town in New Jersey, there were 26 students sitting in a dark classroom of a school. Each student came from a troubled background: some were drug addicts, some went to prison, there was even a girl who had three abortions in one year. Their parents didn't know what to do with them, and the school had pretty much given up on them.

At this time, a new teacher named Ms. Fila was appointed as this class's homeroom teacher. During the start of the new school year, Ms. Fila did not scold and lecture the students like the previous teachers did. Instead, she asked everyone a question.

She said:

"Let me tell you about three people. Person A is a devout believer in witchcraft, has two mistresses, has a long history of smoking, and is addicted to drinking alcohol. Person B was kicked out of the office twice, wakes up at noon every day, drinks two liters of brandy every night, and has been convicted of using opium. Person C used to be his country's war hero, is a vegetarian, is passionate about art, occasionally drinks some alcohol, and never broke the law when young. If one of these people became extraordinary and admired by all, who do you think it would be? Can you guess what kind of future each person had?"

All the students picked Person C to be the person who would become extraordinary. As for the future of these three people, they guessed that Person A and Person B would probably have a bleak future; maybe they became criminals, or perhaps just a burden to society, while Person C probably became a great success.

Mr. Fila then said, "Your guesses are the same as what most people would guess, but in actuality, you are all wrong. You are probably familiar with these three people; they are famous people from World War II. Person A was Franklin Roosevelt. Although his body was partially paralyzed, his will remained strong. He served as America's president for four terms. Person B is Winston Churchill, who is probably the most famous Prime Minister in British history. Person C is also someone you should all know. His name is Adolf Hitler, the fascist leader who killed millions of innocent people."

All the students stared in shock at Ms. Fila, afraid that maybe they heard her wrong.

Ms. Fila said, "Your life has barely begun. Your past mistakes and shame can only represent your past. But what truly represents you as a person is what you do now and in the future. No one is perfect. Even great heroes have faults and make mistakes. If you can walk out of your past shadows and start working hard today, you can all become extraordinary people in the future."

Thanks to Ms. Fila, the lives of these 26 students were changed. They all went on to become great people. Some became psychologists, some became judges, some became pilots. Of special mention is Robert Harrison. He was the biggest troublemaker in the class, yet he later became Wall Street's youngest Fund Manager.

Later, a student of Ms. Fila said, "We all thought we were beyond saving because that's how everyone viewed us. Ms. Fila was the first person to give us a wake-up call: the past isn't what's important, what's important is what we do now and in the future."

(Story Source: Harvard Family Instruction, Chapter 2)


There's an old saying that goes

"You gotta believe to achieve!"

Indeed, our beliefs paint our thoughts, our thoughts determine our actions, and our actions create our life. Ms. Fila served as a cheerleader for these students, helping them believe in themselves, and that was critical for them to turn a bleak future into a bright one.

Something I've learned over the years is that everyone needs a cheerleader , that is someone who believes in us and encourages us when we doubt ourselves or face major setbacks in life. This kind of person isn't easy to find in a world where naysayers are common, that is people who usually doubt or criticize others. If we are fortunate to have a cheerleader in our life, then we ought to cherish them. But we cannot control others, we can only control ourselves, so it's best if we can be our own cheerleader. And since the world lacks cheerleaders, we should try to be cheerleaders rather than naysayers for others.

Encouraging Ourselves

There are many ways to encourage ourselves, but two major ones are saying self-affirmations and consuming positive content, such as motivational books, quotes, and movies.

Self-affirmations aren't just empty words. They should be reasonable, inspirational, and aspirational. They should help us feel calm and motivated. In Think Like A Monk, author Jay Shetty gives examples of self-affirmations we can repeat to ourselves over and over again as a form of meditation:

  • “At your own pace, in your own time.”

  • “This too shall pass.”

  • “Live everything”

  • “This moment is yours.”

  • "I am happy about who I am becoming. I am open to all opportunities and possibilities. I am worthy of real love. I am ready to serve with all I have."

Ultimately, the way we think is a habit, and habits can be re-trained through repetition and persistence. It's kind of like building muscle at the gym. At first, our "self-affirmation muscle" is weak, but if we practice it every day, after some time, it will get stronger, and the habit will develop.

In terms of consuming positive content, there is so much negative content out there because negative content attracts attention, and attention brings money to the media companies. Hence, we really need make a conscious effort to filter our entertainment, social media, and news. I unfollowed a lot of people on social media and chose positive influences to follow.

I also like to read about ancient philosophies like Stoicism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism, because they offer useful wisdom that really solve my worries. For example, I used to worry a lot about future results, but then I started using a motto of Stoicism: "Do your best in all that you can control. Let go of everything else. Worrying about things outside your control is not only pointless, it's harmful."

If I start doubting my abilities, I remind myself of this quote by contemporary Stoic Ryan Holiday:

"Don't forget, though, that you come from a long, unbroken line of ancestors who survived unimaginable adversity, difficulty, and struggle. It's their genes and their blood that run through your body right now… as their viable offspring, you're capable of what they are capable of. You're meant for this."

When I struggle in my job as a teacher, I like to watch The Ron Clark Story because he has so much faith in his students and passion for his job; it rubs off on me.

When I face a major setback or failure, I like to watch a short video by Jay Shetty called Build A Life Not A Resume.

The key message is that failure is extremely normal, and that all great successful people had lots of failure in the past, and the important thing is that we learn and rise from failures. Moreover, life might have some bigger plans in store for us, so we need to keep improving ourselves.

When we are able to be our own cheerleader, we will have a much happier life, and we can be cheerleaders for others too.

Encouraging Others

I work as a teacher, and I've learned that one of the most important jobs of a teacher is to encourage and believe in our students. Isn't this also true for family, friends, and teammates?

When one of my students barely passed a quiz recently, I first wrote this feedback, "It seems like you need to review the content more. You also skipped a few questions by accident. Be more careful in the future."

But I reflected that this isn't very encouraging, so I rewrote it: "You've only learned for such a short time, and you still passed. This is quite impressive. I believe you can do better though. How about you study again and do another quiz next week?"

A lot of teachers focus on their students' problems, which hurts the students' self-confidence and makes the teacher feel negative. Over time, the teacher might even start doubting their own teaching abilities. I've noticed that when I focus on encouraging my students, I always look for their good points and improvement, thus they feel more motivated and work harder, which then affirms and encourages me as a teacher. Win-win!

This doesn't just apply to teacher-student relationships, this applies to all relationships, whether family, friends, or work. Many years ago, my relationship with my mother involved a lot of mutual criticizing. Later, I did an experiment where I forced myself to praise one thing about her every day, which forced me to look for her good points. After a few weeks, she started praising me too, and slowly we came to see and appreciate each other more and criticize less.

At work, another teacher asked me to observe his class, and I gave a lot of points for him to improve on. This hurt his confidence and made him defensive.

Afterwards, I realized I should have been more considerate. There's a Chinese saying that goes,

"When criticizing others' faults, don't be overly strict; consider how much they can accept. When teaching others to be better, don't be overly demanding; start with what they can do."

(Original Text: 攻人之恶毋太严,要思其堪受;教人以善毋过高,当使其可从。)

It would have been better if I gave him three praises and just one thing to focus on improving. Then he would have felt good about himself and motivated to improve.

Later, when he was talking to me about some problems he had with his class, he reflected that a big part of the problem is himself. Fortunately, I remembered to be a cheerleader that time, and I told him, "You've improved a lot in a short time. Your students gave great feedback about your class recently. You can do it."

He was very appreciative of the encouragement, and our past friction seemed to dissolve. This experience reinforced the importance of being a cheerleader for others.


We are all going to face setbacks and criticisms in life. Having someone else who can be our cheerleader is a great fortune, but that might be very hard to come by. Fortunately, we can be our own cheerleader, and in doing so, we will have a much happier life. When we are full of positive energy, it's much easier and natural for us to be cheerleaders for others, and that can really impact other's lives for the better, just like what Ms. Fila did for her students.


Weekly Wisdom #244

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