The Four Most Powerful Words in the English Language

I believe in you

I believe in you.

These are the four most powerful words in the English language. When we share these words with someone, everything in the universe becomes possible.

Yesterday I met with a couple of GiveForward’s early angel investors. These were the dudes who bet on us in our first funding round in 2010 before crowdfunding was even a thing. They believed in us before anyone else did.

I told one of them half jokingly that while I appreciated all the advice he’d given us over the years, in all honesty most of his tactical tips on management and leadership went in one ear and out the other.

His eyebrows raised up as if to say, “well jeez, thanks…you dick.”

But then I said

You know, that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter what you said. It’s how you made us [my co-founder and I] feel. That’s the important part. Whenever we left a meeting with you we felt like a million bucks — like we could go out and tackle the world because you believed in us and you always let us know that.”

The ‘value add’ he created as an investor wasn’t his wisdom, it was his character.

As a founder, I’ve tried to model my behavior after his. For many years when someone would ask what I did at work my response was simply,

“I’m the head cheerleader. My goal is just to make people believe in themselves.”

Everyone Needs a Head Cheerleader in Their Life

When we build people up rather than break people down we achieve so much more in our classrooms, in our homes and in our companies. Study after study backs this up.

In a study conducted at Harvard, Asian women were given math tests. Before the first test they took, they were told to think about the fact that they were women (who are stereotypically worse at math then men). They later took a second test of equal difficulty, but this time they were told ahead of time to think about the fact that they were Asian (who are stereotypically good at math). The second time around they scored far better simply because they were primed to believe in their own abilities.

Similar results have been seen in African-American students who were given tests the day before President Obama got elected in 2008 and the day after Obama got elected. The day after his election test scores rose dramatically because having a role model in the white house temporarily freed the kids from self-doubt and internalizing negative racial stereotypes. (H/T Shawn Achor)

But it’s not just academic studies. The power of believing in people is real. I see it day in and day out.

Yesterday I got an email from a GiveForward user — a teacher at an inner city school where almost none of the students’ parents went to college. A few months ago she raised $3000 to take her students on college campus tours. As the money was rolling in she wrote that her students couldn’t believe that strangers on the Internet were donating to their trip. For many of them it was the first time a stranger had ever said “I believe in you.” Today twelve acceptance letters have come in and eleven of them have come from colleges where the students had toured.

They visited the campuses. They met with alumni from their high school who had gone through the same program. And now they are beginning to believe in themselves and their abilities.

The teacher asked if there was anything they could do to return the favor. I said,

“Make sure that the students know it’s their obligation to mentor the next class and then the class after that.”

If Anyone Has Ever Believed in You, You Have an Obligation to Believe in Others

I grew up in a very privileged environment. Throughout elementary school, high school, college, law school, and then in the startup world, both my inner circle and society at large told me I could do whatever I wanted. For most of my life I never gave any thought to the fact that this isn’t true for everyone.

I feel strongly that we need to make it true for everyone. If you have ever benefited because someone believed in you, then you have an obligation to believe in someone else.

Last night I got a text from a buddy who was one of the first in his family to go to college. When I met him a few years ago, he was trying to get his feet under him in the startup world. Today he’s absolutely killing it and was just recruited to join a venture capital firm. He texted me:

He said he would. I just hope he looks good in a cheerleading skirt.

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