July 2021


Saying these words often feels big and scary – uttering them implies so much.

Affection. Commitment. Acceptance. Vulnerability.

Occasionally, an “I love you” comes pouring out without thought — sometimes even during a business setting, when one might think it inappropriate. Oops.

I, personally, try to tell the people I’m close to that I love them as often as possible. When I say it, I genuinely mean it. I use the phrase to say:

  • I choose you
  • I hold you close to my heart
  • I feel a true connection with you
  • I value you
  • You are especially important to me

But it’s not the phrase “I Love You” that recently took my breath away.

There’s another phrase that’s far less common but equally meaningful. But before I tell you what it is, let me give you some context.

My dad is battling some new health issues. He’s 84 and has already been through a lot. Over the past 25 years, there have been a number of times that each member of our family thought we were saying goodbye to him for the last time. The I Love You’s, like the tears, flowed like water.

With the latest bout of swiftly dividing cancer cells and an unknown course of his disease, I flew up to Seattle last week to see him and spend the day with him and my mom. Ciara came with me.

The four of us spent the day touring the city where I grew up. We reminisced about the places he had worked and visited his most recent environmental projects, which reclaimed abandoned street-ends and turned them into community nature preserves. He loved the idea that the people in the neighborhood who would not have access to the wonders of the waterfront could marvel at seeing beavers thrive in an urban setting, and native plants could grow where trash had covered the public land. He raved about the volunteers who rallied around him to accelerate each area’s transformation and donated money so that he could plant more trees.

It was one of those days when we experienced life together with the underlying (yet unspoken) truth that this might be one of the last times we could revitalize these memories before I have to carry mine by myself. That truth, of course, is especially hard to accept.

As our day came to a close and I picked up my bag to leave, he hugged me and repeated how wonderful it was to spend time together. And of course, he told me that he loved me.

But then he said something else.

* * *

He said, “I’m so very proud of the person you are.”

I lost my shit. It wasn’t the “I Love You” that hit me deeply and profoundly. I knew he loved me, and I could believe it. What struck me was how wonderful it felt, as a fully grown, independent, 59-year-old woman, to have my father say he was proud of me.

I know. This probably says more about me than it does about him. But for whatever reason, it felt like I was being given approval and validation on a really meaningful level.

Should I need approval from my parents at this stage of my life?

It’s entirely reasonable to argue that my own self-approval should be what matters. But I’ll admit that I’m one of those forever-achieving people who somehow feels I’ve never really done (or been) enough. That’s why I always keep stretching, taking on new challenges, and pushing myself higher, better, faster.

For me, there’s something incredibly validating about having a person whose judgment I respect, whose approval feels meaningful, and whom I love with all my heart say, “I see you and I think you are good.”

This leads me to assert that “I’m Proud of You” is as meaningful as “I Love You.”

I’m proud of you is another way of saying, “You are enough.” It might even mean, “You are even more than enough.”

We’re never too old to be seen, and to be told that we are good, what we’re doing is good, or even what we tried (and failed to do) is worth being proud of. For me, it meant everything.

So taking the cue from my dad, I will try to practice noticing the people around me and passing on validation to them. When I feel proud of them in whatever way, I’m going to tell them that I see them and feel joy for them. It’s not the “I” that gets the emphasis, like in the phrase, “I love you.” It’s the “you” that is dialed up in “I’m proud of YOU.”

Somebody might receive it with the weight and meaning that my dad’s words had for me. How wonderful to make others feel so good.

* * *

How can you make a difference with just a few words?

Share it Small: Tell someone you are proud of them! This isn’t a nod to the all-too-frequent, “good job for using the potty” that we pour onto our children. This is an adult-to-adult boost that’s said with thoughtful delivery: I see you. I respect you. I feel joy for you.

Share it Big: Be public about expressing what you see and admire in others. You’ll never know who will be watching you and will pass that moment of validation into someone in their own lives.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a breakthrough, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.