He laughed at me
In my junior year in high school, my AP English teacher assigned the class a creative writing assignment where we were encouraged to experiment with different formats.
Of course, I seized the opportunity to deviate from our standard essays into the creative realm. And as someone who loved the challenge of expressing herself in a new way, I selected the format with which I had the least experience: poetry.*
Sure, I had written rhyming schemes in my earlier years, but never had I ever submitted prose for consideration, so I figured this was my chance.
When the day came to share our work, my teacher selected a few pieces to read to the class. Lo and behold, I learned that my poem was one of them. (Gulp.)
What could have been a moment of pride quickly went south.
When my teacher started to recite my poem aloud, he did the unthinkable: he laughed.
And not just a quick, oh-that’s-so-clever chuckle; he busted up so hard and for so long that my entire class started laughing along with him and AT ME.
My face turned beet red, and my eyes welled with tears. I remember feeling the eyes of my classmates boring into me as I listened to their cruel and sustained laughter. After that, I did everything I could to shrink into nothingness, willing myself to disappear and cursing my decision to choose a writing format that called for emotive and evocative words.
Let me add that my poem was not funny; it was me being vulnerable and exposing some deep-felt angst about my teenage life.
(I’ve already shared that I was called “too sensitive” as a kid, and the awkward teenage years did nothing to improve this label.)
Worse, my teacher persisted, even though he saw how visibly upset I was.
And the cherry on this toxic sundae? His parting words, which were not an apology for his obviously inappropriate behavior, but instead, commentary on my writing, something along the lines of “ridiculous” or “too emotional.”
Needless to say, that humiliating experience left a deep scar. I was convinced that I had zero writing talent.
Years later, a college professor pulled me aside after her creative writing class to compliment my outstanding and highly expressive writing. (Go figure.)
And when she pleaded with me to switch my major from Film to Creative Writing, I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, my high school AP English teacher’s opinion wasn’t the end-all, be-all.
It was also when I finally understood the power of words.
Here’s the thing: words matter.
They can inspire or harm. They can propel us forward or hold us back.
They have the power to support, uplift, and unify, or destroy, denigrate, or divide.
When you use your words with intention, you signal to others and help them understand who you are and what matters most— for better or worse — especially in your career.
In my latest Forbes article, I share why your professional legacy isn’t just about big dreams and aspirational goals; the words you choose to use and their lasting impact also create it.
Never underestimate the immense power — and staying power— of your words, my friends; choose wisely.
Like it or not, become part of your legacy. Fortunately, you get to decide if yours will be more like my AP English teacher or my creative writing professor in college.
P.S. Now that we’re inbox-exclusive, you might want to follow my musings across the interwebs on Forbes, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Clubhouse.
P.P.S. Speaking of following my social shenanigans, did you know I’ve just initiated a second round of my popular video series, #AskAmy, where you can ask me anything? (Check out my introductory video hereon LinkedIn.) So feel free to pose your question, and I’ll do my best to answer them in future videos, some of which I may share here.
P.P.P.S. When I’m not writing this newsletter or pondering the power of words, I’m a social media ghostwriter. (Yep, that’s a thing.) I help founders, entrepreneurs, and CXOs craft their stories to communicate and connect better by magnifying their reach and impact. (Think personal branding and thought leadership.) Learn more here.
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*Fun fact: I bet you didn’t know that I’m a paid lyricist. I wrote eight songs around a central theme for a music producer I met who believed in my creative abilities. And guess what? Writing songs is a different type of poetry and one of the ultimate ways to express yourself and move people through emotion. My inner high schooler feels so seen.