If you ask me, “What’s the best advice you have ever received in business?” I’d say that it’s tough to pick the one best thing…but one of my favorites to help me feel inspired and build my confidence is to keep an “Atta Girl” file.
Perhaps you’ll recognize it if I call it an “Atta Boy” file—as in the phrase “Atta boy…great job!”
Early in my career, one of my mentors told me to save the all-too-rare notes and examples of positive feedback that I receive in what he called an “atta girl” file. He said that it would give me strength during those tough moments when I felt like an absolute loser and questioned my ability, my relationships, my career path, my choices or all of the above–and that it would be helpful in both my personal and professional life. Now more than 40 years later, after just cleaning out my file cabinet, it really is one of the best things I ever did. After all, we all need some positive reinforcement at times.
One of my first friends in college was Meghan, my dorm mate and field hockey teammate. She was funny and pretty and from a very well-to-do family. She had gone to a fancy all-girls private school and was nothing like anyone I had known growing up. When she would look at herself in the mirror before leaving her dorm room for practice or class, she would give herself a lovely little pep talk…
“You’re so cute. Look at you. You’re cute and funny and just so awesome!”
Huh? What did she just say and do? Was she really so conceited? Actually, not at all.
After her first little pep talk, she turned and told me that since no one else would tell her all of those great things, she did it for herself.
Sad but true—we all get far more negative feedback in life than positive. And, as Julia Roberts said in the movie Pretty Woman when Richard Gere told her she was wonderful—“The bad stuff is easier to believe.”
So what did I find in my magical “Atta Girl” file? A beautiful array of thank-you notes and accolades, both personal and professional. Honestly, I’m embarrassed to say that until I was cleaning out my drawer and came across the file, I’d forgotten about many of those moments and projects. But while reading them, it was humbling to remember the many people who I had touched and projects I had completed…
- The presentation for our publishing service bureau teaching the staff about the marketing side of our business…with a lovely note of gratitude from the company’s president. Bonus: I was very young and new to my operations role when asked to do this presentation—and that made the success even more meaningful.
- The annual state-of-the-business and new year goals presentations that I created when I was president of Bottom Line Inc. Each one included a summary of the team’s accomplishments over the prior year. Some of those lists of accomplishments were really long…and very transformative.
- Assorted notes from staff members thanking me for the personalized notes of acknowledgment that I would send to each of them on their work anniversaries.
- Thank you notes from parents, coaches and players from my daughter’s high school field hockey team for my service as co-president of the parent’s association.
- The humorous wedding announcement written for me and my husband by the creative director at the ad agency I worked for when we got engaged. And a similarly humorous spoof anniversary note from the chairman of my first advertising agency. These were just two of many examples of great connections I have made throughout my life.
- Notes from assorted speeches and interviews I had given through the years.
- Many (many, many) notes from my father—who was also my boss— expressing his congratulations for something I had accomplished. Most of those started with the word “HOORAY!!!!” written all in caps and underlined several times.
- A surprisingly large number of apology notes from my children asking for forgiveness for their childhood tantrums and outbursts. Over time, those many challenging parenting moments have dulled in my memory, and my headstrong children have turned into strong, independent and amazing young women. It was very touching to see my husband’s and my parenting strategies in action, laying the groundwork for the values by which our daughters live today.
I didn’t look at this folder often…in fact, rarely. But I diligently added items to it through the years creating a subconscious foundation for my confidence and the knowledge that I am making a difference in the world.
What should you put in your own Atta Girl/Boy file? Anything that is a memento of the good that you do and the wonderfulness that you are. Groups you volunteered with…thank you notes from those you have touched…photos from events you planned…projects and work that you are proud of…performance reviews. This is about you creating your own file of praise and acknowledgement in a world that spends more time tearing down than it does building up.
As my friend Meghan taught me, we each need to be our own best cheerleaders. HOORAY for you!!!