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‘You’re lousy,’ he signed to me curled up in his hospital bed

I knew what he was saying. Signing was my only link into his world and his into mine. I desperately wanted to share with him exercises that would change his life. That would get him out of these four walls I had seen draw the life out of him. 

He turned away from me as I stood feeling helpless. What to do? 

Looking at me, this knowledgeable man caught up in a silent world signed and wrote, “Go to Gallaudet University and learn how to sign. Then you can help me.” 

He turned away. His body language spoke loud and clear. Our conversation was over. 

His desperation and frustration were palatable. I just had a taste of the isolation of being deaf. Slowly walking away, I pondered, what would I find at Gallaudet University? How will that help those who can’t hear?

I took the information he gave me and acted.

I listened. I acted. I sign. 

I believed I could. 


Today I want to introduce a woman who has the biggest heart for deaf and hard-of-hearing kids. Sharon James has been a teacher and a consultant for the deaf and hard of hearing in British Columbia for over 30 years. She’s someone who allowed a man curled up in a hospital bed in the Burn Unit at the Foothills Hospital, Calgary, to change the trajectory of her life. 

As Sharon discussed with me how she strengthens her own self-efficacy, I pulled out for you three worthy wisdoms to apply:

Really Small Steps

“My advice, start at the beginning and start really small. Just start with one thing.” – Sharon James

Take the passion you have and go. Go means ‘What is the small step I can do to move forward towards my goal.’  

Then act on it.  

It’s that simple. 

It’s that powerful. 

This message is like knowing there’s a diamond in the ground one metre down. All you have to do is shovel one shovel of dirt at a time, and you will reach your diamond, whatever that diamond symbolizes.  

You may come across rocks you’ll need to dig around, you may break your shovel and have to find another one, your hole may fill up with water. 

Sharon and every other high performer I interviewed said they encountered obstacles or problems as they too step towards their goals. They knew problems would come their way, but they learned these problems could turn into opportunities.

The rocks they lifted out made them stronger, the new shovel design made their work effortless, the drained water softened the soil. And they keep taking one step at a time.

In the book Just Start, three professional business leaders relay a central message from research and years of experience that is the same as Sharon’s: just start! 

The pre-step is having a passion, a desire to fill a need, an idea. For Sharon, it was learning sign language to enter the silent world of communication with the deaf. To connect and advocate for them. To create understanding, communication and break down the barriers surrounding a marginalized community.  

Take the next step quickly, but do not leave your head behind. Make the wisest decision possible. Sharon had never heard of Gallaudet University. So, her next small step was to research what the school was about and where the heck it was.

In acting out this really small step, her world and knowledge immediately expanded. Gallaudet is the only university in the world for the deaf.

Okay, what’s the next step?

As Paul B. Browns explains in his article for Forbes, “Act. Learn. Build. Repeat.”

What is the next really small step you can do towards your goal?  Good. Now be in action, learn, build, repeat.


Be open to hearing 

“You have to have a support system. At least one person you can turn to, who will be a sounding board for feedback, who will be authentic and honest and tell you the things you might not want to hear.”

You have to be open to hearing criticism so you can get better.” – Sharon James

Feedback, how do you receive it?

Are you insecure, taking the critique as a personal attack on your character? When you react to criticism this way, you’ve effectively built a wall between who you are and who you hope others see you.

In contrast, one can react to feedback by understanding that the criticism is not a personal attack on who they are but instead a constructive reflection on something they have done. 

In her TEDx talk, Sheila Heen, author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, explains we may be well trained in giving feedback, yet how good are we at receiving feedback. While it can be challenging to accept or uncomfortable to hear, feedback allows us to continue our journeys toward growth and learning.

Sharon lacked signing skills. However, by listening to the person she was trying to communicate with, she could reflect on their feedback and take small steps forward. By slowly building on these initial steps, she allowed her professional development to expand

Like Sharon, take your opportunity to digest the feedback you receive, filter it, and apply it to your situation. The result? A better version of yourself, your project, and the opportunity to avoid pitfalls. 


Finally, get outside and breathe

When I’m constantly in meetings advocating, advocating, advocating, my outside life swings out of balance. I don’t have time to exercise, and I can become downtrodden. So if it begins to feel all-consuming, I get outside and find that balance. When you get outside and breathe, you feel healthy. Then you can see the whole picture clearly again.   – Sharon James 

Get outside. Change up your environment and fill your lungs with fresh air. I know exercise or getting out into nature is common among high performers. Whether it be getting up early to work out, walking for an hour with no electronic device, or riding a bike to work, getting outside of your four walls helps you regroup and refocus

When work stress is high, when it’s meetings, meetings, meetings – get outside. When the pressure rises, anxiety grows, and our brain shifts to more negative thoughts – get outside.  According to research from Harvard Medical School, you can circumvent those thought loops by getting outside. Jules Pretty and Jo Barton researched 1,252 people of different ages and genders and the positive short and long-term health outcomes of exercising outdoors in nature. Their research found it can take just 5 minutes outside to make a difference.  

Try heading outside the next time you’re overwhelmed. Your brain, body, and outlook will thank you for it.


After reading Sharon’s three worthy wisdoms, which of these practical ways to strengthen your self-efficacy resonates with you the most?

Who is your ‘person in the hospital bed’ challenging you to improve to be of better service?


Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash