• Brie McSherry

Power of a Word

It would seems that we commonly underestimate the power of a single word, we think that a certain situation, dictates, even demands the use of a specific word to describe to what happened…It is as if only one word describes what really happened or accurately represents the true situation…we are not readily cognizant that we choose the words we speak and that our word choice fulfills a distinct purpose.


Each day we are have a multitude of options to articulate how life unfolds, those choices are infinite and leave us with incredible power. We have the power to shape our lives with our words…ask two people who went through the same event and you will get two different stories…part of this will relate to perspective and the other will relate to semantics?

It was in the late 90s when I first came to truly understand the power of a single word. The word in question on this day was “pressure”.


I sat in a hotel conference room containing approximately 200 people. We watched an exercise unfold where a participant explained a family situation in front of the group to the facilitator, details aren’t important, but his memories are. In his memories he felt “pressured” by his parents to attend college. He would explain that his parents “pressured” him to attend Stanford, they would happily pay for him to attend their college of choice BUT would not fund him in any other endeavors…such as his preferred pursuit to become a professional baseball player. The seminar leader, having a sense of his background and history realized that this word “pressure” was very charged for him, it represented a significant marker as to how he saw his parents and how he felt about his life as a young adult. The seminar leader intentionally challenged the participant to truly understand what the word “pressure” represented as it described this situation. Was this word “chosen” versus “dictated”, was this the only appropriate word for the situation…Did this word “SERVE” him as it related to this situation?


As I watched the conversation unfold the seminar leader described what pressure represented to him. A large ball that was continually inflated until the sides of the ball are stretched or the feeling one gets when diving deep into the ocean until your eardrums feel like they will pop! Interestingly, the participant continued to use the word “pressure” followed by “come on…you know what I mean”. Steadfast in his conviction, seminar leader insisted to each of these retorts “no I don't know what you mean” “pressure” to me is like “X” what you're describing to me looks like “Y”.


After 15 minutes of going back and forth between the two, 199 people in the room understood exactly what the seminar leader was getting at. The person most closely involved in the situation, the person with the most to gain could not see it. The “Ah Ha Moment” came at minute 16, when the participant realized that he had chosen the word “pressure” to describe the situation with his family. He so easily could have chosen to say, encouraged or insisted, versus “pressured”. In that single moment of realization his world was forever changed by simply choosing a different word to describe the situation. Changing that word changed his relationship with his mother and father immediately. He immediately understood that he had choices in life where he previously thought there were none. Ironically, he still used the word “pressured” to describe the situation BUT just knowing it was his choice made all the difference to forge a new relationship with his parents, one with a greater amount of freedom!!


I remember feeling like a fraud when I hadn't run a triathlon in a number of years and I told someone that I was a triathlete – was I? Don’t you have to “do” Triathlons to be a Triathlete? What is the statute of limitations on claiming you are something by virtue of doing it – 1 year? 5 years? After some thought I realized that with five triathlons under my belt and the fact that I was running, biking and swimming, I earned the right to call myself a triathlete! By declaration I was and am a Triathlete…that is a word I chose to describe myself, it is not predicated on performance. It empowers me, it calls me to be a better version of me each day…


What words are you using to describe situations or yourself? Are they empowering? Do you recognize that they are of your choosing?

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