Nine Words

Did you know just nine words could change your life?

Up until two years ago, I didn’t.

I mean sure, I’ve been impacted by a lot of nine word sentences over the course of my 33 years.

Do you want to go to church with me?

You should really check out that new group NSYNC.

Do you want to visit King College this week?

I think you should apply for this summer internship.

We should do brackets for the Bachelor this year.

Have you tried the steak tacos at El Felix?

I’m not ashamed to tell you that I considered all of these nine word sentences important at some point along the way. But it wasn’t until two years ago in one of my many local Starbucks that I heard the nine words that changed so many things about my life.

I was there meeting with my friend Ben, an insanely talented and creative writer who is also on my short list of people who make me laugh every time I talk to them. Ben also holds the title in my book of “Guy With The Most Jobs.” Seriously, this guy is always taking on new opportunities—always expanding his reach—and because of that, is willing to share the work wealth from time to time.

That’s where I come in.

I’ve loved writing since childhood and have a number of notebooks full of embarrassing stories written in my youth hidden at my parents’ house to prove it. I majored in English in college and have worked on and off as a writer since graduating. Some times that work was full-time; sometimes it was on the side of grad school and another full-time job. Sometimes it was nothing at all.

On this day at Starbucks, I was a year out of graduate school and working full-time in a non-writing job that I really enjoyed around people I loved. To supplement my income and make an effort to pay down some student debt (an effort I’ll be making for awhile... thanks private school), I was doing some side writing projects for Ben on the regular. I loved the work and said yes to every opportunity he graciously passed my way. This day, as we were wrapping up a meeting for a project, he kindly complimented my work, and then said simply:

“You should really be doing this for a living.”

Nine words. That was it.

He probably got in his car and thought nothing else of it (though I’ve since written him many a thank you note for those nine words). But something inside of me stirred instantly in response to that simple sentence. Maybe I should be doing this for a living.

Now as an anxiety prone, semi-Type A planner who thrives on routine and is nervous at the thought of sharing my writing with others (you can only imagine how I feel about this blog), the thought of a career as a self-employed writer with no guaranteed income had terrified me in the past. I now know that’s because the timing wasn’t yet right for me to make the big career leap. Hindsight, ya’ll… it’s real.

But that day in Starbucks the timing was just about to be right, and this was the beginning of that process. Those nine words kicked it off. I took them home with me and tossed them around quietly for another month. I prayed, I planned, I dreamed. And soon I started to think that I actually could be a writer… like full-time, for a living, this is my job writer.

The rest of that story is to come (spoiler alert: I am a writer now, you guys). Like most major life events, it involves a lot of incredible people’s support, a lot of tears, a lot of mistakes, a lot of victories, and a lot of stories. But the point of this particular piece of writing is that it all started because someone was willing to speak just nine words of encouragement to me.

I’m constantly struck by the power of words. Given my choice of career paths, that probably doesn’t come as a surprise. But in the course of these last two years as I’ve stepped out in faith and worked hard to build a career I’m still not always sure of, the continued and unexpected words of life, support, and praise spoken over me have held more power than any words I’ve written or read. They have helped shape the direction of this path and given me the motivation to stay on it when I’ve thought about throwing in the towel. They’ve changed my life.

And that’s made me wonder: What words of life do I have waiting for someone else? What words of encouragement are uniquely mine to offer to another person? Is there some incredible quality I see in someone else? Is there something I admire or respect about them? I need to put it to words.

I think we could all do well with a few more words meant to build and uplift these days, huh?

Nine words of encouragement in a Starbucks two years ago changed not only the direction of my career, but kicked off a season of life that, no matter how long it lasts, I will always be grateful to have lived. I’ve learned more about myself as a person, a writer, a woman, a Christian in these last two years than I ever have before. 

Could it have happened without those nine words? Of course! But it wouldn’t have been the same.

So in the spirit of paying it forward, I want to leave you with these nine words that I hope encourage you in some way:

Never underestimate the power of speaking life over others.

And also… 

You should really check out that new group NSYNC.

I stand by the life changing power of that sentence still today.

Sara Shelton