I was never great at remembering people’s names and, therefore, I really didn’t try. I wasn’t good at it and no one expected me to, least of all, me. But my friend Elizabeth Jenkins is phenomenal at it. She remembers the names of everyone she meets, and when we lived near each other, I used her like a crutch.
After I moved away from her, I realized I had no one to lean on, no one who would gently remind me of the name of someone I’d just met. I’m sure she’s not even aware of it, but I used her as an excuse not to try.
But one day I told myself that I was going to be good at remembering people’s names. I made a conscious decision to at least try. And I did. Sometimes I would hurry to find a piece of paper and jot down the name of someone I’d just met and that helped. Other times I would make myself associate that person with someone I knew who had the same name. Or I might meet someone named George and think, I’ll bet he’s curious. Whatever it took, I tried it.
Miraculously, I became good at remembering names. It didn’t happen overnight, but gradually I found that I had mastered some techniques that helped. I won’t say I’m as good as Elizabeth, but I’m definitely better than I was.
When my son came home from school one day and announced, “I stink at math,” I quickly stopped him in his tracks. “No, you do not stink at math,” I told him. “It just a subject you have to try a little harder at.” And then I went on to tell him my story about remembering names. As long as I kept telling myself, and anyone else who cared to listen, that I was bad at remembering names, then I had an out. I was living up to my own expectations. I didn’t want him to live up to his own.
He does have to try harder at math. He’s like me—English comes easy, numbers do not. But now he knows better than to throw an excuse out that he’ll only aspire to. It’s easy to admit our faults. The hard part is learning to overcome them.