When I was six-years-old, I started my first gymnastics class.
For the next four years of my life, for a few hours every week, I whipped and flipped my body in every which way over a floor, trampoline, balance beam, vault, and uneven bars. I remember the excitement when I landed a cartwheel on the balance beam for the first time and how I looked at the older girls doing tumbling passes across the floor, dreaming of the day I could contort my body in such a way and still somehow land on two feet.
If you're at all familiar with gymnastics, you know that it's not only a competitive sport but also one that's incredibly time-consuming and expensive. Unlike something like soccer or swimming, where an athlete's career can span decades of their life, most elite female gymnasts will only compete through college, if that.
After four years of gymnastics, I had to stop, due to the increasing expense and time commitment, but I still dreamed of being able to do back handsprings and aerials and all other manner of tumbling passes.
Likely due to spending most of my pre-college academic career homeschooled, it wasn't until I reached college that I learned about another avenue for someone to learn all the tumbling and crazy tricks I dreamed about — competitive cheerleading.
Cheerleading for most of us probably brings up images of super peppy girls in high ponytails and short skirts or flashbacks from Bring It On. People laugh at the idea and often scoff when they learn it's part of someone's past or present.
But lately, it's become my personal goal to be a cheerleader. No, I will probably never be whipping my body at breakneck speeds while doing a tumbling pass across the floor (though it's still a personal goal to learn a back handspring and aerial), but at its core, that's not what cheerleading — competitive or not — is about.
Culturally, we think of stereotypes when we think of cheerleaders, but being a cheerleader is really being an encourager and a supporter. According to Merriam-Webster, the actual definition (aside from the expected one), is "a person who encourages other people to do or support something."
I have always loved doing this — sending cards or text messages or cheesy gifs with thumbs up and excitement and congratulations happens on a frequent basis in my life. One of my spiritual gifts is encouragement or exhortation, and since my primary love language is words of affirmation, it's the most natural way for me to show others that I love them.
You see, I have never met a person who was too encouraged. Even the seemingly most confident, talented, amazing individuals could stand to have a bit more genuine encouragement in their life.
Everyone questions if their contribution to the world has value or will be well received. Everyone has moments where they feel like a complete imposter. Everyone wonders, "Is what I do even worth it? Does anyone care?"
This is especially true for us creatives. I don't think I've ever put something out into the world — a blog post, a design idea, or even something on Instagram — without that tiny piece of fear in the back of my head that what I've created is crap. That's one of the ways the enemy fights against the process of creation in the world — he attempts to convince every artist out there, no matter how outwardly successful they may seem, that what they want to create won't make a difference.
There isn't a market for it. The market is over-saturated. There aren't enough clients to go around. It's too long. It's too short. It's too expensive. It's too inexpensive. So-and-so does the same thing and they do it better. The list of reasons to not create scream so much louder and longer than the list of reasons to create.
But that fear doesn't just fight against creatives like myself and the work we do. It fights against everyone who wants to truly live their life, rather than just existing. It fights against anyone who wants to try something new or be a little different or do anything other than go along with the mediocre status quo.
Four years ago, I joined a community of dreamers. Jon Acuff knew that fear feared community, that one of the biggest reasons people don't pursue their dreams, is because instead of an epic cheer squad supporting them from the sidelines, all they hear are the naysayers. And he wondered what would happen if you threw all of those dreamers and doers into one big group.
It's easy to be a naysayer. It's easy to ask the "responsible" questions and cause someone to think long and hard about whether or not the pursuit of their dream is worth it. And for creatives like myself who frequently respond to the "ooh, shiny!" mentality with what feels like a new idea every week, it's important for someone to ask us those questions.
But chances are, people already have that person in their life. They already have their "designated naysayer," if you will, who they've invited to caution them in their pursuits. Their go-to person to be a sounding board for what really is an incredible idea that's worth pursuing and what should be pushed to the wayside.
So be a cheerleader. Read your friends work and comment. Watch their videos and share. Like their photos. It costs you nothing to favorite a tweet, like an Instagram photo, react to a Facebook post, or simply send them a text and tell them you love what they've done or created. It takes two seconds or 30 seconds or five minutes, but the encouragement received from it is immeasurable.
And don't do it so they'll do the same for you. Do it because you care, because you might not be their target audience but you are their friend and you want to see them succeed. We need more people who are cheerleaders for the creation of beautiful, wonderful things. More people who are cheerleaders for doing incredible things with this one beautiful, precious life we've all been given.
It's always fascinated me that we'll shout praises to the high heavens when someone we've never met and never will meet creates something that makes the world awesome, yet we are silent for the people we love.
I've often been guilty of this — recommending books and music and more to people, yet remaining silent when my friends create beautiful and wonderful things and have the courage to share them with the world. But chances are, that person whose work you rave about now was once a person who had the courage to put their creations out into the world and they had people in their lives who cheered them on every step of the way.
The world is full of naysayers. They're a dime a dozen. Instead, be a cheerleader. The world needs more of them.