“Boy, it’d be cool to do that with my team!” My husband said, envying the technique of some new hipster band on YouTube that nobody’s probably ever heard of.
“You should!” I exclaimed. My husband does the music at our church. I dig it when he tries things that are less expected.
“I’d love to, but I’d need a certain kind of musician to pull that off, and we don’t have anybody right now that’s familiar with that style.” But, I wouldn’t let him back out that easily!
“Well, then you should get us some people that have that style!” (It seemed simple enough to me!)
“But I don’t know where to find people that have that style.”
“Well, then you just need to make more friends!” I said tritely, then realized he wasn’t just trying to come up with lame excuses, and I wasn’t actually being helpful at all.
I did the same thing to a friend of mine recently. I noticed a very lofty career opportunity and could feel no peace about it until I knew he would be in that job, being totally rich and pseudo famous so I could live vicariously through him. I nagged him for days, until finally, he just told me, “Mac, I’M NOT INTERESTED!!! I like my life just as it is!”
What is it in us that causes us to feel so ambitious on other people’s behalf? When I do these things, I tend to think the folks I’m offering them to should be flattered! After all, I care so much I’m emotionally invested in them finding fame and fortune beyond their wildest dreams, right?
But, perhaps someone else has done this to you. Somehow, it doesn’t feel that good when you’re on the receiving end. Perhaps you’ve been helping Grandma set up her Facebook account and…
Grandma: “Wow, you’re just brilliant with these computers! You should really be in the internet business!”
You: “Oh Grandma. I know how to set up a Facebook account. That hardly makes me a genius!”
Grandma: “Oh, but you see, I was thinking about you when I was watching the news the other day! They were showing a young man your age that’s the world’s youngest billionare and all he does is the Facebook! Why, they even made a motion picture about him! I think you could really go places with this!”
And hence, Grandma doesn’t understand how a Facebook addicted housewife has potential that differs ever so slightly from that of Mark Zuckerberg.
As a daydreamer, I know the day will come when I do this to my own children. My two year old is already showing extreme and rare musical ability (he can clap to a beat). I told my husband, point blank, that we are raising the Spiderman of musical talent. “With great power comes great responsibility.” I then explained how our techniques would differ from how Justin Beiber’s mom does it, and I was totally serious!
As we go over name choices for our second son, we’ve looked to our family tree to find the highest over-achiever possible. We’ve got one relative that became known as the “Father of Blah dah blah dah dah” as a paratrooper in the military, became a world class linguist, was basically a ninja, then went on to become a world renown scientist in his field of expertise. With a full life story like that, I’m relishing the speech I’ll give our son about the great great uncle that shared his name and how this proves he can do ANYTHING he puts his mind to!
But is that really true? Can we really do ANYTHING we put our mind to? Could I outsmart and outearn Zuckerberg, just like Granny thinks I might? Are both my children going to become the greatest US presidents that ever lived? Is my buddy going to be a famous journalist? And is my husband really going to become a rock star? Probably not. And maybe it actually DOESN’T hurt to plant such dreams into the folks we care about.
But, what does a balanced approach to this look like? Bectoria could probably tell me. (I’m convinced she knows everything about everything. Oh my gosh! I just realized that she could totally be the next Oprah!!! — Oh wait… I’m doing it again…)
I guess it’s just important to not only acknowledge our children’s potential, but also acknowledge the obstacles they encounter. Some kids will make straight A’s with no effort at all, to others, that kind of grade card comes only with great focus and sacrifice.
One of the more life-changing books I’ve read recently was called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Are you born with that special something, (talent, intelligence, athletic ability) or is it developed? Maybe you feel trapped by your skill set, or lack thereof. This book, while sometimes dry and academic, will give you some hope, and the research to back it up!
But I guess that’s the challenge. Will I encourage our children based on some potential I see in them (which, tends to be extremely unrealistic in some areas, while extremely limited in other areas), or on how they embrace growth and change in themselves? When they fall down, will I blame everyone or everything else in the world, or say that’s just not the right path for them, or will I encourage them to find learning and growth in the stumbles? Will our family value the title “Best in Class” or can we delight even MORE in the “Most Improved” award? If you’re really good at growing, isn’t that how you become the best version of yourself?
It’s hard to say with my mere two years of parenting experience, but I hope, rather than demanding certain benchmarks of “excellence” and spouting empty platitudes about the American dream, I teach my boys to be challenge takers, to see failures as stepping stones, and to embrace personal growth.
But, I know most of our readers have more experience than I do. How do you teach YOUR kids about ambition and pursuing their dreams? Or, what did adults tell YOU growing up that’s helped you achieve goals as an adult?