Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Think I Can: But What If I Can't?

As a child and as a parent, I loved the storybook, The Little Engine That Could. In the book, a brave little train attempts to make it up a big hill. He accomplishes this feat by sheer determination and bravado – pushing and struggling his way to the top.

However, at my college’s graduation this week, the keynote speaker referred to that childhood book in a different light. He said to these new graduates, “The truth is…You can’t do everything.”

He suggested that we don’t do our children any favors when we tell them that they can do anything, that they can be anything they want to be.

The truth is, there are some things they can’t do and things they won’t be able to be. His point was that, as parents, we’ve bought into a culture that emphasizes encouragement in all things. We want all of our kids to be winners – we want everyone’s self esteem to be protected. But, the truth is, that we aren’t all good at everything.

Some of us are better at public speaking. Some people have the ability to bowl a perfect game. Others have the ability to lift weights. Some excel at cooking gourmet dinners. The speaker suggested that we find out what we are good at – and do that – and avoid fretting about all of the things at which we don’t excel.

Good advice. For example:

  • I am good at writing. I am also a good teacher.

  • I am not as good at administrating: I get stressed when I try to manage too many things or too many people.

  • I am not good at athletics: I am a terrible roller skater, skier, dodgeball player.

  • I love to cook. I love baking even more.

  • I am terrible at keeping up with housework. I will never be a perfectionist

  • I can play a musical instrument – but I tremble at performing.

What is your child good at? How can you help your child accept and flourish in his or her strengths and learn to accept or compensate for weakness?

I remember my daughter’s preschool teacher telling her students that they should try everything once. You don’t have to like it, she urged, but you should try it. This is also good advice. We need to try things, but we don’t need to love everything. We need to attempt – but we might not succeed. We are not meant to be perfect.

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