One of the mantras in our family is to ‘always do your best’; and we have tried to teach our children to use that as their only standard of performance. We don’t care how their best friend did, if the rest of the class did something else, or if they beat out – or were beaten by – another person. We want our children to be able to check in with themselves and answer to their own truthful evaluation: “Did I do my best?” “Am I happy with what I have done?” And if the answer to those questions is an honest and heartfelt ‘YES’, then in our eyes, what else could matter?
However, we do live in this same world, where ‘bigger is better’, and the tendency that is all around is to be THE BEST. Now, don’t get me wrong here. We want our children to excel. We want them to push themselves, try new things, face challenges, and learn that they can thrive even under pressure. The only difference is that we want them to do so regardless of any reward, ribbon, prize or desire to beat someone else. The only person they need to be accountable to is themselves (and at this age, me and Dean -with the intention that we are nourishing their internal drive to strive for excellence.) Let’s face it, most of us are our own worst critics. So why can’t we also be our own best advocates, proud of efforts well made?
Given the time of year, it seems that awards are being given everywhere we look. School assemblies, sports events, and more. And I am a proud mama for seeing my children being on the receiving end of some of those. But the best reward for me is seeing the joy on Ethan and Audra’s faces, and seeing their excitement at being recognized for their efforts. I have no problem with recognition being an added incentive – just not the only one. How sad I would be if that joy were to be replaced with anger or frustration that they ‘only’ got second or third place – or none at all. (I’ve even heard 2nd place be called “first loser”, jokingly – perhaps – but certainly not how I choose to see things.)
We are just like every other parent in that our hearts fill with pride when we see our children be recognized and celebrated for their efforts. We happily sat through a recent school assembly to see Ethan rewarded with an academic award, and we enjoyed ourselves last night at the art showcase where Audra ecstatically won second place for her artwork. And I thoroughly enjoyed Ethan’s bursting-at-the-seams announcement about placing 3rd overall in his grade and getting a gold in the school track and field event. (“Mom, hold your ‘yays’ until I tell you everything”, he instructed.) And I have to say, I like the school’s system for points, where any student who accumulates a certain level from all of the track events combined wins gold, silver or bronze. It certainly didn’t detract from my pride in Ethan to know that he wasn’t the only one to win gold. In fact, I enjoyed his recounting of how many of his friends also did the same, and even moreso, how much he also celebrates their wins.
The irony here is that I can be a very competitive person – but mostly against myself and my own high expectations. It has taken a lot of work to switch my modus operendi from seeking perfection to striving for excellence. See, the problem here is that when you are only happy with first place or perfection, so many great efforts go unacknowledged. You are constantly left with a feeling of “not enough”. Whether that is ‘not good enough’, ‘not fast enough’, ‘not smart enough’, or any other form of ‘not enough’ – the feeling is not one that feels good.
And what I have learned is that we are all enough.
Underlying this all is that we want our children to know that they are more than enough. They are wonderful, magnificent, amazing human beings.
We want them to focus on giving their all in life – in every area, even if it’s never to be evaluated. We want them to grow up knowing to strive for excellence, proud of their efforts as driven, internally motivated individuals who can look themselves in the mirror and truthfully say “I did my best” and “I gave it my all.”
Really, what more can there possibly be?