Unless you spent Spring Break hibernating in a cave, you've heard the hoopla surrounding the college admissions cheating scandal in which parents (including some well-known celebs) engaged in various forms of bribery in order to get their children into the top colleges they desired. Many people are shocked by how this could happen, but I'm betting most of them aren't teachers. Disappointed, yes. But not surprised.
Because a phenomenon we've seen for awhile now is what's truly at the root of this issue: some parents wanting more for their children than their children want for themselves. It's about being able to tell people that your child goes to (fill-in-the-blank) University and how that makes the parent feel rather than a genuine desire on the part of the child to do the hard work required to earn their way in authentically. Of course I don't know these people firsthand or know that this is the case--maybe these students legitimately did care about their schoolwork and worked hard but, despite their best efforts, struggled academically. In this case, resorting to bribery is obviously still wrong and reinforces the idea to the child that, if we can't get what we desire through hard work, we can get there through financial privilege and manipulation. It also models for the child a great lack of empathy for those students who have worked hard to earn their way in ethically.
The core issues of wanting more for our kids than they want for themselves and prioritizing the image others have of your child over truth and transparency are not new issues. After teaching elementary and middle school for 14 years I can tell you many a story that would seem to lay the groundwork for the issue underneath this scandal. One that comes to mind is a message I once received from a parent saying "I'd really like for _________ to have an A on the report card rather than a B, what can we do?" Of course the two pronouns that are troublesome here are the "I" in "I'd really like..." and the "we" in "what can we do?" You may think I'm mincing words here, but words are important, as they reveal a lot about our mindset. What is more important to this parent: the letter grade on the report card and people's perception of that or her child's true understanding of the material? A better question for the teacher might be (if a B is a true concern to her), "what material is my child not understanding or what behavior do you see that's interfering with his/her success and what help would you suggest?"
I can't tell you how many parents have asked over the years "how do I make my child (insert desired action)?"
How do I make him work harder?
How do I make her care?
How do I make him respect me?
How do I make her behave?
And the simple truth that's hard for some parents to hear is, we can't (and shouldn't strive to) make our children do anything.
The most powerful teaching tool I've found for children is modeling what we want for them through our own behavior. As the saying goes, our actions will be more powerful than our words. What they absorb from their surroundings, what is modeled day in and day out is, in my experience, the greatest indicator of who they will turn out to be. This is why what's at the core of conscious parenting is staying aware and accountable for our own mindset, words, & actions rather than being focused on changing our children.
The positive news I can report in all this is that, for as many cases of helicopter and lawnmower parenting I've seen in my years of teaching, I've also seen such stellar examples of parents understanding that allowing their children to struggle and even fail at times is critical to their learning and growth. As we've seen in our own personal adult lives, our greatest lessons often come from our greatest struggles. It's the same principle we see in addiction and codependency--that sometimes an addict has to hit a rock bottom in order to grow and change, that we can't "get them" to change.
I'm sure many teachers would agree with me that it's an uncomfortable but immensely rewarding process to watch a child fall, have an "a-ha" or wake up call (which is the result of the struggle/failure), make a change, and then watch them experience all the feels that come with experiencing authentic success. Nothing feels better than seeing that big smile, giving them that high-5, and being able to look them in the eye and say "see how cool it feels when you ________? (study hard, pay attention, show effort, etc)"
THIS is learning,
THIS is true achievement,
THIS is something to be proud of,
and this is the kind of learning and growth process that is so much more important for me to see in my son than a certain school name on his sweatshirt or a certain letter grade on his report card.
Many have asked, in regard to this scandal, how did we get here? How can people do things like this? But my teacher friends and I, we're not all that surprised because we've seen this kind of behavior in smaller ways. Look, I'm the first to acknowledge that parenting is really freaking HARD and I'm the last to claim that I do it right. Great parenting isn't about striving for perfection, but it IS about awareness. And I'm just offering this: from what I've seen over the years I've learned that's it's important to stay aware of the messages we're sending through our actions--to stay mindful of
valuing integrity over outer appearances,
of not trying to force our own agendas & dreams onto our kids,
and, most of all, not being more uncomfortable watching our kids struggle than we are with watching ourselves act out of integrity.
Something's been bothering me lately (couldn't all my posts start this way? I'll just make this my header & save time): this glorification of not having a filter. Like it's a good thing to say anything and everything that comes to your mind out loud. It makes me wonder, what ever happened to just plain "rude"?
Customer/boss/neighbor/friend says something harsh, cutting, or insulting and when you tell someone what was said their response is "well, you know her, she has no filter".
And you think, "oh...well...ok, then...can I not have a filter too? Just say whatever heinous thing pops into my mind the second it does with no consideration of the consequences?"
And the answer to that, of course, is YES...you can. But some of us choose not to. Because, while we want to (and do) speak our minds, we don't like to go around carelessly hurting people, either. And so we continue filtering.
But it makes me wonder: when did having a filter become such a bad thing?
A decade together,
seven years married.
After all of it we remain, but not as the same people we were before. I look back at wedding pictures and see our fresh faces--hopeful, naïve, unsure of what lay ahead. I look at our faces now and at first glance think "good Lord, what happened to us?!" But I know the answer to that: LIFE happened, in all its glorious ups and downs.
I see laugh lines from the joy,
creases from the pain,
and tired eyes from the journey.
Last week I attended a Montessori conference and had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Timothy Purnell, the Executive Director of the American Montessori Society. With the kind of energy that gets a guy walking through the aisles of an auditorium instead of standing behind a podium, he talked to us about the importance of connecting & sharing about Montessori through social media--a platform that has the capability of spreading good through its enormous reach. It's through connecting and relationship building, he reminded us, that we are part of a movement. But to be a part of something great--to be part of a movement--you have to stop keeping the good stuff to yourself and share with others.
In other words, you have to "get off your island".
This is always an enticing concept to me--sharing with others, talking about the things that we're passionate about, helping move something I believe in forward. Yet I notice that I often fail at getting the good stuff I know I have to share actually out there. I had to ask myself, when it comes to this topic, why does there always seem to be this gap between the things I desire to do and my actions?
Why do some of us (myself included) struggle so greatly with social media--heck, with all things social--while it seems to come so easily to others?
I don't think anyone holds back on connecting and sharing because they have an intention to withhold from others or because they dislike people (well, maybe a few, but not most of us). Instead, I think it boils down to the difference between extroverts and introverts.
It's not a difference so much in intention, but in how we get our "juice"--introverts get their juice through solitude and going inward, while extroverts thrive from putting themselves out there and connecting with others. The best example I can think of is a relationship I once had with your quintessential extrovert. After a long, stressful day he'd say "ugh, today was awful, I'm gonna call up my buddies and see what's going on", while I'd say "ugh, today was awful, I'm gonna curl up with a chick flick and a cozy blanket". (You can guess how that worked out...)
Most introverts want to be movers and shakers--contributors--just as many extroverts do, it's just that the process of putting ourselves out there is a greater struggle. For us, the amount of effort, time, and energy it takes to constantly get out of our comfort zone can be exhausting and, when we push forward for periods of time and do it anyway, we often feel the need to retreat and recover afterward.
This raises the question, why "get off our islands" when it's so cozy living there?
If putting ourselves out there is so uncomfortable, so exhausting...why do it?
I think the answer lies in another powerful message our speaker had: you have to define your WHY. You have to be clear about why you do what you do and how you desire to spend your time. My biggest reason for doing all I do is, like many others, my family. But my second biggest "why" is because making a contribution, making an impact in this life, matters to me and I feel I do that through teaching & writing. Well, not so much in writing per se, but in sharing my writing.
See, the reason it's critical for me to "feel the fear and do it anyway" is because sharing and connecting is key to my vision as a writer. Mostly, I write for myself--to make sense of life. But I share because there's just about no greater feeling than hearing someone say "Yes! This! You put words to what I was feeling but didn't know how to say." Networking, connecting, sharing, marketing--all the things that are uncomfortable and time consuming for me are, like it or not, the very things that will help connect my writing with more people and make my vision my reality.
So what's an introvert to do? Do we continue fighting the good fight for the sake of something greater or do we redefine our why and just surrender to our true nature?
I do know that the answer is NOT trying to become an extrovert--fighting who we authentically are never works out well or lasts very long. I think we introverts can be a part of something really great, it might just take us a little longer to get there (although, who really defines where "there" is anyway?).
I think the key might be in working with our true nature rather than against it. We need to allow ourselves those moments on the island because recharging is key to getting our creativity back when we're feeling depleted. But waiting until we're "ready" to rejoin the world won't work, just as waiting until I'm "ready" to workout or sit and prepare my taxes won't work either. There are simply things in life that we have to, at some point, make ourselves do for our own well-being.
When we've allowed ourselves a respite and we know it's time to jump back in and rejoin the conversation we'll inevitably feel resistance, but I think it's important for us not to view our resistance as an enemy we have to fight--you know that saying "what we resist persists." I think it may boil down to feeling the resistance come up, recognizing it, and then proceeding anyway.
And we can support each other. We can make each other accountable. Whether you're a fellow introvert yourself or an extrovert, when you notice your friend's been hanging out on the island for awhile, remind him or her that you miss their contribution. Remind them that the stuff they put out there, their voice, makes a difference and is missed. It might just be the little push they need.
This is my goal for 2019--to honor my true nature, but get off my island when I know it's time to come home. Because getting out of my own way is also part of honoring myself.
Now excuse me while I painstakingly read this over and over again, endlessly edit, and then contemplate for an hour whether or not to hit "publish". Oh and then spend tomorrow going through that whole process again trying to share on social.
Hey, it used to take me a week. It's called progress, people.
For the last few weeks I’ve suffered from a condition I can't quite name but seems to flare up from time to time, especially when a new year approaches. It impairs my ability to get words from my mind onto the actual page, to get my yoga pant-clad bottom to the place where the yoga actually happens.
You see, it’s not an issue of intention, it’s one of execution.
There’s fortunately nothing physically wrong with me—my right (write) hand isn’t paralyzed and I’m thankful to have the ability to exercise my body. I can’t claim writer’s block because the ideas are there, just as I can’t blame my procrastination around exercising on not knowing how to do it…it’s just that I come up with every excuse in the world to NOT ACTUALLY DO IT.
And this is where the shame comes in.
Because what kind of person is fortunate enough to have the health and ability to move her body, to be provided with people actually willing to read the things she writes, yet actively chooses to get in her own way? What kind of person actively participates in the sabotaging of her own forward progress?
The answer to that is, in my mind, a failure. Perhaps you think I’m being too harsh, but let me plead my case.
One of the distractions I’ve used lately to stall forward progress (unintentionally but still...) is the suddenly very urgent need to clean and declutter my house from top to bottom—something I’ve decided must come first before all other things. As I cleaned out from under my bed, I found the large Rubbermaid container I’ve used as a keepsake box over the years. I opened the lid for the first time in a long while and rummaged through, finding some old vision boards and journals. On the pages I found goals from four years ago and made a grim discovery: my goals then were no different than the ones I’m still chasing after today.
I haven’t written the book.
I haven’t lost the extra ten pounds (well, I have here and there, but seem to gain it back).
I haven’t gone all organic or sugar-free.
I still have debt.
It’s not to say I’ve made no forward progress--I’ve gone after those things and, for periods of time, been successful. I’ve started a blog and gained some readers, I’ve cut back on sweets at times, and I’ve made a good dent in my debt…but it hasn’t been ONE year folks, it’s been FOUR.
1,460 days wasn’t enough time to achieve my dreams?
I can try defending my inching, rather than sprinting, forward with the fact that I’m a full-time working mother of a young child, but at what point does that fact become an excuse? And, if it’s indeed a valid excuse, it raises the question:
is it a worthwhile endeavor then to dream at all?
The optimist in me says “of course—keep the hope!” but there’s another voice that says “if it hasn’t happened by now…will it ever?” I considered this question head-on as I tucked the vision boards and goal lists safely away. I decided it was time to face whether these goals were really coming to fruition—if my progress was indeed moving forward or just circular.
I checked my blog stats and the scale for the first time in months, numbers I normally try not to look at but I also know represent reality. Despite my efforts to clean up my diet lately, the number on the scale was exactly the same as where I was last year. And, as could be expected, my blog numbers were down from my procrastination around writing. Ahhh yes…confirmation, not in emotions or belief but in actual numbers, that I was indeed failing to meet goals I'd set long ago.
I didn’t do what you might expect--internalize that sense of failure and go eat a bunch of garbage or run up my credit card or sabotage myself by going after the things I’d been actively fighting against. But I did, on some level, check out. For the first time, I didn't see the point in trying to make forward progress if I would only eventually backslide. I decided this year I wouldn't sabotage or strive...just be, well, goalless.
For three days I continued to pour myself into the cleaning of every inch of my house, a pile of items to purge getting bigger by the front door. I wasn’t necessarily feeling depressed or hopeless, but a bit weary, like my heart was hardened a bit.
I needed something to listen to as I continued to sort through and scrub my house and stumbled upon a YouTube video of a speech given by the author Cheryl Strayed. She talked about how she had once sat down to write the “great American novel” but found every excuse not to do so—and that when she was finally given the perfect setting and opportunity to actually DO what she’d always dreamed she would, she ended up binge watching reality shows instead.
After much procrastination, she finally had to face the idea that she was failing at achieving her dream. She had to reckon with her own mediocrity and consider the idea that maybe her dreams weren’t a worthwhile pursuit after all.
What she realized after giving it some thought was that her dream of writing was TRUE and REAL—it was just that the goal of writing the “great American novel” had been too big and felt too heavy. So, rather than completely give up or swing in the other direction and try to achieve GREATness, she decided to do something in between: to surrender to her mediocrity and simply make good on her intentions.
She said, “when you surrender to your own mediocrity, what you’re doing is humbly acknowledging that the very best thing you have to give us is only what YOU have to offer.”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say her words changed my life, but, again, things don’t have to be so darn BIG. What her words did do was get me to open my laptop.
And, look, here I am writing again.
Friends, I don’t have the circumstances in place to try and write a book right now and I don’t know how to turn 1,000 followers into the 100,000 that book agents are looking for, but what I can do is share some words that speak to my heart when I’m willing to let it crack open a little. That’s all I have to offer right now.
I don’t have the budget this year to completely pay off my student loans AND mortgage AND credit cards, but I can make my payments just a little bigger than the minimum and pay them on time every. single. month. That is what I can afford to do right now.
I can’t speak for how I’ll navigate my tricky relationship with sugar next month or next week or even tomorrow, but I can make choices that feel good for my body today, one breath and bite at a time. And I can move in some way each day, not for a number on the scale, but for my health and because I just feel better when I do. All I can commit to is the next right choice for my body, on this day.
I guess it’s no longer true that I don’t have goals for 2019 because I do have one: this year, I won’t try and make myself or my life over. I won’t commit to things that feel too big or too heavy. Instead, my goal this year is to surrender to my own mediocrity...
to give only what I have to offer...
to make good on my intentions.
That I can do.
And, to answer my previous question, yes…I do believe dreaming is a worthwhile endeavor—it keeps us growing and retains our sense of hope. But the scope and scale of those dreams is going to change year to year depending on our circumstances. If your career, love life, and financial circumstances are thriving, you might be in a position to pursue big, shiny, sparkly kinds of goals, and that’s terrific. That's the juice we get during the up times of life that serves as fuel to keep going during the down times, with hope that they'll come around again.
But I also know this: that if everything was stripped from you this year and you could give a hoot about big, sparkly dreams and you’re just trying to SURVIVE with the few things you’ve got left—the types of things that can’t be taken from you when all else is
like your will,
and your tenacious love for those weathering the storm alongside you...
real, gritty, salt of the earth kinds of dreams rather than sparkly ones...
well, here’s the good news I’d like to whisper into your heart, reminding you of what you already know:
in this year ahead, you'll be okay...because these are the only things you ever really need anyway.