All we care about, Sweetie, is that you put in your best effort and you do your best work.
Last week when I was getting into the pool for an early morning swim, I had a quick exchange with my swimmer friend, Dwight. He was already in the pool, kicking, and we shouted our hellos.
When he got to the wall he added, "Man, you work hard."
"Thanks," I said. "Yes, I do."
"You never miss a workout."
"Right," I said. "I try not to."
"I sure hope you're really good," he chuckled before pushing off the wall.
hmmm. What do I make of that?
Later, resting between a set, he explained. "I just hope you're good because you work so hard. It would suck to work as hard as you do and then to still suck. You know? All that hard work for nothing..." he smiled, conspiratorially. "But I know you're good. You're good, right?" chuckle chuckle.
hmmm. How do I respond to that?
Do I chuckle too?
"I'm okay. Sometimes I place."
"Oh good," he said. "Good to hear." and he swam on.
At first I didn't even question this little conversation. It WOULD suck to work really hard and then to suck.
Isn't that why I work hard? To win? To qualify? To make it to Kona? To prove to the world that I am exceptional, a winner, to be envied, the best?
I would be a liar if I said I didn't work hard so I can have a shot at winning. I am competitive. Of course I want to win! But, does that mean if I really don't stand a chance of winning I should not compete? That I shouldn't even try? Do you have to be a certain level of "good" to justify working hard?
Well, you think. Of course not.
But.... after thinking about it I began to realize the ways in which we embrace this thinking.
I have an image in my mind.
It's of a little tyke who works his butt off in Little League, but he's still the worst one on the team. Moms are on the sidelines whispering to each other about how sweet the boy is, how sad that he is just so-- bad. Fathers, perhaps, are less chatty about it. They are just glad it's not their kid.
It's of a little tyke who is a rock star on the baseball field, but he just doesn't work at it at all. He's lazy, the moms say. What a waste of talent. The fathers just shake their heads. They are just glad it's not their kid.
So the tenets here seem to be:
It's a waste of talent if you are good at something, yet you don't choose to work hard at it.
It's pathetic when you work your ass off, and yet you suck.
And what is the best type of tyke? The type of tyke we want our kids to be--the type of tyke we want to be? He is the one who has talent and works hard. You need both. Nothing else is worthy.
We believe this about ourselves; we believe this about our children; we believe this about our peers who are working hard next to us in the pool.
Of course, talent and hard work is a good combination. There's certainly nothing wrong with it.
But, I wonder, what do we do to our own psyches and those of our children by embracing this as the only way worthy of being?
Here are a couple of possible conclusions one might draw based on such thinking:
1. I should only try hard at something if I have potential to be very good at it. If it appears I cannot be good, I should quit.
2. If I don't love to do something, but I have a natural talent for it, I should do it and work hard at it despite my dislike of it.
3. If I work hard at something and it is revealed that I am not good at it, I will be pitied and mocked. Therefore, I shouldn't try at all. It's too risky.
4. If I love to do something, but I am not inherently good at it, I still should not pursue it. I should pursue those things at which I have obvious talent.
I'm sure you can think of a few other conclusions, too.
We spend a lot of time blathering on to each other and to our children about how the most important thing to do is to work hard. Just do our best work. Just put forth our best effort. That it's okay if we fail, it's the effort that counts.
I think maybe we are full of shit.
We are disappointed if our best effort (or the best effort of our children) doesn't produce a win, an A, an AG placing, or a Kona slot. We will be disappointed because this is what is valued by us, and it is in the way we speak, move, and live.
Not a word about learning for the joy of it.
Not a word about playing/competing for the love of it.
Not a word about how the effort we put into something is worthy -- just because to put effort into something is to participate in and engage in life.
I still want to win.
But my effort, and yours, means more than that.