As a kid, I scored high on all my proficiency tests. Like 96% and above in every subject. I had the chance to take the ACT as a 6th grader for early exposure. I was an early and avid reader. It makes sense that my parents would continually tell me how “smart” I was and that I could achieve whatever I wanted to. There was no lack of belief in my abilities, or resources to help me achieve.
The problem for me, was, and still is, a lack of motivation. I’m just not driven to succeed. What I value more highly than success is harmony. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I want harmony at home, in relationships, in the workplace. It’s not that I’m against working hard personally – in fact, it’s a quality I wildly admire in others because I wish I could stir it up more readily in myself. I just don’t like the sense of striving, or hurried frenzy, that often accompanies success. It ruins my sense of harmony. In some ways, my desire for harmony is a good thing (I’m pretty good at mediating conflict, for example) but when I see how it’s hampered my need to achieve, I’m disappointed. I sometimes wish I wasn’t this way. I think about how life might be easier, actually, if I was a little more motivated to succeed, or even to put forth the extra effort required to see something through to the finish.
I realize this sounds lazy, and sometimes I think my parents thought I was (actually I know they thought I was lazy). But for me the need to have peace, to rule out a sense of inner tension, is sort of all consuming. As in, if I don’t have peace, I can’t quite think straight, or focus, until the thing is made right again. Or rather, until my equilibrium is equalized again.
That’s why I desperately want something different for my kids. I want them to work hard. I want them to be focused and determined and motivated. I think these things make life easier. I’m not talking about making a lot of money or being famous. I’m talking about the feeling of satisfaction that comes from knowing you did a good job. Of knowing that you’re capable of creating choices and opportunities for yourself. Of knowing that you can change your circumstances and your world (okay, at least your immediate world, if not the WHOLE world). It’s something I’ve often shied away from because of the sheer effort involved. It’s intimidating. It scares me to think of disrupting my equilibrium that much. This makes me sound fragile, I know. Sorry.
So when I think about how I want to raise my kids, I don’t really care about how smart they are. To me, smart does not equal success. What does it even mean to be smart? It’s not your intelligence that matters, it’s how you use it. That’s why I get more excited about who my son is as a person than I do about him achieving milestones. Because I see qualities in him that I don’t have, but wish I did. I love that he notices the tiniest things, and takes great care to inspect them. I love that he played with a PEN, of all things, for 45 minutes today. I love that he has that kind of focus. I love that even though he might fall down 5 times today, and cry from hitting his head, he still gets back up and tries again. He’s only 8 and a half months old, but I already admire him and wish I could be more like him. (Is that weird to say about your kid??)
If we have four kids like I hope we have (okay, SOME days I hope that…), we will probably have a kid more like me, one that wants harmony above all else. And then I’m going to have to confront my demons. I’ll have to figure out how to love that part of myself so I can love my kid as wholly as I want to. Future kid, I’m sorry if you get that part of me. I hope things are easier for you. I hope you like that part of yourself more than I do. Maybe by then, I’ll know myself well enough to help you.