I’ve been lagging behind on reading the blogs I subscribe to. I decided to read first today and then, if I was a good girl, I’d get to write. Most times this game works but sometimes, like today, it falls flat on its face. I’m so pleased.
I was reading away contentiously when I came across this post: Competitive, to be or not to be! The post got all my engines fired up and running on about a gazillion cylinders (one of the sad down-sides to being me). The comment threatened to turn into a blog post by itself. Apparently that is not a good idea because it is against blog/comment etiquette. A better idea, so I gather from reliable sources, is to post your two cents on your own blog giving a trackback to the original blog which triggered off the said two cents.
So be it, I said to myself.
The blogger says: What worries me however is when I see her devaluing herself and this when she knows that she is capable of far more than her peer. Then she wonders: Does the answer to my concerns really lie in teaching my child to be more competitive? Be more aggressive? How do I get her to value herself? Do I now start telling her that winning IS important?
I asked myself what I would do in response to these questions.
I would want my child to know is that it feels really great to do something well. Sometimes the only way you know you’ve done well is when you gauge yourself against others. To a limited extent, there is no harm in standing with your peers to see how tall you are. Our benchmarks for excellence are almost always derived from others. It is a learned thing, we don’t come with a default excellence meter calibrated into our psyche. Until my child experiences enough of life to develop her own benchmarks, it is okay to stand amongst her peers and evaluate herself.
(Aside: As parents of teenage children discover to their chagrin, these benchmarks are adopted most readily from peers instead of parents. Which is why there is a profusion of purple hair- in case you wondered.)
I also remembered something I had read in an online article about the efficacy and need for motivation.
(Aside: The concept of motivation makes me screw up my nose in fastidious distaste. I don’t find it a healthy concept. It is untidy, exhausting and ineffective for the long run. As a trainer, motivation to me is akin to waking up every morning to dig a new well because someone carelessly levelled out the one I dug up yesterday. Tiring, I am sure you will agree. Enough said!)
The writer of the piece began by asking why babies bother to learn to walk. Nobody ‘motivates’ them to do it. Nobody offers a reward (or threatens punishment) if they don’t walk. Yet they keep trying. With everything going against them, with no pressure to perform, with no punishment for non- performance, they still keep getting up to try walking- only to fall down again.
Sometimes they hurt themselves badly when they fall. That doesn’t deter them though. They seem almost self- destructive in their unreasonable zeal. The question is: why do they do it?
They do it because they WANT to do it!
They are hardwired to do it. It is their central impulse. They can’t NOT do it. You can’t stop them, can you? Most parents do encourage the babies to walk, but even if they didn’t, the babies would walk eventually. Maybe a few weeks or months later, but walk they will. It is inevitable.
So also it is with a desire for excellence. To shine is a central impulse in most of us. We love to challenge ourselves. We test our own capacities against those of our peers and want to earn the right to stand tall with them.
(Aside: Those in whom a desire to excel is not a default impulse ought to be left alone. The most fiery motivational talk will not make them want to perform even if their life depended on it. To try and motivate them to move is a lost battle. They will wake up in their own time, when they do. Thankfully for mankind, such mules are not very thick upon the ground. But they are there, make no mistake. You can take them to the proverbial water. You can feed them some salt and hope that it makes them thirsty enough to drink. Beyond that you can do nothing but sit twiddling your thumbs, hoping for the best.)
Let time bring forth a child’s inherent impulse to excel. Let her natural desire to shine light a fire in her belly. Let her soul color her dreams and project them before her eyes so that she would want to get up a start walking towards them.
My job as a parent is only to tell my child how thrilled I would be when she shines because I want her to experience the pride it would bring her. I can only tell her how delighted I would be to know that she has thrown her heart over the fence with courage and daring- with a staunch belief that her body will follow. My job is only to tell my child that even if her body doesn’t follow, the world wont come to an end, nor will my love for her. I will want to ensure that she knows there will be other fences and other sunny days.
I would certainly want my child to know that her desire to excel is very intrinsic to her. It can bring her immense joy if she approaches it with excitement and belief. When she learns to use it well, it will also enrich her life deeply. All she has to do is to throw her heart over many fences and see which ones her body wants to follow. If she fails the first time, she can find out which fence she wants to try at again and again, until she soars over it?
The central impulse to excel is more powerful than competitiveness.