The Envelope Please…

There is something seductive about the Oscar ceremony. You watch an award show for people clearly gifted in their talent, looking their finest, with great attention to detail, including the envelopes that hold the names of the winners. The seduction part is how easy it is to believe that personal success and accomplishment comes only from winning an award. That your ability to be successful is determined by others (those deciding who win the awards) and not you.

As an adult this isn’t lost on me. I bought into the notion that success was measured by others early in my career and continued to believe it until I had children of my own. Who doesn’t want to win an award for their work? Who doesn’t want to be recognized or acknowledged for their skills?

As a parent I don’t want my children to buy into this idea that success is determined by anyone but them. A statue, trophy or plaque is lovely to receive and feels good, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person. It doesn’t define if your work or life is a success.

My boys are at the age where they are exposed to competition at school and in the play yard. My oldest loves keeping score. When he loses he gets upset. He gets angry with frustration when he tries his hardest and the end score doesn’t reflect his efforts. “I did so good,” he says with a mixture of surprise, and disappointment, “how come my score isn’t better?” His face scrunches up and he balls up his fists. He makes a errrr sound in frustration. My husband and I talk to our so about the progress that he made when he played and while he may not have won, how he is getting more skilled and improving every time he tries. “Everything you want to be good at takes practice,” we tell him, “and lots of it.” You can see his mind working. It’s a good opportunity for us to teach him about what success really is.

“Do you have to win to be successful?” I ask my son. He looks up at me with questioning eyes, like he wants to say yes, but realizes I wouldn’t ask this question if it were the answer. I continue, “success is when you learn something about yourself and grow. You might receive a statue, trophy or medal along the way, but those items don’t determine who you are. You do.” He seems to understand what I’m saying, but you can still see he’d prefer to just win trophies, or get the highest score. Just like I did as a kid.

What is success for you? What is success for your child? How do you help them determine the value they bring?

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