Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Talent versus hard work

Both my girls are busy and active, just like almost every other kid in America. I firmly believe in keeping kids involved in *something* so they find a place to belong and have a place to be and things to do. It helps keep them out of trouble as they get older and it teaches them so many good lessons about goal-setting and hard work and how to work together with others and way to many other good things to list here.

The oldest plays volleyball, serves on the student council, and runs the social committee at school. The youngest is a competitive dancer. Recently the situation came up for both that emphasized a point that every child really, really needs to learn early.

When things get hard, you have to make a conscious choice to rise up and change what you're doing to meet the challenge.

K plays on both the JV and the varsity teams for volleyball, but she was frustrated that she sat on the bench for the whole last varsity game while others of her skill/experience level played. I explained that it's the same issue that her little sister is dealing with right now.

L is starting her 4th year on the dance competition team and she was frustrated that she wasn't chosen for any small groups this year while many of her friends who are the same age and have been on the team a shorter time got solos and duets and special dances. Her friends are all nice little girls and they didn't gloat (our studio director is also the kind that would not have stood for such), but suddenly the duet partners were new best friends, music and styles for solos were the topics of discussion, and the teachers were pulling kids into the small groups for choreography work. It was all brand new and it was all in her face for every one of the long minutes she spends in dance each week. Every day that first week or so, she came out of class and shuffled quietly straight through the crowded foyer and out the door.

It hurt to see my bubbly, dance-loving daughter so upset. When she explained what was going on and asked why she was being left out, I had no explanation to give except that I had told the director we needed to have a light year in terms of time and financial commitment (L did start private school this year) and maybe she was trying to honor that in the way that would best meet the needs of both L and the team. A perfectly reasonable explanation, but I wanted to make sure that was the case, so I went to the director and asked.

That's always the best way to handle it, you know. To ask rather than assume. After all, L is...bubbly...and I wanted to make sure she was behaving herself in class and the no special dances thing wasn't because she was being a pill for the instructors. I wanted to know if there was a problem I could help with or something that L needed to change. So the director and I met and we came to a conclusion that is a bit foreign in our "I'm so awesome and it's all about having fun!" culture.

L is a talented dancer. She has a God-given ability that has carried her nicely this far. She's very flexible and graceful and has mastered many skills with minimal effort. But this year, the director moved L and her whole group up a level. They've got a brand new crop of cute little bitties and suddenly L's group is having to meet some very different expectations. "Cute" isn't going to cut it anymore.

While L is a very good dancer, she's kinda stalled out on learning new skills. She has come to the end of her inborn talent and she has come to the end of her this-is-all-brand-new enthusiastic practice-all-the-things-wherever attitude.

This is not a good combination.

While her friends are working on skills at home, L has been coming up with every excuse as to why she can't. She can't practice in her room because Dad is working all day right underneath her floor. She can't practice in the loft because there's too much furniture. She can't practice in the garage because it's too dirty and Dad's car is parked there. She can't practice outside because the grass makes her itch. Sure, she still taps down the grocery store aisles and cartwheels across parking lots, but she doesn't have a fully-outfitted dance studio in our normal-sized townhouse, so she can't have a focused dance practice.

Do you see the common thread? *I can't practice* She looks for excuses and isn't mastering new skills while her friends, who find places to practice at home, are moving forward. Because things have come so easily for her thus far, she hasn't built a solid foundation of hard work. Sure she practiced while it was fun, but she hasn't learned to discipline herself to practice the same things over and over even when it isn't fun. She's never had to work at something hard for a long time and so she's never known the immense satisfaction that comes from trying and failing so many times and then watching yourself finally achieve the goal you want.

Her director put it this way - she needs to make a choice. Is she going to quit because it isn't fun right now? Is she going to be satisfied with just being okay? Or is she going to work harder to achieve the goal of getting those special dances in the future?

The thing is, this is about so much more than dance.

When you get to college and the workload jumps, which choice are you going to make?

When you get that first job and your boss sets difficult expectations, which choice are you going to make?

When your marriage hits a really hard time, which choice are you going to make?

I want L and K to learn NOW, to be able to say when things get hard, *I* am going to be willing to change what I'm doing and work harder to achieve the goal. Whether it's a special dance or playing time on the court or a job or a relationship, *I* am willing to do whatever it takes. And then not just be willing, but actually DO IT. Stop making excuses. Stop expecting others to change. Stop expecting others to see how great you are just because you exist.

Trust me, it's good to learn that lesson at 9 with dance or at 12 with volleyball when the stakes are smaller, because it only gets more important from here.

1 comment:

Howard Stranathan said...

And it's good to be reminded again at 58.