Thursday, February 7, 2013

Will my kid fall behind? issue of mindset....and me

In our present day culture, the emphasis on education as the key to ones happiness in life is a powerful narrative. From the time our children enter kindergarten....let me take that back...from the time they enter pre school, they, and us parents, are inundated with an assortment of messages regarding the importance of education. This narrative points to education as the "key to lifelong success and happiness." Inherent in this general narrative is an equally  resiliant sub narrative that goes something like this; " If our children don't take full advantage of their educational opportunities prior to age 18, if they don't take every AP class, if they don't build an activities resume that lists every sport and club known to human kind, if they don't get into the biggest and best college, they are destined to be behind their peer for the remainder of their lives." If you think I'm too dramatic, you are either not a parent or haven't been speaking with any.  AP classes, GPA's, number of colleges applied to.....welcome to the new form of "keeping up with the Jones." And if you are thinking that this is a source of stress for our children, let me tell you about a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a woman that I know. We are friends, not close friends, but we know each other through some community connections and our children have been friends. Her son is in his junior year in high school. I know her son. He is a wonderful young man...intelligent, resourceful, strong student and athlete, excellent interpersonal skills..... a nice kid! We had not seen each other in a while so we were catching up on what our children are up to. As she was telling me about her son's latest endeavors, she made the following statement;  " I have told him that the next year of his life with be THE MOST IMPORTANT YEAR IN HIS LIFE." ( I added the caps ).  She went on to share her belief that the last 1 1/2 years of her son's high school career will completely shape his entire future....positive or negative!

I have had the opportunity to have a similar conversation with many parents. The level of anxiety and fear that is embeded in this perspective is palpable and I find myself continually curious about the factors in our culture that create this mindset. I know we all love our children and want the best for them. I get that education is important and that we all want our children to achieve to their ability. But to look at any 16 - 18 year old and tell them, and believe yourself, that their decisions and actions over the next tiny portion of their lives will set in concrete their ultimate destiney is is just wrong! I don't mean its wrong from a moral standpoint or just because I have a different perspective. I mean this is wrong because there is no evidence in the real world to support this supposition.

How many of us have known people ( maybe even ourselves) who struggled through their teens and yet have created a very successful life? How many people were well into their 30's before they finally found their calling? How many people delay college for a variety of reasons and still are able to find a meaningful career? How many people have had to reinvent themselves numerous times through their career? How many people find passion in careers that don't require a 4 year degree? How many people do you know who have been able to benefit from the second, third, or fourth chance that life has afforded them?  How many people do you know who have rejected the traditional college/career path for something a bit more unorthodox and yet still were able to create a very meaningful life?

How can we turn to any teenager and tell them with a straight face that if they don' t get this thing we call life and career figured out by the end of June of their senior year in high school, they are destined for a life of misery??

So back to my curiousity about the origins of this line of anxiety ridden belief. I know that there is no one explanation or factor that has helped to create a generation of anxious and scared students and their parents. But I do believe that part of the answer can be found in the concept of individual's, and more specfically, our cultural mindset around the concept of deficit/abundance.

Is there enough??? This is the fundamental question that is at the base of a person's deficit/abundance mindset. You might be asking, "enough of what?" Well, the answer all depends on what we are talking about. In terms of the heightened parental anxiety around academic and career attainment, a deficit mindset internal conversation might sound something like this; "if my child doesn't get the best grades, he won't get into the best school, he won't have the same opportunities as those at the "better" schools, he will graduate with limited job opportunities, he will fall behind on the career ladder, etc. For the child, and their parent,  that doesn't follow the prescribed route through the educational system, namely, complete high school in four years, go right onto college and complete your Bachelors degree by 22, the volume of the deficit internal voice can be deafening. There is not enough...not enough money, not enough opportunity, not enough happiness. If my child falls "behind" even one day, if she passes on even one opportunity, one club, one sport, one community service experience, she will be playing catch up "for the rest of her life!" "If some one gets there first (who knows where where is), my kid won't."

There is evidence galore in our greater culture of this deficit mindset. The overemphasis on competition vs. cooperation, the media's obsession with what we don't have, with what is in short supply, the drive for consumption, the quick and easy access to everything from food to entertainment to technology. This entire conversation becomes even more complex with the prevailing belief that if you go to school, do well, go to college, do well, and find a job, this will allow you to live a happy and meaningful life for the rest of your life ( there is no evidence of this being true...a topic for a future blog post).  Could the frenetic rush of our lives be driven by a fundamental belief that if we don't get our stuff now, it won't be available tomorrow, and if it's not available to us tomorrow (never mind the fear that someone else got it before we did) we might never be able to attain it?

There is enough! This is the cornerstone belief behind a mindset of abundance. It is a perspective on self and the world that holds that there is more than enough of what people want.... for everyone. An abundance mindset subscribes to win-win! There are plenty of opportunities in the world, there is plenty of money, food, friends and happiness. As I pursue my personal definition of these items, I do not believe that if I achieve what I want, there will be less for you...or visa versa. There is nothing about this mindset that is magical thinking...its not some spiritual mumbo jumbo....and it does not mean a person does not have to work hard to create their happiness.It is just a life view that frees a person up to take their own path, to now follow the crowd out of fear that they will miss something. It is a philosophy that creates less anxiety and more hope, a mindset that honors that not all children will take the same path.  And I would add, that in my 53 years on this planet, it is a mindset that greatly enhances my sense of happiness, meaning, and calmness. I can also admit, that in my role as a parent, there are times that it has been incredibly challenging to not allow myself to get caught up in the prevailing deficit narrative, to not experience that wave of anxiety about whether my children are "falling behind." You know those moments.....when you are talking with friends who tell you all the wonderful stuff that is going on with their kids...and in your much as you don't want are comparing...."maybe my kid isn't doing enough"......."maybe they are already falling behind"........"they have to get moving now on their career"......."have I given them enough"........have I been a good enough parent?"............"what does it say about me that my kid isn't following the preferred path?" AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! In a blink of the eye, I go from feeling in control and completely adequate as a parent to inferior, inadequate, and questioning every parenting decision I have made! Oh my God!!!! this started out as me just wanting my child to find success and now, when it comes right down to it, this is totally about me!

What do I need to do to practice an abundance mindset?

What practices can I build into my daily life to actively pursue gratitude (a close cousin of abundance)?

How do I allow my child to truly find their path (not the path I wish for them)?

To be continued.........

I wish you all a life of purpose, passion and peace


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