Neither are Baby Boomers, Gen X or Gen Y for that matter. An English teacher’s commencement speech at Wellesley High School to that effect has gone viral. The simple message being that despite the constant kudos and parental attestations to the contrary, no one is extraordinary. That doesn’t mean one should wallow in despair at his ordinariness, but rather pursue passions without the expectation going in that it will yield some sort of extrinsic reward. Play, paint, perform simply for the love of it.
I’m a helicopter parent with a small “h.” We all are to some extent, it’s a reaction to our upbringing. We vow to be more engaged, more involved, and more present in our children’s lives. This translates into the assumption that they need us to be, or else we fail them. And we treat them like the rare panda cub born in the zoo. Is it really what they need or what we need? “If only someone had pushed/encouraged me, I could have been… (fill in the blank).”
We are helicopter managers too. How often have we bailed someone out of a mess because it was more expedient than showing them a better way? How many performance reviews have we written where the “developmental” points were positive qualities in disguise either to spare someone’s fragile ego or ensure they don’t leave?
“Susie continually volunteers for extra assignments and learning opportunities. She is always available and responsive. She should take care not to burn out.”
Would Susie not be better off if we told her she was spread too thinly, needs to prioritize and the quality of her work is suffering? Do we think she can’t handle it, or more importantly doesn’t want the chance to do something about it before it’s too late?
I admit I once wrote a review leaving out all of my constructive feedback and delivering that piece in person because I knew documenting it would hurt her in the ranking meeting. I only did half of my job. Points for giving the feedback in some form, but shame on me for perpetuating the kabuki theater.
My son recently announced he wants to be a concert pianist. I’m all for dreaming big and helping him get there, so I sought out a piano teacher worthy of the task. But I fretted. His first piano teacher was so encouraging, and so positive. Overly so. He rewrote the music to suit my son’s playing style, rather than correcting his mistakes. Would the new teacher crush his self-esteem and leave him broken on a heap of unfulfilled dreams?
The audition came with the new teacher, Felipe (not sure who was auditioning whom) and my son played with gusto and wild abandon (read: little attention to tempo). Felipe turned to us and said,
“Not too many bad habits yet. He needs discipline, but I can work with him. It will take hard work, and here are my expectations…”
The boy has since doubled his practice time, chosen an aspirational list of incredibly hard pieces, and turned on the metronome! Why? For the chance at the hard-won praise, yes, but more for the challenge and the simple love of it.