One of the toughest things you have to do in life is to tell your child that being the best isn’t good enough.
Every parent wants to give his or her kids the finest life has to offer. It’s written into our DNA, whether we like it or not. We teach our offspring to aim high, reach for the top shelf, and if they stay true to the course, believe that anything is possible, they will be rewarded.
There’s no prouder moment for a parent than when your child turns to his mother and tells her he is at the toughest school in the district, so it only makes sense that he should take on the toughest curriculum. Aim high. Reach for the stars. Stay the course. Use the force, Luke.
Three years later, he had held up his end of the bargain. Straight A’s. Top 3 in his class. Eagle Scout. National Merit Finalist. Heck, the kid walked in without studying and got an ACT in the mid-30s – twice. And the list goes on. Why wouldn’t he aim high when it comes to picking a college? Why should we tell him not to strive for the best?
On the day when college acceptance letters came out, I couldn’t take the pressure of waiting for the mail carrier any longer, so I went for a run. I knew from a little Internet spying that a big envelope would mean he was in, but a small one was bad news, either he was out or placed on the wait-list.
It was an anxious run, and all through my romp through the neighborhood I kept sneaking glances to see if the mailboxes were full, so that I would know if the wait was over. As I turned the corner on our street, I stared hard to see if there was a big envelope hanging from our mailbox.
And then … nothing.
In my selfish parental mind I was angry. If this kid could put a leather ball through a metal hoop with the same prowess as his academic skill, than our guest list would look like a who’s who of college recruiters. Rick Pitino and Bill Self would be on speed dial. The kid had put his time in at the gym, where was his reward?
But, in this respect, life isn’t fair, and that’s a lesson we all have to learn at one point or another. You just want to protect your child as long as you can.
It’s painful to watch hope die, especially when you see it in your child’s eyes. Especially when he held up his end of the bargain. Especially when he didn’t just ace it — he rocked it.
There are 15,000 National Merit Finalists each year, and fewer than 10 percent of kids that start scouting ever make it to the Eagle rank. I could go on and on about his list of accolades, but that’s just indulgent parental wishful thinking.
You know what? Kids are often better human beings than their parents when it comes to a lot of things – resilience being high among them.
Within hours of receiving the bad news, he was online registering for his spot on the wait-list more determined than ever to get in to school at his No. 1 pick. Within a day, he had dusted himself off and was in touch with his second choice — which, by the way, is a darn good choice by any measure.
While his heart still has hopes of rising from the wait-list at his top choice, in his mind, he has moved on to another plan. Somewhere along the line, the child learned to deal with adversity. He learned the important life lessons of perseverance. The force is indeed strong with this one.
It’s the same with job hunting. You may have located a job that you’re sure is your dream scenario, but as the Yiddish proverb says, “man plans, God laughs.” The big envelope isn’t hanging from your mailbox. Even those with shiny resumes and stellar work credentials miss out on jobs for reasons beyond their control.
In my professional life, I’ve seen the high highs and low lows that most people encounter throughout their careers. I’ve guided photo staffs at various newspapers through bowl games and Final Fours and even had a picture on display at the Smithsonian.
But I’ve seen the bad times, too. I’ve survived two media layoffs in three years. I’ve mowed lawns to pay the bills. I’ve edited on third shifts until the wee hours when that’s all the freelance market would offer.
You know what? You do what you have to do, whether you’re a job-seeker or a kid looking for a place to go to school. But you never give up on the dream.
In the end, we should all take a lesson from the soon-to-be graduate at our house — get up off the mat and find a different way to meet your goals.
For more inspiration: Believe in Your Mission; Never Give Up.
Photo credit: Greg Peters